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EDITORIAL

Cross River State And A Superhighway Project

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The much talked about superhighway project of the Cross River State government has, understandably, continued to generate controversy.

While the state government appears bent on forging ahead with the project and seeing to its logical conclusion, all things being equal, some stakeholders including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), are calling on the government to suspend it because, in their own estimation, it may not be viable in the long run.

The 260km superhighway was planned to lead from a proposed deep-sea port at Esighi in Bakassi local government area, run through the Cross River National Park and end at Katsina-Ala in Benue State. It is estimated to cost almost N700 billion.

Barely six months into office, Governor Benedict Ayade saw it as his signature project and invited President Muhammadu Buhari on October 20, 2015, to perform the groundbreaking ceremony at Akamkpa.

The event was sequel to an interim environmental impact assessment report by the Federal Ministry of Environment. However, the project has continued to generate mixed reactions with allegations of environmental degradation by the host communities.

Additionally too, there are concerns over the funding pattern for the project which was structured in such a manner that entails the state paying N300 million every month for the next 180 years! Media reports indicated that the government had already transmitted a letter to the House of Assembly to approve modalities for the repayment through Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) for N300 million per month for 180 years.

Recently, an NGO, BudgIT, added its voice to the plethora of reactions that are critical of the project when it warned the state government to halt the proposed project citing “undue financial hazard and avoidable hardship that would plague the state for the next 100 years should the government compound its existing debt burden with the project.”

BudgIT noted that “the project is overly ambitious, superfluous and almost a misplaced priority, especially besides its viability to investors when there has been hardly any explanation on ‘infallible plans’ to upscale the state revenue and clear cumulative debts, let alone fix the human and environmental costs of the project.”

A careful analysis of the project, taking into consideration the funding, shows clearly that the superhighway is overly ambitious and futuristic.

Critics claim that the project will place the state in perpetual debt and endanger its future economic prospect.

This newspaper appreciates the effort by the state government to improve infrastructure especially the type that is expected to open up the state to business opportunities. However, we urge the government to be more mindful of the cost implications and the time required to conclude it. We think that 180 years is a long time to tie down resources that can be applied to less complex but more beneficial projects.

We make this argument bearing in mind that Cross River State is believed to have one of the largest external debt portfolio of all the states. According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), as of December 31, 2018, the state’s domestic debt alone stood at N167.96 billion.

But in justifying the project, the state government said that investors would make returns on their investment through toll from vehicles and trucks that ply the highway that leads to the envisaged Bakassi deep-sea port which is yet to be built, and up until now, no organisation has signed up to the funding.

We are compelled to enjoin the state government to have a rethink given the poor conditions of other similar projects embarked upon by past administrations.

We have in mind the Tinapa project, an expansive outlay that collapsed with weak port infrastructure and lack of connection to the grid. It is the same for the Obudu Cattle Ranch. These project were hyped then to be star projects at the time they were conceptualized and built.

At the risk of being misunderstood, we are not by any means oblivious of the need to encourage state governments to embark on innovative ideas and projects that will help boost their economies, enhance internal revenues and help them assert fiscal independence. The point to be made is that the project in question may not conform to practical notions of economic growth, social development and environmental protection. If anything, the cost and the impact on the financial standing of the state are enough to warrant a reassessment and re-evaluation of the super highway

The state government, in our opinion, for now should consider channeling its investment ideas to more viable ventures like information and communication technology (ICT), agriculture and support for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which are likely to have immediate beneficial impact on the state and the people.

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