As Lawmakers Insists FG Marginalizing South-East, South-South
The National Assembly has descended on the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi following the federal government’s decision to construct a standard gauge railway line from Kano (Kano West Nigeria) to Maradi in Niger.
In a hot exchange that lasted for hours, the joint committee of the legislature on Land and Marine Transport on Thursday condemned the plan, accusing the executive of not putting the national interest ahead of other considerations.
The committee’s protest came to fore during the presentation of the 2022 budget proposal of the Ministry and agencies under it.
A visibly agitated Chairman of the House Committee on Port, Honourable Pat Asadu (Ovoko/Igbo Eze South federal Constituency) asked the Minister why the South East was left out in the government’s rail construction agenda.
“If the Ministry feels that doing a 287 kilometers of railway track from Kano to Maradi that you will fund with Nigerian money borrowed for Nigerians to be paid by our children to do a world class railway to Maradi. 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 need assessment, what study of federal character integration would make the Ministry of Transportation to put 284 kilometers railway from the end of the north to Maradi and then constructing a Narrow Gauge in the South East and South South.
Looking at the core mandate of the Ministry in policy formulation and monitoring, looking at your key railway projects which you’ve highlighted, I think they are worth the spent.
“We are now looking at the difference between project D which is the construction 284 kilometers 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.
For a segment of this country that is known for trade and commerce, they need railway as they need air.
“This to me is why the integration of this country will always be challenged because things are done with so much impunity. This is our common wealth. 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.”
The Committee also queried the Minister’s argument that the differences in rail-line gauges was based on the willingness of lenders to give the federal government loans to execute the projects.
Ameachi while responding to the issue raised said that difference between the Narrow gauge and Standard gauge is speed adding that the country may not get the money to standard gauge across the country.
He said that the negotiation for loan for the construction of Kano- Maradi standard gauge line is about to be completed.
He also clarified that his ministry was yet to get money for Kano-Kaduna, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway projects. “The only money we have gotten is $1.4bn for Lagos-Ibadan rail project,” he said.
On the economic justification for constructing the $1.3bn Kano-Maradi rail, Ameachi said the project was not based on sentiments but economic benefits for the country.
He disclosed that 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,” he added.
Hon. Asadu however interjected, “why would you go for the one you cannot afford if the difference is just 20 kilometers because what you are planting, beyond you and me sitting here, is that if I am a trader anywhere and I here they are doing standard gauge in one part of the country and doing narrow gauge somewhere else, 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.”
Noting that “the construction of Kaduna -Kano Railways to link up the Abuja-Kaduna rail line has commenced with Survey and Design for Ibadan -Minna – Abuja is ongoing, the Transport Minister further explained that the “construction of the 284 kilometers Nigeria. -Maradiv(Nigeria Republic) standard guage, rail line enabling interconnectivity with countries in the West Africa sub region for the promotion of trade and commerce.
This important contribution by Nigeria would be mutually beneficial by adding to the economic growth of the two countries , Niger and Nigeria”
In his remarks, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Senator Danjuma Goje kicked against the marginalization of other regions in the projects.
He questioned why constructing Modern rail line for one place and constructing old rail lines in other parts of the country .
Senator Goje asked, “why you will give us old rail line and spending a lot of money to standard gauge to Maradi?”
“Why won’t you construct narrow gauge across the country so that we can develop equally. I can’t sit down and approve this. These are done with such impunity , my heart bleeds .This had been reoccurring.”
The Senate Committee Chairman emphasized the importance of marine Transport across the globe, adding that the mode of transportation was an essential components to the world economy as over 90 percent of the world trade is carried by sea and it is the most effective way to move huge volumes of goods and raw materials around the world including Nigeria.
“You 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.
What is wrong with us? Are we not Nigerians? I completely concur with Honourable Pat Asadu, 100 per cent,” the Gombe APC lawmaker asserted.
The federal government had earmarked between $12billion and $14billion for the construction of the Eastern line which begins from Port Harcourt to Borno State.
The Minister said unfortunately “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. We are looking for $11.1billion for Lagos to Calabar.
What you are saying now is exactly what the President told me, he refused.
“He wants a standard gauge from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. But when I laid the cards on the table and explained that if we start looking for money we will not construct. I said to the President give me 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. Then give me a second approval that will enable me to look for the $14billion to construct standard gauge. So with the two approvals, any one I get money for I will go ahead. But the one that is quicker to get the money is $3.020million. So that by the time you finish it, the rail is running while we are looking for money to construct standard gauge.”
He stressed that the ministry did not “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 kilometers.”