The Federal Executive Council’s (FEC) approval of $1.96 billion railway contract to link Nigeria and Niger Republic has drawn mixed reactions from Nigerians, with many querying the rationale behind a project of that magnitude at a time of immense austerity.
The approval followed the presentation of a memo by Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi for 248-kilometre rail project which will start from Kano, Nigeria through Dutse, Dambatta, Kazaure, Daura, Mashi, Katsina, Jibia and terminating in Maradi, the second largest city in Niger Republic.
Amaechi, who briefed alongside his colleagues in Works and Housing, Niger Delta Affairs, Interior and Information and Culture at the end of the FEC said upon completion, the rail line would assist in the supply of crude oil from Niger Republic to a refinery being built in the border town between both countries.
He said FEC also approved the award of contract worth N3 billion for the design, manufacture, supply, testing and commissioning of one railway crane of 150 tonne capacity for the purposes of clearing rail tracks in situations of accidents.
The contract, initiated in February 2018 is designed to connect Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states.
Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said council also approved N12.088 billion for the construction of the section two of the Ohafia to Arochukwu road.
“This section comprises Umuahia/Bende/Ohafia road in Abia State and it was approved for construction at N12.088 billion comprising a distance of 45 kilometers to complement section one which was previously awarded in 2018, that is the section from Bende/Arochukwu to Ohafia which was 19.27 kilometres. So with this award now, the entire length of the road is now under contract with the same contractor and we hope for expeditious execution.”
Reacting to the rail link, Organised Private Sector said it beats the imagination that government was considering such a project at a time of severe economic contraction.
According to the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), only the government can explain why a project like that would be approved at this austere period in the nation’s economy.
Director General of NECA, Timothy Olawale, however, said perhaps there may have been economic benefits seen by government that were hidden to Nigerians.
But Lead Coordinator of the Centre for Social Justice, Mr Eze Onyekpere lampooned President Buhari and FEC.
He queried the economic rationale behind the humongous project when Nigerians did not have functional railway systems in the country.
“President Muhammadu Buhari should explain to us why there’s no railway leaving the East and West. In the East, the luxury buses carry at least 20,000 passengers a day. If you have a railway, people will ply the trains. There’s traffic already. Now tell me, what goods do we import or export via that Kano-Niger Republic service? How can you borrow money for a loan that is not self-sustaining? What’s the value addition?” he queried.
Also reacting, a rights activist and legal practitioner, Kabiru Akingbolu, told Daily Sun: “For crying out loud, what are they trying to do or achieve with this unpopular action? I submit that this government has either ran out of ideas or just not having the interest of the people at heart. If I may ask, what is the stake of Niger Republic in Nigeria and vice versa? Was it the Niger Republic people that voted the government to power or the government just want to waste our resources to service other countries in Africa so that the president can earn some assumed respect from the international community?
On his part, Okechukwu Nwanguma, executive director, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), said: “What’s the justification for that? Is that a joint venture project between Nigeria and Niger? Otherwise, it raises questions about the president’s interest in Niger republic. Was this appropriated by the National Assembly.
In his reaction, Amb. Chris Ibe, executive director, African Youths Initiative on Crime Prevention (AYICP) claimed the decision showed how unrealistic and unpatriotic the FEC members were.
Also, reacting Malachy Ugwummadu, former president, Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), described FEC’s approval as a complete misplacement of priority.
However, Mr. Olusola Babalola, executive director, Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Development Awareness (CESDA)said it was a welcome development as it would create additional jobs during operation and open up the region for more trade relations between Nigeria and Niger.
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Meanwhile, Vice President of IndustriAll Global and former General Secretary of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers (NUTGTWN), Issa Aremu, said he hoped it was part of the implementation of 25 years strategic vision for the Nigerian Railways, which has commenced with the rehabilitation of the existing western narrow gauge line (Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan-Oshogbo-Ilorin-Jebba-Minna-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano). The total stretch of the rail line rehabilitated ought to be 1126Km.
According to him, the significance of railways cannot be overstated.
“Railways confer the benefits of economics of scale by discounting space. It’s welcomed,” he said.
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