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Senators Criticize Amaechi Over Kano-Niger Republic Rail Project

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Land and Marine Transport have questioned the federal government’s plan to construct a standard gauge rail line from Kano-Maradi, Niger Republic, while it plans to construct narrow rail lines for other rail projects in South-east, South-south and North-east.

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was grilled by the panel when he appeared for the ministry’s budget defence

The federal government had planned a narrow gauge for the proposed eastern rail corridor – to begin from Port Harcourt, Rivers State to Maiduguri, Borno State.

Mr Amaechi had explained that the standard and narrow gauge rail have the same load capacity. The only difference, he said, is speed – which is about 20 kilometres.

But the lawmakers, unsatisfied with his submission, said the plan was discriminatory against other parts of Nigeria.

Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, Pat Asadu, made the first observation.

“We are now looking at the difference between ‘Project D’ which is the construction of 284 kilometres Nigeria-Maradi railway standard world class line against ‘Project C’ where you talked about the total rehabilitation and reconstruction of Port Harcourt to Maiduguri eastern rail network defined as narrow gauge,” Mr Asadu said.

“For a segment of this country that is known for trade and commerce, they need railway as they need air. If the ministry feels that doing a 287 kilometres of railway track from Kano to Maradi will be funded with borrowed money…to be paid by our children…

“I also know the economy of Niger Republic and I believe the economy of the Southeast is bigger than that of Maradi. I am not even talking of South-South.

“So what policy guide, what study of federal character integration would make the Ministry of Transportation to put 284 kilometres railway from the end of the north to Maradi and then constructing a Narrow Gauge in the South East and South South…?”

The lawmaker said this decision is why Nigeria’s integration will always be challenged because things are done with so much impunity.

“So if we approve this budget for you, you will go and do Kano Maradi standard rail line and do a narrow gauge rehabilitation for the South-east. My heart bleeds. Instead of doing the right thing, you are now giving us this one as what will enhance the economy of Niger and Nigeria, while the economy of Nigerians especially those who have the containers and who are always on the road are given a narrow gauge rehabilitation,” he lamented.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe), also picked holes in the proposed rail projects.

He wondered why the ministry had decided to give people from South-east, North-central, North-east the archaic, old modern narrow gauge, only to spend a lot of money to do the modern standard gauge to another country.

He said, “Are people from the South-east, North- central and North-east not Nigerians? Why should there be double standard in this matter? That is why we are quarrelling. You are spending a lot of money to do Lagos-Ibadan rail line.

“You are telling us you are designing Ibadan to Abuja, you are doing Kaduna to Kano, you are doing Abuja to Itakpe and to Warri. What wrong did the South-east, North-central and North-east, particularly the South east, Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Bauchi, Gombe, Borno and Adamawa do? What is wrong with us? Are we not Nigerians?”

If we start looking for the money now and it takes time before we get that money, you will say it is Amaechi that refused to give you railway. Because now, we don’t even have the money to do Ibadan to Kano. That is why on our own, we are funding Kano to Kaduna while looking for the money,” Mr Amaechi

“We are looking for $11.1billion for Lagos to Calabar. Do you want us to include you on that where we are searching for money or be practical?”

He said President Muhammadu Buhari wants a standard gauge from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri but that “when the cards were laid on the table”, he asked the president to make two approvals so that every part of the country will have a rail line.

“The first approval is to reconstruct and not rehabilitate the narrow gauge. The second approval that will enable me to look for the $14billion to construct standard gauge. He added that the difference between standard and narrow gauge is speed which is about 20 kilometres.

“Whatever weight of cargo that narrow gauge will carry is the same weight of charge that standard gauge will carry, he said.

“Now as a minister, my mind tells me you won’t go home if you don’t provide railway for your people. I now said since it will be difficult for me to get $14billion, let me ask for the small one of $3billion so that I can at least reconstruct this one to run between 80 and 100 kilometres.

“Standard gauge for Christ’s sake is 120 kilometres…So the difference is if you take off from Lagos you may get to Ibadan 20 minutes ahead the person using narrow gauge.”

When Mr Goje asked the minister when he started to source for loans for the Kano-Maradi rail line, he explained that Kano to Maradi is 20 kilometres.

“The rail takes you to Jibya, Jibya into Maradi is 20 kilometres. So what is this about? Is Honourable Asadu telling me that we should not build railway to Katsina, Daura, Jibya, Dutse, Kano? We should not give that railway?”

Interjecting, Mr Asadu wondered why the ministry did not opt for narrow Gauge for all the projects.

“Why would you go for the one you cannot afford if the difference is just 29 kilometres because what you are planting is beyond you and me sitting here…you create a feeling of this is not universal.

“What I am saying is that since borrowing the $14billion for the South-east and the rest is impossible why won’t you go for narrow gauge so we all develop equally? Because what we are looking at is a country that is one not just in name.

“You could smile, you could take serious, but I do not see myself sit here and approving a budget to do a rail to Maradi on a standards gauge and do a narrow gauge for the eastern flank,” he said.

Mr Amaechi further said the negotiation for loan for the construction of Kano-Maradi standard gauge line is about to be completed.

He also said his ministry was yet to get money for Kano-Kaduna, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway projects.

The only money received is $1.4bn for Lagos-Ibadan rail project, he said.

The minister added that the government’s plan to construct the $1.3bn Kano-Maradi rail, was not based on sentiments but economic benefits for the country. And on completion of Kano-Maradi and Kano to Lagos railway, all national cargoes from Niger Republic, like uranium and gold, would be moved through Nigerian sea port from that corridor.

This, he said, would translate into huge economic benefits for Nigeria.

“What I will do before leaving office is to ensure that we move from verbal agreement with the government of Niger to written agreement, Mr Amaechi”

Earlier, Mr Goje emphasised the importance of marine transport across the globe describing it as an essential component to the world economy as over 90 per cent of the world trade is carried by sea.

He also said it is the most effective way to move huge volumes of goods and raw materials around the world, including Nigeria.


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