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Nigeria’s transport minister on Tuesday threatened to impose sanctions on CNN in Abuja if the international television station aired an unedited version of a documentary following the deadly accident at a toll road building project.
The invitation to CNN to make the long-awaited documentary – also scheduled to air in the US on 24 January – has been widely criticised in Nigeria. Government departments and bodies, including the judiciary, have called it a “trial of a sovereign nation”.
The minister, Rotimi Amaechi, told the Guardian that Nigeria had “indisputable facts” about the fatal crash at Lagos’s Lekki tollgate in 2016, but that CNN had not been given a chance to rebut the information.
“If CNN wants to show Nigerians that it is also in the business of selling armaments, we welcome them,” he said. “We are not feeding them with news in a case that must be investigated for human lives lost.”
The video was criticised last month by the Lagos traffic tsar, Babatunde Irukera, after the project’s developer said it would investigate the accident if it went viral. The project was already the subject of a 2009 corruption inquiry which, according to the investigator, was handed to prosecutors only after the public became suspicious of the project’s hugely inflated price tag.
Mystery is lingering over what happened on the day of the accident, which left 45 people dead and around 40 severely injured. Amaechi said that the arrest of the project’s director and report issued by the road patrol officers had revealed human errors such as faulty equipment.
In August, a different public relations company that wrote a report about the Lekki tollgate project posted part of it on its official Twitter account without alerting the project’s partners. Soon after, the company’s director resigned as head of the Lagos state traffic management agency.
Lekki/Epe Expressway’s early history was highly contentious. The road was built to ease congestion at the island but it also existed under the jurisdiction of a tangle of federal, state and local governments. A 2008 motorway survey revealed that the ferry between Lekki and Epe, a 60-mile distance, was operating on “stop-go,” which would not improve the travel time, and used emergency lanes to ease jams.
Questions have also been raised about plans for an “automated tolling system” on the highway. On Tuesday, the capital’s traffic tsar announced that there would be no trial for the scheme, which would potentially raise about $1bn (£800m) a year from car owners.
“We must determine if this is the right road. It is not our intention to impose a tariff. Our intention is to facilitate traffic flow, not traffic management,” Irukera said.
Campaigners have questioned the government’s claim that only 260 lives had been lost in the 18-month-long tollgate project. The state transport ministry has admitted only 270 people had died in the accident. Nigeria’s best national statistics agency said 160 people had died, but Amaechi said it was unsure how many died on the bridge because many lives could have been saved if they had had access to speed limit signs, emergency road signage and a land-based emergency response centre.