There is a growing concern about the $823 Abuja Light Rail, the first of its kind in West Africa and a major infrastructure project, which has been idle for years, according to findings by BusinessDay.
A part of the project was completed and open for use in 2018 but the service was later suspended. The entire scheme has suffered neglect with little known about the government’s plans for its resuscitation, a Bloomberg report showed.
According to the design of the rail, the project is to cover a total distance of 290km (180 miles) and is meant to be developed in six phases. The contract was awarded at the cost of $824 million, with 60 per cent to be funded with loans from the Exim Bank of China.
The project was originally meant to solve the perennial transportation problem in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and its adjoining towns and cities.
How the light rail was supposed to work
The Abuja light rail mass transit project consists of six lots covering a distance of approximately 285km.
According to BusinessDay’s findings, the 42.5 km (26.4 mi) Lot 1, which has been completed, has two lines and 12 stations connecting the Abuja city centre with the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport via the Lagos–Kano standard gauge railway at Idu.
It has stations at Abuja metro, stadium, Kukwaba 1, Kukwaba 11, Wupa, Idu, Bassanjiwa and the airport.
Lot 2 starts from Gwagwa via Transportation Centre (metro station) to Nyanya/Karu; Lot 4 is from Kuje to Karshi with the remaining legs of the transit-way line 2, while the Blue Line (Lot 3) is expected to pass through Idu to Kubwa, with stations in Idu, Gwagwa, Deidei, Kagini and Gbazango.
Lot 5 is expected to be from Kubwa via Bwari to Suleja, and Lot 6 from the airport via Kuje and Gwagwalada to Dobi.
Why the project stalled
The $823 million Abuja railway was built by the state-owned China Civil Engineering Construction Corp and was due to be completed by 2015.
Nonetheless, the construction of the Abuja Light Rail project reached its conclusion in 2018. However, passenger service on the line was put on hold in early 2020 due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and has remained inactive since.
Zakari Angulu Dobi, the mandate secretary of the FCT Transport Secretariat, in a press statement last year noted that they had ascertained the level of damage to the project by vandals and they would commence the work of fixing the damaged facilities.
He said the administration would soon begin work on another 5.76 kilometres of rail track, which was expected to gulp $272 million.
BusinessDay’s findings showed no repair nor additional tracks have been added and operations are still stalled one year later.
Loan repayment already started
According to the data obtained from the Debt Management Office (DMO), the loan agreement was signed on November 7, 2012 by Nigeria and the China EXIM Bank.
It was a $500 million concessionary loan at 2.50 per cent, which had a grace period of seven years, with a maturity date of September 21, 2032 and a tenor of 20 years.
Further details from the DMO also showed that as of March 2023, $19.2 million had been repaid on the principal, while $4.8 million had been paid on interest.
Experts have called on the Federal Capital Territory Administration and the federal government to declare a state of emergency on the metro rail and revive it to provide residents of FCT an alternative to road transport.
“How come the loan has been fully accessed and repayment on it has commenced, but the project is yet to be completed? If government officials are found wanting and have diverted funds meant for the projects, they must be sanctioned and punished,” Niyi Awodeyi, CEO of Subterra Energy Resources Limited, said.
“It is totally unacceptable and morally wrong for the government to use taxpayers’ money to repay loans on a project they are not enjoying or may not enjoy soon. Government must be held accountable for projects,” he added.