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All eyes on next FEC to approve PH-Maiduguri, other rail lines to hit 700km

* As FG eye 3000km by 2023, says all rail lines must end at the ports * Four deep seaports coming: Lekki, Bonny, Warri and Ibom

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) coming up this Wednesday, October 8, 2020, may prove decisive in the quest to expand Nigeria’s railway network to 700km as two major lines may be approved at the next council meeting.

This is as the FG wants to hit 3000km before it leaves office in 2023 and also ensure that every port in the country is linked by rail to make mass movement of goods and human traffic a reality. The FG also revealed that four deep seaports are on the way to shift dependency on river ports.

The above were revealed in several interviews granted by the minister of transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers State, during the Independence Anniversary week to mark Nigeria at 60.

The minister used the period to explain the real strategic plans behind the rail line from Kano to Maradi, a boundary town in Niger Republic, saying it is to join the trade to landlocked countries in West Africa where he said Nigeria was lagging behind.

For the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line, Amaechi said cabinet approval is imminent and construction would begin before the end of the year or the first quarter of next year.

He said: “I believe that by next week Wednesday, if the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) would add the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri project to the agenda for the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, then I believe that the cabinet should be able to approve the contract from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.

“The Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail starts from Bonny, with a deep seaport approved by the President already but handled by a private firm, and then a rail line from Bonny to Port Harcourt – Aba- Umuahia – Enugu – Makurdi – Lafia – Jos – Kafanchan – Bauchi – Gombe – Damaturu and Maiduguri, with a spur from Port Harcourt to Owerri. So what is left on that line would be Abakaliki and Awka.

“Where we have about two seaports or river ports in Port Harcourt, you’ll be able to transport a lot of Iron Ore deposits from the North East through the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri rail. The completion of this project which we hope that if it doesn’t start this year, it will start first quarter of next year, the completion, will move cargo, create employment, create industrial development and it will grow the economy. The same is applicable for Lagos to Calabar. The Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail has the capacity for hundreds of millions of carg, but for now the amount of cargoes that go between Port Harcourt and Maiduguri is about 11 million tons after the study that we did.

“We are still talking with the Ministry of Finance on the funding of Lagos to Calabar. This line starts from Lagos – Ore to Benin, there’s a spur in Benin that goes to Agbor – Asaba – Onitsha, then it continues from Benin – Warri – Yenegoa – Port Harcourt – Aba – Uyo to Calabar,” he said.

Amaechi also stated that the country is working towards four new seaports. They are: Lekki, Bonny, Warri and the Ibom deep seaport by the Akwa Ibom State government.

He said, “The first deep seaport in the country will be the Lekki deep seaport and it was under this government that we commenced construction. The next will be Bonny and the third one will be the one in Warri which the President has also approved. The Akwa Ibom state government is trying to do Ibom deep seaport. They are partnering with a foreign company. So if you come to the maritime sector, we’ll be having four new seaports. Apapa and Tin Can seaports are River ports because they tee off from the ocean, same with Port Harcourt, Onne, Warri and Calabar. Their drought is about 11 to 12 metres.

“What we are looking at now is between 16 and 17 metres deep seaports and that’s what we’ll have in Lekki, Bonny and the new one we want to construct in Warri and I think that’s what we’ll have in the Ibom deep seaport which is now going through the process of approval. Once we get the approval, we’ll hand over to Akwa Ibom State to go ahead and construct with their partners. The Bonny seaport has already gone through all the processes; what is left is cabinet approval which I hope my colleagues will approve on Wednesday.”

Giving further insight on the benefits the rail lines and how they’ll work and in connection with the seaports and road infrastructure to completely solve the country’s logistics problems, the minister said, “I think there’ll be no economic development if we don’t deal with logistics. That’s why you see people are rushing into Lagos because it’s close to the water. Just imagine what is happening in Apapa over movement of cargoes and goods, it’s because of the poor road network. So, if we complete Lagos to Kano rail line, it has the capacity to move as many million tons of cargo as possible.

“Currently, Nigerians move about 30 million tons of cargo between Lagos and Kano in a year. The capacity of the Nigerian Railway Corporation as at today is about 200,000 cargoes per year. That’s appalling.

