Many business experts, public commentators, and analysts in the coastal states say they are yet to recover from the pleasurable shock of the news of the approval of $11.75billion to begin construction of the much-awaited Coastal Rail Line (CRL) that would start in Lagos to Calabar, meaning from the west to the east along the Atlantic Ocean coast.
The news was broken Wednesday August 4, 2021, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja by Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, after a crucial Federal Executive Council (FEC) which approved over $15bn projects. The first phase of the project would last 21 months.
A Port Harcourt–based policy analyst, Chris Finebone said the project has a huge impact prospect for boosting the growth of cities along the line, thus changing the fortunes of many coastal cities.
More than anything else, he said, it will open up the coastal belt with affordable transportation with its socio-economic impact on the people and economies of the states. He said it represents immediate and long-term needs of the people. “We cannot continue to live our lives on ad-hoc basis, we need enduring infrastructure that will guaranty sustained development for this generation and the unborn generation,” Finebone said.
According to him, if such enduring infrastructure were built in the past (at least since independence), the economy would not remain as fragile as it is today.
“Apartheid regime in South Africa was terrible but some important infrastructural foundation was laid in South Africa during Apartheid. This is why the South African economy remains ever strong and the result is that the South African Rand is stable in value against major foreign currencies. The price I met fuel in 2013 in Johannesburg is almost the same price today with very marginal changes. That’s a sign of a stable economy/currency,” he said.
Many others said opening up any area brings positive developments; however, opening up coastal areas will usher in additional gains associated with maritime business. They said this was part of the aspirations of the people.
Finebone, an Opobo chief, said South Africa economy is strong and stable because of the availability of infrastructure such as power, rail, roads, communication, airport, etc. There is no other magic to economic development. “That is why the World Bank keeps encouraging Nigeria to strive to build and upgrade her infrastructure even if it means borrowing to build such infrastructure,” he further said.
Lai Mohammed, who pointed out that the project was approved before the present administration, said what has happened was that fund has been approved for it. He said: “This particular route is very important because after the Lagos-Kano route, this Lagos-Calabar coastal route actually will link all the coastal cities in the country.
“Actually, the proposed route alignment is as follows; it will go from Lagos to Sagamu, Sagamu to Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ode to Ore, Ore to Benin City, Benin-City to Sapele, Sapele to Warri, Warri to Yenogoa, Yenegoa to Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt to Aba, Aba to Uyo, Uyo to Calabar, Calabar to Akamkpa to Ikom, Obudu Ranch with branch lines from Benin-City to Agbo, Ogwashi-Ukwu, Asaba, Onitsha and Onitsha Bridge and then Port Harcourt to Onne Deep Sea Port.”
Nothing to celebrate
Some said the absence of jubilation for such a huge project was indication that it is not a very good project.
A communication management expert in the state, Blessing Nwikina, said: “It is unachievable. It would make more sense, if the vote was converted to a coastal road project. Railway would serve only a few persons, and can’t generate economic hustles among the people. But road would have multiplier effects; with side hustles, buses, trucks, keke, okada, etc will be engaged along the coastal road from place to place.
“Railway has designated stations, and its movements and stops are regulated. Local economic activities are cut off from railway business. Coastal road would trigger participatory involvement. Don’t you notice the silence that greeted the announcement of the coastal rail project from coastal communities? There is nothing to celebrate.”
Finebone however, countered, saying such reasoning seemed to come from the minds of those who said building flyovers was job creation because it would create tricycle riders.
“We are talking about heavy and medium industries springing up along the rail corridor stretching between Lagos to Calabar, manufacturing and using the cheap rail mode of transport to distribute/haul for distribution. It is on record that companies are already rushing for space along the rail corridor between Lagos and Ibadan,” he explained.
Some suspect that this must be mere amorphous item to calm the people with what they termed “glittering fragments”. Their argument is that the present administration has less than two years while the project would take about six years or 77 months. They asked, “Within the remaining two years, do you think they can complete up to 10 km?”
Those in support ask why important projects cannot be allowed to go from administration to administration. They argue that things like construction of industrial zones, mega rail system, metro-lines, Tinapa, mega gas projects, monorail lines, etc, cannot be expected to be started and completed by one regime.
It will also be tragic to limit regimes to small projects they can complete. No economy grows on minor infrastructural projects. Nigeria must get to a point where some projects must be securitised such that next administration cannot stop it.
More support comes from Benin
Our Correspondent in Benin, Churchill Okoro, quotes Charles Akhigbe, managing director of AMES- Edo inland dry port, as saying that when the proposed N11.75bn Lagos-Calabar coastal rail becomes operational, it would facilitate trade, reduce cost of doing business and decongest ports by bringing goods close to the doorsteps of importers and exporters.
“The rail is a very important means of transportation and it will help to access all the coastal regions. It can carry more cargoes from the seaports into the hinterlands where inland dry ports are located.
“Hopefully, when the lines would have been built, no importer or exporter will have any business going to the seaports to clear their goods. The importance cannot be overemphasised, we are only praying it happens; so that for the first time there will be a rail line passing through Benin City,” Akhigbe said.
For Aina Omo-Ojeonu, president Benin Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, with the rail line, there would be ease of movement and improvement in trade and commerce around the states.
Mixed feelings from Asaba
From Asaba, Mercy Enoch reports that residents of Delta State received with mixed feelings the news of the FEC’s approval of $11billion for coastal rail project from Calabar-Lagos.
An Asaba resident that did not want his name in print said: “We’ve had situations where government borrows money for projects that never saw the light of day.
“Therefore, on the approval of money for the coastal rail project, I cannot say that I am excited. Excitement would not just be in the announcement but when the physical infrastructure is on ground and people begin to see the reality. Then, we can say that a milestone has been attained on the project.
“For instance, I’m excited about the rail project that runs through Itakpe-Warri. It gives me personal joy that the Federal Government was able to realise the project,” he said.
Ekio Benson (Asaba), commended the FG for the approval of the fund for the coastal rail project, describing it as nice one.
According to him, “The project, when completed, would decongest traffic on our roads and heavy-duty vehicles would give way from our roads.
With the project linking places like Asaba, Onitsha, etc, it means that the nightmare that is experienced at the Niger Bridge would no longer be there.
For Alphonsus Agbon (Ogwashi-Uku): “It’s cheering news to the people of Anioma and particularly the people of Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom in the sense that the area has been left underdeveloped despite being a few kilometres away from Asaba, the state capital.
“If Federal Government would be sincere as it has approved the funds for the project, it means on completion, it would reactivate the economic activities of the area.”
Some other sources however, wondered why the same people that saw the much-delayed 2nd Niger Bridge kick-started in their presence at Asaba, still would not believe the coastal rail promise.
The masses in the region would want to see the project in action before they would allow excitement sweep through them, despite the reality of the 2nd Niger Bridge. It thus behooves on the FG to kick-start the practical implementation of the coastal rail line for the people of the oil region to believe it is no scam.