The Federal Government on Wednesday approved a $1,959,744,723.71 contract for a rail line that would link Nigeria to Niger Republic. This was approval was given at the meeting of the Federal Executive Council which was presided over by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
The rail project is expected to serve as a major means in the transportation of petroleum product from the refinery and petrochemical company in Maradi in Niger Republic to Nigeria. The rail line which is designed to connect three Northern states – Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states, as well as seven senatorial districts is a 248-kilometre line and it is expected to aid the transportation of crude oil.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said, ‘The first approval for our ministry is the award of contract for the design, manufacture, supply, testing and inauguration of one railway crane of 150-ton capacity for emergency and recovery of rolling stocks. This is to sort out situations of accident on the track. It is for a total cost of N3,049,544,000.’
‘The second one is the award of contract for the development of the proposed Kano-Katsina-Jibia to Maradi rail line in Niger Republic and to Dutse, the capital of Jigawa, for a total cost of $1,959,744,723.71, inclusive of 75% VAT.’
Although, President Muhammadu Buhari in his new year speech announced that there were negotiations for the construction of a rail line from Kano to Maradi but this was greeted with wide criticisms.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, whilst speaking with journalists in Abuja said Chad and Niger which have infrastructures and deep sea ports to import their goods have abandoned Nigeria.
The minister lamented that Nigeria is the only country in West Africa that does not have a single window in clearance of goods at the port. He said the corruption in the system made it impossible for Nigeria to adopt the single window.
‘Currently, Niger Republic, Chad and others have abandoned the Nigerian market. They do not use our seaports again,’ he said.
‘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. Benin Republic is the first to build a deep seaport in Nigeria.
‘Nigeria is the only country in West Africa without a single window which allows the clearance of goods on the same day of arrival. Nigerians are now importing through Benin Republic, Lome and Ghana because they have a single window.
‘The huge corruption in the system has made it impossible for us to adopt the single window. It is this government that is trying to this and for the past two years, this has been impossible.
‘We are not competitive for two reasons. Our police checkpoints from Lagos to Kano, Kano to Maradi. If we are going to be competitive like others, then we must have the same infrastructures that they have. With trains, there are no checkpoints thereby making the movement of people and goods faster than the road. Also, Maradi is just a border town not like it is deep into the town.’
‘The Niger government is not contributing to the project and they do not need to do so. We have to also provide the same infrastructure that makes them go to other countries for business. Those countries already have the access and that is why Niger can go there go there for business.’
However, the Peoples Democratic Party and some civil rights groups disparaged the Buhari regime opposing the project, saying the country was facing numerous problems of insecurity and tough economic conditions arising from hikes in fuel price and electricity tariff. Hence, the project was a misplacement of priority this critical period.
A former President of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, ‘It is a misplacement of priority and insensitivity to the needs and plight of the people by a government that faces imminent and impending strike action by the organized labor centers and civil society partners in response to their illegal and obnoxious increases in the prices of petroleum commodities, the hike in electricity tariff and VAT, all within the devastating COVID-19 period.’
A former President of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Dr Sam Nzekwe, wondered who would pay for the part that leads to Niger.
He said, ‘There is so much infrastructural deficit in Nigeria, and part of the reasons we are not having many investors in the country is lack of critical infrastructure. Government would have used more efforts to develop infrastructure in Nigeria.’
While wondering what the rationale behind the project could be, he said, ‘One would have said by now we should be talking of how to build solid roads and the rail system in Nigeria very well. But sometimes, I don’t know if we are getting our priorities right because I think we have to finish with Nigeria before you think of going to Niger. Is there any special thing we are getting from Niger?’
A political economist and management expert, Pat Utomi, said the government had to explain the rationale for its decision to approve the development of the rail line.
He said, ‘The first question, you ask is which is the most commercial axis in the country that needs rail service? In my view, by far the commercial axis is the Lagos-Benin-Onitsha-Port Harcourt-Calabar corridor. That is the busiest commercial track in the country.’
‘If there is a regional decision to link the countries of the sub-region and there is a rationale justifying it, say for example produce-aggregation across borders. I can understand that, but everyone must be made to understand what produce is being aggregated on the Kano-Dutse-Katsina-Jibia-Maradi route’.
‘I have no problem with cross border traffic if it can be justified on a produce-aggregation level for example a corridor for cotton or something which can have an economic impact. But if it does not, then clearly the judgment of those who are doing the allocation has to be questioned by the people.’ Pat Utomi said.
Adenike Omosanya and Peace Omenka