The Federal Government has asked the Ministry of Works to review the Second Niger Bridge contract and justify its actual cost.

The Director-General of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Aminu Dikko, disclosed this to State House journalists on Wednesday after briefing President Muhammadu Buhari on the activities of the commission.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan had in 2014 flagged off the N117 billion Second Niger Bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State. The project, awarded to Julius Berger in a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, is expected to link business arteries of the South East with the South West and North.

Jonathan had then announced that in order to facilitate timely delivery of the contract, his administration had made a commitment to contribute 25 percent of the construction cost in the sum of N30 billion, assuring that the project would be delivered in four years.

But the ICRC boss said on Wednesday said that the commission had seen a lot of issues in the project which it was uncomfortable with and had been discussing the transaction with the Ministry of Works.

“The Second Niger bridge is one of the projects we discussed with the president. We did say yes, it is in the commission for regulatory oversight. We have been discussing the transaction with the Ministry of Works. But before it can be finalised, the commission has to give a certificate of compliance. But we haven’t proven that because we’ve seen a lot of issues that we’re uncomfortable with. We’re talking with the ministry of works for them to correct it. The communities around that area are clamouring that their lands have been taken and that they’ve not been compensated adequately.

“As a matter of fact, we got a letter from Onitsha Traditional Council complaining that they’ve not been adequately represented in this transaction. This kind of issues, we’re not saying that something has not been done properly, but we need to be convinced that these few problems are sorted properly. We will also talk about the actual cost of the bridge. Eventually, we have asked the Ministry of Works to review it and justify how much the project should cost”, he said.

Dikko, who hinted that Buhari raised the issue of PPP transactions, said though the ICRC regulates how such transactions come into being, they have to be developed before they come into effect.

He said Buhari had directed that ministries, departments and agencies should ensure they have adequate funding for project development in their budgets and that if they do not, they should look for alternative ways of getting such funding.

He said the president’s attention was drawn to some of the limitations of the commission, especially the law being operated which, according to him, is very ineffective.

Dikko said the commission had proposed an amendment to the law, while the president had agreed to support the passage of the bill when it comes back to him from the Attorney-General’s Office.

“ICRC does not develop projects and does not give funding for the development of the project. So, the president directed that MDAs should ensure they’ve adequate funding for development of projects in their budgets, and if they don’t, they should look for alternative ways of getting such funding. We acknowledge that some of the development institutions have already begun to grant Nigeria such attention. Recently, the African Development Bank offered to finance the engagement of a transaction adviser for the Nigeria Trans Sahara gas pipeline that Nigeria is building which is part of the African Heads of Government commitment
to develop Africa in general. World Bank has also given some facilities to Nigeria some of which could be used for project development like capacity building for relevant MDAs so that the complexities of the transactions can be tackled head on.

“The commission is a regulatory agency for public-private partnerships which is a fairly new concept in Nigeria though it has been used previously through which the various port channels were given to the private sector”, he stated.
Dikko said he did not know anything about the status of the Second Niger Bridge and that the commission did not see the project completed in the next six months.
He said: I’ve no idea about the status of the project. What I need to tell Nigerians is that PPPs take a long time to mature. There is a difference between the project which you’ve money in your pocket or in your account and you just bring it out and tell somebody to go and do it. But when it’s PPP transaction, you first engage a number of people. You’ve bankers, lawyers, engineers, they all collaborate to
form consultancy for that transaction. For the Second Niger Bridge, there’ll be a lot of studies that need to be done on the integrity of the bridge itself which will take time. It’s not something we can see being completed in the next six months. I’ll like us to be patient about it. We know it’s a critical road, we also know how Nigerians suffer during festive holidays and we hear people sleep on that old bridge. The time has come for us to bring succour to Nigerians”.

“The private sector, both in and outside the country, must be accepted as a partner in progress provided that the nation will not be short-changed in anyway. Private sector will be allowed to invest in the country and recuperate
their investments, while ICRC will be there to guide ministries, department and agencies on how to structure these transactions. When it’s properly signed and executed, we’ll also take custody of those agreements to ensure there is total compliance.We also discussed some of the legacy concessions we inherited–the
port terminals, the one at Lagos International Trade Fair, the one over Tafawa Balewa Square and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

The ICRC chief executive also disclosed that the country was proposing to build three deep seaports with about $6 billion, saying the commission was reviewing the proposal with the Ministry of Transport and would come out with a position on it in due course.

“This country is proposing to build three deep seaports for Nigeria with combined estimated cost of about $6 billion. So, you can imagine the kind of opportunities it can create as far as job creation is concerned and as far as vibrancy of the economy is concerned”, Dikko stated.

Asked if the president gave the commission any directive, he said: He (Buhari) gave us two directives, especially on agricultural silos. We did tell the president that this nation has already built about 33 agricultural silos spread all over the country, but the government has sunk in money there and the management of those silos will be granted to the private sector. What the president has directed is that we should involve the state governors to see how best they can encourage their farmers to utilise these silos when they come into effect”.

Source: Daily Trust