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Managing Director of China Harbour Engineering Company Nigeria Limited (CHEC), Zhang Wenfeng, says the Keffi-Abuja-Makurdi Expressway being expanded by his company is a new high road boosting Nigeria-China development trajectory. In an interview with a select group of journalists, which visited the Keffi–Makurdi road project’s construction site in Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Wenfeng reels out CHEC’s achievements in the implementation of Keffi-Makurdi Road project and its implications for Nigeria’s transportation system, employment and economy. INNOCENT ODOH was there. Excerpts:
Can you talk us through the profile of your company and its work activities?
CHEC is a subsidiary and a major construction and engineering arm of China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), which ranked No.3 among Engineering News Record in 2018 and first of Chinese construction companies for 10 consecutive years. Different from other subsidiaries, we are authorised by the Chinese government to handle overseas businesses, meaning our focus is on the international markets. CHEC provides a full scope of services including EPC (Engineering-Procurement-Construction), BOT(Build-Operate-Transfer) and PPP(Private-Public-Partnership) contracts in both public and private sectors, and our business covers marine engineering, dredging and reclamation, roads and bridges, railways, airports and so on. Also, CHEC’s 80 branches and representative offices have a global footprint across over 100 countries with more than 15,000 staff undertaking hundreds of international projects with a total turnover of 21 billion U.S. dollars. We are contractors, manufacturers, investors, developers and operators, and this is in accordance with our role in global infrastructural market as an integrated service provider.
What has been your company’s experience in Nigeria?
CHEC entered the infrastructural market of Nigeria in 1994. Having accumulated an extensive knowledge of Nigerian market after 25 years’ endeavor, CHEC has executed various projects across different fields, including dredging works in Calabar River, rehabilitation of Terminal B of Warri port, and construction of breakwater in Lagos. So far, there are two large-scale ongoing projects, Lekki Port and Keffi Road Project, with a total contract amount of over 1.5 billion U.S. dollars, an evidence of CHEC’s technical and financial capacity.
Tell us about some of your projects in Nigeria specifically, Lekki deep sea port and the Abuja-Lafia road.
The Keffi-Markurdi road project starts from the southwest of Abuja, crosses Federal Capital Territory and the states of Nasarawa and Benue. The contract amount is $542.14 million, 15percent of which is funded by the Federal Government of Nigeria and 85percent is by China EXIM Bank in the form of Preferential Export Buyer’s Credit. The expansion and dualisation of the existing carriageway promises to ease the long suffering of commuters and motorists on the Keffi-Akwanga-Lafia-Makurdi road. Lekki Deep Sea Port is located in Lagos Free Trade Zone. And after completion, it is going to be the most modern and efficient port south of Saharan Desert. Lekki Deep Sea Port is to be executed through two construction phases, after completion of Phase I, the designed annual handling capacity will be 1.2 million TEUs and the total investment of Phase I amounts to 1 billion US dollars. After Phase II, the handling capacity will be enhanced to 2.5 million TEUs in total, which is approximately twice Nigeria’s current actual annual turnover. The project is to be carried out through the BOOT, the Build-Own-Operate-Transfer mode. A large portion of funding sources is secured by CHEC and China Development Bank.
Would you care to elaborate on the relationship between Keffi-Makurdi road project with the Golden Triangle Loop Plan?
To my knowledge, the Federal Government of Nigeria proposed the Golden Triangle Loop Plan in 2012, which is centered on the capital Abuja, and connects the port city of Lagos in the Southwest, the port city of Harcourt in the Southeast, and the city of Kano in the North. This national upgraded highway network is expected to strengthen economic and social ties between the major cities and the capital city Abuja. Up to this point, the expansion and dualisation works among Lagos, Abuja and Kano have been accomplished, while for the remaining part of the plan, Abuja to Harcourt, a small section from Enugu to Port Harcourt has been finished, and completion of Keffi-Makurdi-Enugu will mark the full actualisation of the Golden Triangle Loop Plan. This is why the smooth execution of the project is of vital importance to the transportation system of Nigeria. Furthermore, the project also promises to assume the role of trunk line in the national expressway network and promote regional interconnection between West Africa, Central Africa and North Africa. Not only does the intended dual-way four-lane design of the project enhance transportation efficiency in Nigeria, but also markedly improve traffic safety management. The completion of Golden Triangle Loop Plan, to which CHEC is sure to contribute its fair share, will substantially enhance traffic conditions and boost international trade.
What do you hope to accomplish with these projects and other future projects in Nigeria?
We believe this project is of immense significance to the economic and social development alongside the project, the interconnection within the region, and the bilateral trade between China and Nigeria as well as the rest of Africa. Therefore, we will make every effort to ensure the smooth execution of the project while boosting local employment, promoting economy and fulfilling our social responsibilities.
Tell us about some of your accomplishment that shaped China Harbour?
We have undertaken many iconic projects across the globe. Here are some for your information, the Shanghai Yangshan Deep Water Port, which is constructed through four phases and by far the world’s largest and most advanced fully automated terminal with a designed capacity of over 40 million TEUs; the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is up to now the longest sea-crossing bridge in the word with the longest immersed tunnel. As the world’s largest steel bridge, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge used up 420 thousand tons of steel merely for the part of main beam, which is equivalent to the weight of 60 Eiffel towers combined! Since its establishment, CHEC has always been committed to a corporate culture with its core value of “keen responsibility, excellent rewards and win-win cooperation” and the maxim of “inclusiveness, integrity, innovation and dedication”. Bearing this in mind, we deliver iconic projects with professionalism while fulfilling our social responsibility and seeking sustainable development.
