Five members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) , recently agreed to contribute 50 million dollars each, for the design and feasibility studies of the proposed 1,028 kilometres Abidjan-Lagos road project.
The six-lane highway will link most of the major ports in the participating countries-Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
The ECOWAS Commission put the cost of the project at about two billion dollars (about N320 billion), while 2014 is the deadline for the commencement of work.
Nigeria’s Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen, restated commitment for the project at a recent meeting of ministers in charge of roads from the five member countries, held in Abuja.
“It is about looking at ways to make the Abidjan-Lagos corridor to work; it is actually part of the ECOWAS coastal road, linking Lagos to Dakar, Senegal. We are concerned with the first phase of the project, which will connect Lagos with Cotonou, Togo, Ghana and will end with Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, covering a distance of over 10,280 kilometres.
“It is the desire of member countries that we remove all red tapes on this corridor, in other words, it will be a distinct corridor with its own laws because it’s going to be a common corridor for the five countries. That is why the legal framework has been drafted by the committee of experts drawn from the ministry of justice from the five member countries.
“Also, the financial framework has been worked out by a committee of experts drawn from the ministry of finance and development donor agencies from across the globe,’’ the minister stated.
At a recent meeting of experts and development partners for the project, also held in Abuja, President of ECOWAS Commission, Amb. Kadre Ouedraogo said that the project would open up trade in the sub-region. Represented by the Commissioner for Infrastructure at the commission, Mr. Ebima Njie, Ouedraogo said the project would anchor the bulk of economic activities in the region.
“Seventy five percent of our trade movement relies on this corridor. We are going to put up a funding mechanism; we’ll take loans and grants in order to make sure this is realised.
“Until the design is done properly, we cannot come up with a tangible figure, but cost estimates; we are looking at one billion dollars to two billion dollars within that bracket in order to fund this project.
“The improvement and livelihood of our member states cannot be over-emphasised. The free movement within ECOWAS is there, but this is another level whereby we can bring income generation within our member states,’’ he said.
Onolememen, who was represented by Mr. Umunna Ekenna, Deputy Director, Highways Planning, said that the project would facilitate free movement across borders in the West African sub-region.
The minister stressed the need to actualise the project within the shortest possible time in order to promote the economic growth of the West African sub-region.
“ Regions around the world are pulling resources towards creating opportunities to maximise the areas of strength for individual states within their regions.
“Consequently, it is fundamental for us to actualise this project within the shortest possible time, to pave the way to our economic prosperity which is long overdue, bearing in mind the abundant natural and human resources within our region,’’ he said.
A representative of South African Development Community (SADC) secretariat, Mr. Lovemore Bingandadi, who was present at the meeting, expressed the readiness of the SADC to share its experiences with ECOWAS.
He also outlined the benefits of promoting free movement through the project.
“We must recognise the importance of road infrastructure to promoting regional integration and cross-border trade in our regions, mainly because of the long distances that we have between our landlocked countries and ports.
“Our experience in Southern Africa tells us that you need to cooperate as a group of nations to design, develop, build and operate such cross-border infrastructure.
“The benefits are immense. Most of our economies are constrained by lack of access to markets; our transportation costs and terms are very high because of poor infrastructure and lack of harmonised transport laws, regulations and standards,’’ he added.
President Goodluck Jonathan, during the 42nd ECOWAS Summit in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire, stressed the need to expedite action on the project.
“We believe that when we have this express road the issue of movement, interference by customs and police will be minimised because that will be an ECOWAS road. The laws regulating the use of the road will not be the laws regulating that of the roads in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire or Ghana.
“It will be of international standard and everything will be done in such a way that movement of goods, services and so on will not be interfered with by local restriction.”
Jonathan said that the projects would not be financed with public funds, but by development partners and some viable banks which would re-coup their funds through tariffs and toll fees.
“It is a viable project that banks and business men within and outside the region will key into and which will generate enough money in short time.
Jonathan further explained that the project when completed would integrate the entire region.
“Togo has seven million, Benin Republic, eight million, Cote d’Ivoire, 25 million, Ghana 26 million and Nigeria about 167 million.
“When you add all these, it gives you about 236 million out of the projected 287 million of ECOWAS. So, these five countries, by the time you traverse from Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire, then you will easily integrate the entire sub-region.
“You will so integrate the system in such a way that you can key other countries along, that is why we decided that we must work with our business men and women to develop an express road from Lagos to Abidjan,’’ he said.
Ahead of the completion of the project, Abidjan-based Nigerian business men have started counting the gains of the trans-ECOWAS road project.
Adebaye Yaya, a major furniture and electronics dealer, said the road would boost economic activities in the sub-region. “We hope to see it become a reality, carrying goods by road across the borders have really become a source of worry to us as business people,’’ he said.
Another Nigerian, Chief Don Alexander, commended the five countries for the initiative, adding, “ it is a welcome development which all of us are waiting to see.
“We pay all kinds of charges moving our goods to their destinations. With this road to be constructed and managed within the provisions of ECOWAS laws, businesses will fare better,’’ he noted.
Stakeholders want the government to ensure completion of the project, which they say will boost economic activities in the entire West Africa region.