The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola has said that the $36 million border bridge project linking Nigeria with Republic of Cameroon will smoothen the free trade relationship under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement signed by both countries.
Fashola, who stated this Tuesday, while inspecting the bridge project at the Ajassor border community in Etung Local Government Area of Cross River State, said the project which has attained 99.9 percent completion would advance actualization of objective of the agreement.
The minister, who was excited by the quality of the project, noted that apart from economic benefits, the projects are social assets and source of happiness and the prosperity of the people of Nigeria.
The two-lane 1.5 kilometer project was awarded to CGCOG Group in the total sum of $35,836,552.38 paid equally by Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon with loan facility sourced from the African Development Bank, AfDB.
Mr. Fashola also inspected the progress of works on the 1.4 kilometer Ikum bridge project, which serves as link to the Calabar Seaport.
The minister, while speaking at the border bridge, said, it is now time for the harvest of projects completion by Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
According to him, “This administration and from the very early difficult days of planning, assessing what was on ground in 2015 to a road map of implementation, I think the signs of completion are now beginning to emerge.
“So these are the first shoes if you like of the major of completion that we propose to herald as the administration enters the second phase of the second term on his way out.
“You heard from the state government admirably represented by the honourable commissioner for works standing in for the governor of Cross River state.
You heard from the local community, you heard from the local government chairman and how pleased they are.
“As far as renewal goes, it is instructive that right behind me here is the old bridge and that is about six decades if not older, so this is a very strategic infrastructure to take Nigeria to the future for many more decades, to facilitate relationship with our brothers and sisters in Cameroon and to strengthen the bond of relationship that exists between the two nations.
“And this is incidentally I must say a joint development by the Republic of Cameroon and the Federal Republic of Nigeria; so it is not our show alone.
“Actually the minister for works for Cameroon and I planned this visit together but at the very last minute, some other urgent matter came up for him.
So we will come back here again but I have to go to another solely Nigerian project from here so I have to continue the trip on my own.”
On the volume of trade expected between the both countries, Fashola said, “You know that we have had a very strong relationship with the Republic of Cameroon in terms of trade and business and if you see Aba for example I can tell you that, Enugu for example, Abakiliki, this is the routes that facilitates trade, agro produce, merchandise, manufactured groups from Aba in Abia State.
“So you can only expect that would improve with joint border patrols now, more security, much more efficiency which you saw from the first buildings, that is the format of what integration of ECOWAS and sister nations of the African continent should look like.
“Nigeria is now a signatory to the African continental free trade agreement; so this is infrastructure that position both nations to take the benefits of the free trade that that agreement herald.
“So it is really exciting looking to the future, you can only see more business and more trade and employment for people.”
On how the government of both countries would recoup the money spent on this project, he said, “These are social assets and we must understand that. The recoupment if you like that word is the happiness and the prosperity of the people of Nigeria.
“As far as I am concerned with the happiness of the community leader, the government of Cross River and the Local Government chairman, this project has paid for itself.
“The prosperity of our people is the reason President Buhari is pushing this infrastructure renewal.
“So as long as our people are happy, they can travel easily, they can reduce their journey time, save time on the road and if you save time you save money, then we are happy and I am sure the president is delivered.”
Fashola, while speaking further at the 1.2 kilometre Ikom bridge project also being constructed by the Federal Government in Cross River State, said the project has gulped a lot of money.
According to him, “ I think that again you would have had me say that one of the objectives of this administration is to expand, renew and upgrade the quality of Nigeria’s infrastructure, whether it is rail, road or seaport.
“Even thought the president has mandated that we maintain old bridges, we are building new ones. Now this bridge we are standing on is the new Ikom bridge, what it does is to facilitate international trade through the sea.
“The old bridge has a very low head room, for that reason some of the big cargo, vessels, and trucks cannot evacuate the Calabar port. This bridge has solved that problem, so you will expect to see more trade, more shipment coming to Calabar.
“It is not just infrastructure for the state, but infrastructure consistent with the Buhari economic recovery and growth plan to increase trade and ease of doing business.
“This bridge we are standing on was largely funded by the Sukkuk. So you see government is doing a lot with the money it has raised. As I said earlier we started with a season of planning and we went into a season of implementation and we are now entering the season of completion.
Incidentally, this is made of almost similar material as the old Niger Bridge; it might interest you to know we are still maintaining the old bridge. So we will keep this one and the Cameroon link bridge also under maintenance.
“What we expect is that the parliamentarians of this constituency will favourably respond to our proposals for bridge maintenance when the 2021 budget comes to them. Because those are the tools with which we need to work, once we have those tools the contractors and suppliers are ready to go to work.
Answering to a question that most of Nigerian tagged Buhari’s administration a borrowing government and what is doing to showcase its achievements in projects delivering, the minister berated those accusing the government of taking so much foreign loans.
Fashola derided previous administrations for taken $12 billion to pay creditors in 2005 in the midst of decaying infrastructures in the country, adding, “For those who say we are borrowing asks them in 2005 this country took 12 billion dollars to go and pay creditors, this bridge was bad then. Many of the roads we are doing now were bad then. At least Ugep road was bad then, Odukpani was bad then.
uwa, Illorin roads needed attention. This country took 12 billion dollars, so multiply it by the others, If we have invested it in this economy we wouldn’t need to borrow.
“And those who say that, clearly want infrastructure, they should provide the alternative source of revenue, do they want us to tax you more? If you look at what the comparative jurisdictions are doing which we’ve been following the infrastructure plan in the US.
“One of the reasons they cut the borrowing down is because it’s going to come from taxes. Because the only way you are going to raise this money is by increasing taxes.
“So this is public finance, you see those people who are saying those things don’t know public finance; it is home economics they know.”
In his remarks earlier, the Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State commended the Federal Government for showing commitment in execution of critical projects in the State.
The governor, who was represented by the Commissioner for Works, Engr Dane Osim- Asu, expressed his appreciation for the commitment the government has put to every aspects of the work that you are doing.
According to him, “He (Governor) sent me to take excuses for him, he would have been here personally but for the maiden flight for Calabar Airline, CaliAir from Abuja to Calabar today this morning, he would have been here personally to welcome you.
“We want to express as a government, our deep appreciation to you, especially for those of us in Cross River State, we have seen a lot of transformational infrastructures in terms of roads in Cross River state.
“We want to name a few especially the Ekom-Elese-Ude road completed. The Uge-Biasy road, the section 5 of Biased-Torodukpane junction road, the award of the Calabar-Itu road to Julius Berger and now scoping for Cemantech, our own section of the road.
“We want to thank you for eve this trans-African high way that has brought some form of development; roads as we know and road infrastructures facilitate communication, facilitate the growth of the economy and we are particularly are very appreciative as a government because since the last 6 years of President Muhammadu Buhari we have had unprecedented access and presence of these projects in Cross River state.
“We want to say thank you and welcome to Cross River state particularly, thank you your Excellency.”