$1.96 billion rail link with Niger Republic, PDP, others attack Buhari

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$1.96 billion rail link with Niger Republic, PDP, others attack Buhari

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and some civil rights groups took a swipe at the Buhari regime over the planned construction of $1.96 billion rail link with Niger Republic.

The described the project as a misplacement of priority in a country facing intractable problems of insecurity and harsh economic conditions arising from hikes in fuel price and electricity tariff.

Besides the rail project, the Federal Executive Council, (FEC) also approved the award of contract worth N3.049bn for the design, manufacture, supply, testing and inauguration of one railway crane for the purposes of clearing rail tracks during accidents.

The Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi who briefed the press after FEC meeting Wednesday, 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 Matadi rail line in Niger Republic and to Dutse, the capital of Jigawa, for a total cost of $1,959,744,723.71, inclusive of 7.5% VAT.”

The PDP described the decision as another proof of the misplacement of priorities by the President.

The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbindiyan, in a telephone interview in Abuja, stated, “The problem of this regime is that it has never gotten its priorities right and at the end of the day, Nigerians are the ones who suffer from these poor choices by these people.

“Let’s even look at it from the point of view of the economy. What is the economic benefit of this project to Nigeria. The Nigerian economy, as it is today, is not in a state to contain this kind of wasteful spending”.

A former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwummadu, said the project was a misplacement of priority.

In an interview with one of our correspondents, 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 organised labour centres 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.”

The Convener of the Concerned Nigerians Group, Deji Adeyanju, told believed the project was meant to loot the resources of Nigeria.
He added that the project was not economically viable and asked, “What is the Kaduna-Abuja rail project generating? Imagine we take a loan from China to construct rail line that passes through Katsina State to another country; for what purpose?

“Lagos that has been battling gridlock for many years. Imagine what would happen if there is an intra-city rail. You can imagine its impact and monthly billions it will generate”.

On his part, 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 former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs, Prof Bola Akinterinwa, said Nigerians should be more interested in the source of the fund for the project.

Akinterinwa, in a telephone conversation with one of our correspondents, said in the light of the global economic crisis, the country could not single-handedly finance such a project.

He said, “There is absolutely nothing wrong if there is a railway line from the northern part of the country to our northern neighbor, Niger, if the funding is going to be at the level of the two countries. Second, if it is within the framework of ECOWAS regional development. Third, if there is an international funding for it under international assistance. So, one cannot just make a conclusion without first addressing under which framework it will be done.

.“So, there is no way that kind of project will not be within that (joint) framework. But the issue is to find out the funding. Like a Yoruba proverb says, ‘whoever is going to help an outsider, must have succeeded in helping himself first.”

A political economy and management expert, Pat Utomi, in an interview 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

“In terms of use, that is the heaviest use traffic that requires rail transportation. But those who make the decisions must understand what drives their own priorities. This is the priority I would choose. But I am not sure what is the basis that forms the government’s choice

“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.”

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