For Nige­ria’s rail trans­port, a new day beck­ons

Daily Trust - - OPINION - By Idowu Sa­muel

For decades, Nige­ri­ans had dreamt of a crisp trans­port sys­tem, built around the rail­way tech­nol­ogy like in de­vel­oped coun­tries for mass move­ment. The dream has been ful­filled now, with last Monday’s of­fi­cial in­au­gu­ra­tion and flag-off of com­mer­cial ser­vices of the Abuja-Kaduna rail­way project by Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari.

Last month, a del­e­ga­tion of the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment led by the Min­is­ter of Trans­port, Ro­timi Chibuike Amaechi un­der­took a test-ride of the train ser­vice from Idu Main Sta­tion to Kubwa in Abuja and there­after re­turned a ver­dict of suc­cess on the project. Amaechi said the com­ple­tion of the project, which had suf­fered years of hic­cups, is a mark of full com­mit­ment by the present gov­ern­ment to­wards the re­vival of the trans­port sec­tor in Nige­ria.

The Abuja-Kaduna rail­way project is al­ready a leap in ef­forts to­wards re­vi­tal­iz­ing the na­tional econ­omy. Aside the ca­pac­ity to open space for gen­er­a­tion of more em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, the ten­dency to save costs for dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of Nige­ri­ans on mass move­ment within the Abu­jaKaduna ge­o­graph­i­cal sphere is un­quan­tifi­able.

With the project, it would be easy hence­forth, for Nige­ri­ans to live in Kaduna and yet, work in Abuja. Civil ser­vants in this category no longer need to worry about the huge costs they of­ten in­cur on trans­porta­tion, wors­ened th­ese days by the in­crease in the price of fuel. The op­por­tu­nity to take cheap train while they shut­tle re­peat­edly be­tween Abuja and Kaduna has the ten­dency to en­cour­age fam­ily bond­ing with lit­tle need for pop­u­la­tion redis­tri­bu­tion.

Over the years Nige­ri­ans have had har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences on long stretch move­ments ow­ing to poor road net­work. All along, only a few are pre­dis­posed to the op­tion of air trav­els. With the near col­lapse of the rail­way sys­tem, the coun­try had longed for suc­cour. That, in any case, prompted suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments to vote huge sums of money for re­viv­ing the rail­way sec­tor.

None­the­less, past ef­forts in this re­gard failed to of­fer tan­gi­ble re­sults un­til now that hope be­gins to blos­som with Pres­i­dent Buhari’s ini­tia­tives.

The de­ter­mi­na­tion by the Pres­i­dent to put Nige­ria back on the track with ef­fec­tive trans­porta­tion sys­tem, re­cently took him to China where he re-ne­go­ti­ated deals on mod­erni­sa­tion of the Nige­rian rail­way agenda.

Ef­forts to­wards mod­ern­iz­ing the Nige­rian rail­way sys­tem had com­menced in Oc­to­ber 2006. An agree­ment was signed be­tween Nige­ria and the CCECC of

China for con­struc­tion of a standard gauge La­gos-Kaduna rail line, cost­ing $8.3 bil­lion. The project, well pack­aged was for up­grade of the en­tire rail sys­tem to standard gauge, cov­er­ing a 25year pe­riod. The project in­cluded the Port Har­court-Kano line and the ad­di­tional, La­gos-Cal­abar line (East-West).

The con­trac­tor, CCECC im­me­di­ately started work with the ground-break­ing cer­e­mony per­formed by for­mer Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo at Ka­jola in

Novem­ber, 2006. How­ever, Obasanjo left in May 2007 only to bun­gle the coun­ter­part fund­ing agree­ment in which Nige­ria was to pay the sum of $2bn to the con­trac­tor. His gov­ern­ment only paid the sum of $250m as at the time he left.

On as­sump­tion of of­fice, late Pres­i­dent Umaru Musa Yar’Adua dis­cov­ered that the con­tract did not fol­low due process amid re­port that the project was also in­flated. Yar’Adua vis­ited China, re-ne­go­ti­ated and re-scoped the en­tire project. Nige­ria and China agreed to first, get the ser­vices back with the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the ex­ist­ing nar­row gauge lines.

