Before the $1.9b rail line to Niger Republic takes off

By Valentine Amanze

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The Muhammadu Buhari-led Nigerian government since inception in 2014 has not failed to surprise Nigerians with its policies, programmes and execution.

It came to power on the mantra of fighting corruption, which forced many to believe the new government including the U.S. government.

While the ovation, which heralded the new government was high, it took the president six months to name its cabinet. As a result of the long delay the “hawks” in the ministries and parastatals had a field day, looting the treasury.

Just like an unprepared army general going to war, the president’s enemies had been feasting on his unorthodox approach to people-oriented issues.

I was not surprised when, on Wednesday September 23, 2020, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting approved the sum of $1.9 billion to construct rail line from Kano-Dutse-Katsina-Jibia to Maradi in Niger Republic.

The rail line is expected to run from Kano through Katsina and will be linked with the Maradi rail line in the neighboring West African nation.

This, however, is not the only contract approved for the Ministry of Transport. A N3.04 billion contract was also awarded for the design, manufacture, supply, testing, and commissioning of one railway crane of 150-ton capacity for emergency and recovery of rolling stocks.

But, briefing state house correspondents after the 16th virtual federal executive council meeting, the government did not tell Nigerians the source of funding the project, which led to the speculation of another Chinese loan.

What prompted the project was not immediately disclosed to Nigerians until recently when the Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, tried to explain.

He said that the project would strengthen Nigeria’s economy.

“The wisdom behind it is that Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso are all landlocked; meaning that they do not have access to sea.

“What this means is that most of their imports and exports have to go through neighbouring countries’ seaports like Cotonou in Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana.

“Because we do not have a road infrastructure that will encourage Niger Republic to use our seaports, we believe that we will take over their imports and exports with the rail linkage.

“The simple reason, therefore, is to strengthen the economy of Nigeria.

“For now, Niger Republic uses seaport of Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana and the exporters go through the stress, challenges and time of being on the road from Cotonu, Lome or Accra to their country.

“But by the time we link them from Katsina to Maradi, it will be easier for us to take over the business. There is nothing like territorial expansion, it is purely economic, we are taking advantage of the proximity and efficiency of the rail system,” the minister said at a programme on NTA.

How can Nigeria’s borders shut because of economic sabotage be reopened with rail line for economic reason by the same government? What has changed since then?

The same government, which banned foreign rice is also opening up importation of corn/maize.

My worry on the rail project hinges not only on the repayment of the loan for it, but security.

Northern Nigeria, where the project would be executed, is already overwhelmed by the activities of bandits, Boko Haram and other criminals, whom the President Buhari once told us came from neighbourung countries.

How would the government convince Nigerians that the bandits, whom the president said were foreigners, would not have easy entry to Nigeria via the railway? Nigeria’s land borders are already porous; the new project will definitely boost the influx of illegal aliens unless our security network is improved.

On economy, it would benefit the government more if the project is located in the Southern Nigeria to connect the nation’s economic nerve centres- from Lagos, connecting Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Aba and Calabar.

Alternatively, the government could sell the idea to ECOWAS. A rail line across the sub-region could benefit every member-nation significantly.

The project is not only insensitive but absurd considering the many areas in Nigeria that are yet to be linked by modern rail system.

Besides, the nation’s education and hospitals are underfunded; it would make sense the money for the rail project be channeled to such areas.

The priority of the government now should be the rehabilitating of the existing roads, which are in bad shape and completion of the ongoing projects. White elephant projects must be avoided now Nigerians are begging for food.
.valoa2000@yahoo.com

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