What is your impression on the Belt and Road Initiative?
When it comes to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), I believe it would shed new light on the development of projects related to the overall social welfare of Nigeria and the issue of international project financing. As you would know, Nigeria was actually geographically outside the planned route of BRI in the first place. As BRI proceeds, Nigeria expressed her interest and aspiration to China, wishing to board on the express train of development as she formally signed the cooperation agreements in 2018, and China embraced Nigeria in good will. It was commented by the Minister of the FCT, Mallam Muhammed Musa Bello in 2019 that “having joined the Belt and Road Initiative this year, we are therefore poised to take advantage of all that it offers to meet our goals of economic diversification and infrastructural enhancement.”Owing to the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese construction companies are now presented with country-specific mechanisms through which funding can be secured with the help of large financial institutions such as China EXIM bank. This is why in the past few months we have discussed with relevant Federal Ministries to work out mutually beneficial solutions to project financing in order to meet Nigeria’s vast demand in infrastructure.
We also discussed about the second phase of the Keffi-Makurdi road project, as well as the Lekki Deep Sea Port in Lagos Nigeria. For your information, 85% of funding sources for Keffi-Makurdi road project are provided by China EXIM bank in the form of Preferential Buyer’s Credit, the long-term interest rate of which facility is only 2.5percent. This is what Nigeria can benefit from compared to traditional commercial loans for large-scale infrastructural projects. As for the Lekki Deep Sea Port, which, as you know, is direly needed to tap into Nigeria’s immense potential in economic trade, the water depth must be over 16 meters, and yet the existing water depth is merely 13 meters, which cannot meet the requirement of berthing and shipping for large sea generation container ships.
Therefore, CHEC, as the EPC contractor of Lekki Deep Sea Port, discussed with Nigerian Port Authorities about investment opportunities, decided to set up an SPV company that oversees the construction and future operation of Lekki port and became the major shareholder to ensure alignment of interest between the Federal Government of Nigeria and CHEC. Last but not least, Chinese construction companies are now encouraged to invest in international projects for better alignment of interest with the host country. I believe the Belt and Road Initiative will provide more solutions not only for Nigeria but also the Chinese construction companies.
What are the challenges currently facing you?
The first challenge facing us is traffic safety management. The existing Keffi-Makurdi road, especially the sections near the Federal Capital Territory, has been long plagued with traffic jam and traffic accidents because of the high traffic volumes. As it is with every other road expansion and dualisation project, Keffi-Makurdi road project is also challenged by the confliction between construction work and maintaining of the current transportation efficiency. The other issue confronting us is that the progress made in land acquisition and relocation of existing underground utilities and electricity poles is very sluggish.
The Abuja-Lafia road is very important to Abuja residents. What do you want to tell commuters and when will the road be completed?
The duration of the project is 36 months, and we officially commenced construction on April 1st, 2019, so the road is expected to be completed by 2022. The design we adopted is the new expansion and dualisation on both sides of the road, so compared to the existing carriageway, there is expected to be a smoother transportation.
What is the value of your investment in Nigeria, how many people do you employ?
We have invested in Nigeria for no less than 1 billion US dollars for the Phase I of Lekki Port and a larger injection of capital into Phase II of the project is brought unto the agenda as we discuss with the government of Nigeria for future cooperation. Currently, for Keffi-Makurdi road project alone, CHEC has trained over 80 qualified engineers and 1,000 skilled workers, and employment is sure to increase as construction proceeds. At least 2,000 jobs will be created for Nigerian people, which will help stimulate investment and consumption alongside the project.
Is there any provision to transfer knowledge to Nigerian Engineers?
Yes, actually we are conducting different training programmes in different countries. So far, we have trained over 80 qualified engineers and 1,000 skilled workers, and we intend to double that number through extensive training programs, under which each experienced Chinese engineer, will be the tutor for, a small group of Nigerian workers, instructing them to solve realistic problems that one may encounter during construction of box, pipe culverts, road foundations and facilitating the learning of cement, asphalt and other construction materials. In this way, we wish to address underemployment issue and achieve win-win cooperation.
Do you have any community relations activity?
Yes. CHEC is very keen on the fulfillment of social responsibility. We have installed pipes outside construction camps to relieve the tension of water supply in local communities, provided free clean water every day to local residents, curbed spread of disease, donated books to local schools in the hope of making a difference in children’s lives, constructed temporary road works for ease of travelling alongside the project. Through performing the above social obligations, CHEC has established a robust friendship with local communities.
What do you want to tell the people along Abuja Lafia road that would be affected by the road construction?
We will, to the best of our effort, ensure to reduce dust and noise during the construction of Keffi-Makurdi road by using state-of-the-art equipment and plants that are, although costly, proven effective, and working more closely with relevant government agencies to exercise traffic control wherever needed. Eventually, we will be sure to minimise the impact on the socio-ecological environment, especially for residents in urban areas.
What do you think of future cooperation with Nigeria?
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, and I believe the growth of youth population and infrastructural demand will continue to be strong, so there will be plenty of market left for us to work on. We wish to achieve win-win cooperation hand in hand with Nigeria through the technical and financial assistance from the Chinese government. In this way, CHEC can grow alongside Nigeria and the strategic relationship between Nigeria and CHEC best symbolises the friendship between Nigeria and China. Also, I would like to add, given our proven record of 25 years’ working experience in Nigeria, CHEC, as a major construction and operation arm of CCCC, commits to its sustainable development and the improvement of Nigerian infrastructural conditions in the long run. Therefore, the good people of Nigeria can count on CHEC to deliver quality services and uplift their living conditions. Together, we shall build a better future.