The project was seg­mented. The com­ple­tion date for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of La­gos-Kano and Port Har­court-Maiduguri lines was December 2011. While this was go­ing on, a Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion came to Nige­ria to com­mence on-site as­sess­ment of the first phase of the now seg­mented standard gauge Abuja-Kaduna line in July 2008 and to fi­nalise it in 2009. Un­for­tu­nately, the death of Yar’Adua stalled progress on the project.

Con­tract for the Abu­jaKaduna standard rail project was awarded in 2010 un­der the gov­ern­ment of for­mer Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan. In­deed, the ac­tual con­struc­tion did not start till 2011. It is an $874 mil­lion project with an Exim Bank China fa­cil­ity of $500 mil­lion. Nige­ria was ex­pected to pay the bal­ance of the to­tal sum. The Project was sched­uled for com­ple­tion in 2014.

But the Jonathan ad­min­is­tra­tion like the pre­vi­ous ones, re­neged on coun­ter­part fund­ing. That ne­ces­si­tated an ex­ten­sion of com­ple­tion pe­riod.

Un­der Jonathan’s gov­ern­ment, al­most all cap­i­tal projects in­her­ited suf­fered poor fund­ing or non-fund­ing de­spite their strate­gic im­por­tance to the econ­omy, and in spite of the huge rev­enue from sale of crude oil all through his regime.

Although the gov­ern­ment of for­mer Pres­i­dent Jonathan did not ini­ti­ate the mod­erni­sa­tion of the Nige­rian Rail­way sys­tem, his gov­ern­ment was on the thresh­old of earn­ing the credit of com­ple­tion. That was never to be. The al­leged short­sight­ed­ness and in­deed, largescale cor­rup­tion the regime is now noted for com­bined to rub it of such a glory.

Now, his­tory beck­ons on Pres­i­dent Buhari to take the credit of re-ne­go­ti­at­ing and com­plet­ing all out­stand­ing rail­way projects con­ceived years back. He had hardly set­tled down in of­fice in 2015 when he made the out­stand­ing pay­ment, which had stalled work on Abu­jaKaduna rail­way projects.

In an­other breath, Pres­i­dent Buhari is putting in­tegrity to the fore on res­cu­ing the mod­erni­sa­tion of the aban­doned La­gos-Ibadan dual track standard gauge line. The con­tract was awarded in 2012 with 2015 set as date of com­ple­tion. The Fed­eral Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil on July 18th, 2012 ap­proved the sum of $1.457 bil­lion as the project con­tract sum on 36 months com­ple­tion pe­riod. The project was aban­doned by the gov­ern­ment of for­mer Pres­i­dent Jonathan af­ter it doled out the sum of N13 bil­lion from the 2012-2013 and 2014 bud­gets. None­the­less, there was noth­ing to show for all the ef­forts.

Pres­i­dent Buhari had rene­go­ti­ated and agreed with con­trac­tors on the com­mence­ment of the project in­clud­ing that of the East-West line(La­gos-Benin-Onit­sha, Port Har­court-Cal­abar) at a re­duced sum of $11.117 bil­lion. His gov­ern­ment had saved the sum of $800 bil­lion for Nige­ria through that sin­gu­lar project.

Within the next two years, all things be­ing equal, the La­gos-Ibadan dual rail project would have been com­pleted. Again, Pres­i­dent Buhari will open it up for com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions. That project, as con­ceived, will re-de­fine the eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment of the south­west for good. It would as­sist in elim­i­nat­ing the long years of trauma that trav­ellers on La­gos-Ibadan dual car­riage way have been un­der­go­ing. In essence, the peo­ple of the south-west would have no other gov­ern­ment to ap­plaud than that of Pres­i­dent Buhari who is about to make it hap­pen.

Sa­muel wrote this piece from La­gos

Now, his­tory beck­ons on Pres­i­dent Buhari to take the credit of re-ne­go­ti­at­ing and com­plet­ing all out­stand­ing rail­way projects con­ceived years back

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