By Musa Ilallah
Current standard gauge rail projects being pursued by the Buhari administration are all projects which pre-dated the administration.
This means that the Abuja-Kaduna and Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri completed and commissioned; Lagos-Ibadan, nearing completion; Ibadan-Kano and Kano-Maradi, Niger Republic which contracts were approved by the federal executive council while construction work will soon commence, were all planned by previous governments in the country.
In fact the 326 kilometres Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line project was started almost 33 years ago but was abandoned by past administrations due to lack of funding.
Nigeria’s current railway project is being developed in segments under the country’s 25-year rail development master plan initiated during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and the implementation of the project was stepped-up by subsequent administrations, particularly the current administration of President Buhari who is determined to complete all abandoned projects during the PDP administration’s 16 years in power.
What is most interesting in all of these efforts by the PMB administration is the fact that all the railway projects are initiations of previous governments and President Buhari has in consideration of national interest patriotically and continuously pursued their completion rather than starting new ones that may end up as white elephant projects.
Notable among such projects are Abuja-Kaduna, Lagos-Ibadan, Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri, Ibadan-Kano and Kano-Daura-Maradi (Niger) standard gauge rail lines.
Firstly, the 186 km Abuja-Kaduna rail line as one of the first standard gauge railway modernisation projects, SGRMP undertaken in Nigeria was estimated to cost government $87.6m in 2011. This is phase 1 of the Lagos-Kano project.
Secondly, the $8.3bn contract for the Lagos-Kano standard gauge modernisation project awarded to a Chinese company, CCECC in 2006 marked the beginning of the initiative but couldn’t be implemented due to funding challenges. It was later re captured into different stand alone segments and the existing 1,124km narrow-gauge Lagos-Kano line was rehabilitated.
The next segment to undergo standard gauge renovations is the 312km dual Lagos-Ibadan rail line, which is a double-track standard gauge line scheduled for completion in 2020 and awarded at a cost of $1.53bn in 2012.
Thirdly, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had disclosed that China has approved $5.3 billion for the ongoing railway projects across the country and that government is set to commence and complete construction soon while Federal government had released $318 million as part of the 15% counterpart funding for the Ibadan-Kano rail line whose total cost is put at $8.68bn.
Fourth, the 276 km Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Railway project was first awarded in 1987.
It was originally designed for the transportation of Iron Ore to Ajaokuta, Kogi state and Aladja steel Rolling mills, Delta State and also transport processed steel to the port in Warri, Delta State.
Construction of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri railway line was abandoned after 70% completion for about 33 years.
In view of the need for the rail line to serve multi purposes, the PMB administration redesigned it to provide passenger services.
In 2017, the new administration of PMB funded the revival of Itakpe-Warri rail line at $200 million (N72 billion).
In 2019, the government signed a $3.9 billion (N1.4tr) contract with China Railway Construction Corporation Limited to extend the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Railway line to Abuja.
Commissioning the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line, President Buhari declared that his administration recognised the importance of the railway mode of transportation as a vital backbone to support industrialisation and economic development.
”Accordingly, I have approved the prioritisation of viable railway routes for either new rail lines or the reconstruction and rehabilitation of some, to achieve effective and efficient train services supporting the country’s trade and commerce.
Also speaking at the occasion, Delta state Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa commended President Buhari’s bi-partisan approach to governance, saying “it is a thing of pride and joy that this rail line was completed under your watch.”
Additionally, the Federal Government has approved award of contract for the development of the proposed 258 km Kano-Katsina-Jibia to Maradi rail line in Niger Republic and to Dutse, Jigawa state at $1,959,744,723.71, inclusive of 7.5% VAT.
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi who anmounced this after the 16th virtual FEC meeting chaired by President Buhari in Abuja said that more than 700 contractors bidded for 2020 railway projects.
The rail line, which will start from Kano, is to pass through, Dutse, Dambatta, Kazaure, Daura, Mashi, Katsina, Jibia, towns in Nigeria and terminate in Maradi, Niger Republic.
It is hoped that the rail line, when completed, would assist in the supply of crude oil from Niger Republic to a private refinery being built in the border town between both countries..
It would be recalled that an agreement between Nigeria and Niger in 2015, coordinated by the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation had a plan for “Kano-Katsina-Maradi Corridor Master Plan, (K2M)” as it is called.
Going by this, the two nations would each build a rail track to meet at the border town of Maradi.
Nigerian delegates to that meeting comprised officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Boundaries Commission, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Water Resources as well as those of Kano and Katsina states.
The objective of the rail is the harnessing of raw materials, mineral resources and agricultural produce. When completed, it will serve domestic industries and play the role of a a viable transportation backbone to the West African subregion, starting with the neighboring Niger Republic for their export and import logistic chain.
Minister of Transportation Rotimi Ameachi also justified the construction of the Kano-Daura-Maradi rail line as one that would significantly and substantially boost Nigeria’s economy.
“Currently, Niger Republic, Chad and others have abandoned the Nigerian market. They do not use our seaports again, they go to countries like Benin Republic and they are growing the economy of those people and we do not have deep seaports in Nigeria, explained Minister Amaechi.
He said Benin Republic was the first to build a deep seaport in Nigeria adding that Nigeria is the only country in West Africa without a single window for clearance of goods on the same day of arrival.
“Nigerians are now importing through Benin Republic, Lome (Togo) and Ghana because they have a single window. Corruption has made it impossible for Nigeria to adopt the single window,” said Minister Amaechi.
It is on record that the PDP administration under Goodluck Jonathan administration mooted the idea of the Kano-Daura-Maradi railway line as former Vice President Namadi Sambo revealed in Zaria during a reception organised by the Zazzau Emirate in honour of then Governor Muhktar Ramalan Yero of Kaduna state in 2013.
It will be recalled that in 2019, Olawale Rasheed, Director, African Railway Roundtable had written about a new rail corridor, the Kano-Maradi line that is to connect Sahelo Sahara region with West African coast.
The projected new railway line will impact a population of approximately 8.8 million people with many positive social and economic effects, including encouraging economic development through ease of access to goods and services, facilitate transport of raw materials and manufactured goods, and creation of employment for a wide range of personnel.
Nigeria, in line with its massive railway development plan has been able to also put in place measures to connect the whole country to railway network. Such plans include Bonny-Port Harcout-Maiduguri; Ibadan-Osogbo-Ilorin; Osogbo-Ado Ekiti; Ilorin-Minna and Minna-Abuja among others.
Mr Ilallah writes from Abuja