“So if you want to make the factors of production to be cheap and make our goods competitive, then you must provide logistics, either by road, by air or by railway. But the cheapest form of transport in this regard is the railway, because it’s subsidised by the government. So the idea of complying with the instruction by the president that all railways must terminate at the seaport is because you want to move your cargo. The moment you begin to move cargo, you’ll see the transformation. The movement of cargo will improve the industrial development of Nigeria,” he said.

Amaechi explained economic benefits of Kano-Maradi (Niger) rail line, new deep seaports, and the plan to connect seaports by rail. He listed the benefits of the Kano-Maradi rail line and the economic importance of the Lekki, Bonny and Warri seaports approved by President Muhammadu Buhari. He also highlighted the role the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line would play in boosting the country’s economy.

He said the Kano-Maradi rail line will afford the country the opportunity to compete in the area of transporting cargoes, good and services to and from landlocked neighbouring countries like Niger via the seaports in Lagos, adding that it’s all about economics, not politics.

“Last week, we awarded the contract for Kano to Maradi and people were screaming why are we taking it to Niger Republic. It’s important to take it to Niger because of economic reasons. Most coastal territories in Africa are competing better than us in terms of cargoes coming from not the hinterland, the landlocked countries. We decided to join the market and compete so that we can make our seaports very viable. We decided to introduce the Kano-Maradi rail, so that we can convey their goods from Maradi (a boundary village) to our ports with ease. I don’t know why people are screaming about it. It’s about economics, not politics.

“We believe that before the end of the year, two railway projects should commence. Kano-Maradi and Ibadan to Kano. For Ibadan to Kano, we are waiting for approval of the loan in China. Once the loan is approved in China, we’ll commence. For Kano-Maradi, the loan is almost ready. They are coming in next week for negotiation. Once we conclude the negotiation and agree, we’ll sign and pursue the construction. The contractor is a Portuguese company (Mota-Engil). They have come with a European bank and a German bank to fund the Kano-Maradi rail.

On the part Niger Republic is expected to play in the construction of the rail line, Amaechi said, “We are the ones building the rail to their village at the border to attract their cargoes. They are comfortable going to Togo, Benin Republic and Ghana or all those countries around there. So what we want to do is to attract them to a cheap and secure form of transportation, so you can’t therefore ask them to make a contribution. We are going to do the $1.98b at our own cost and at Maradi we stop, so that we can attract their cargoes and then get our seaports to be more competitive as compared to Lome, Benin and Ghana.

On the timing of the Kano-Maradi project, Amaechi explained that railway generates employment and can be a means of curbing insecurity in that region as the criminality and banditry may have been as a result of poverty for some people who go into it.

“You should know that railway generates employment and that as you move from Kano to Maradi you’re going to go to Kano, Dutse, Kazaure, Daura, Katsina, Jibia before you get to Maradi, imagine the number of persons that you’ll create jobs for just at the beginning of the construction. At the end of construction, imagine the number of businesses that you can site along that area just because there is transportation. So when you talk about timing, poverty doesn’t have timing, unemployment is causing insecurity and banditry is a product of poverty, not just lack of education. So you have to find an alternative to those who participate in banditry. So what we are trying to create is a source of growing the economy of Nigeria and creating opportunities for those who want to do real business, so they’ll be able to move their manufactured goods and reduce the cost of production around that area. That’s what we are trying to do. So timing won’t be an issue.

The rail project journey

Speaking generally on the development strides by the current administration, Amaechi said, “In infrastructure we are doing quite a lot. The problem with the country is that nobody wants to acknowledge that we are doing a lot. We completed the Abuja Kaduna rail started by President Goodluck Jonathan up to 80 percent. President Buhari commissioned it, we started full commercial operations and it is functioning efficiently. Most people who use it wonder whether we are in Nigeria or not.

“When we finished there, we started Lagos to Ibadan. We will start full commercial activities there in January. We’ve run several times free of charge, but we’ll begin to collect fares from January. After that, is Itakpe-Warri. We’ve done 326 kilometres from Itakpe to Warri, 186 kilometres from Abuja to Kaduna and 157 kilometres from Lagos to Ibadan, so we are inching towards 700kms of rail. We believe that before we leave office, we should be able to achieve about 3000 kilometres of rail around Nigeria and that is huge. I’m sure you’re seeing what Fashola is doing in the area of roads. I’ve driven through Lagos-Ibadan, I drove on good roads, Port Harcourt-Enugu, Onitsha to Asaba road; and he’s working on Abuja to Kano”, Amaechi said.

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