By FIDELIS UGBOMEH, Lagos
The federal government on April 26, presented a formal request to the National Assembly to approve a loan of $5.8 billion from China Exim Bank to modernise rail lines in some parts of the country even as some Senators raised eyebrows over the non-inclusion of the South East and South South in the plan to modernize the Railway lines
The areas listed for the modernisation included Lagos – Kano, Kano – Kaduna, Lagos – Ibadan and Lagos – Calabar rail segments.
Consequently, minister of Transport, RT. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi was invited by the Senate to explain reason for the exclusion of eastern part of the country in the proposed China Exim Bank loan for rail development in the country.
The invitation came after a federal lawmaker; Senator Enyinaya Abaribe complained that the loan which is for railway development does not cover the eastern part of the country. Eyinaya asserted that railway development should be holistic and not tilted towards developing certain sections to the detriment of other parts of the country.
He pointed out that the loan request should be reviewed to capture all the six geo-political sections of the country noting that “After the entire loan will be repaid with tax payers’ money which belongs to all Nigerians and not by a section of the country”. According to him, there should be railway line from Maiduguri to Port-Harcourt, Calabar to Aba and Port-Harcourt.
Reacting, president general, Nigerian Union of Railway Workers, Comrade Saidu Garba, said that it is not possible for railway lines to link all the state capitals in the country.
According to him, government can only construct railway lines to states that are economically viable in terms of freight and passenger services, adding that the existing narrow gauge did not link some Northern states like Jigawa, Taraba, Adamawa and Kebbi.
Garba posited that construction of railway line is capital intensive and should be done in phases with the primary objective of linking all the state capitals.
He averred that there is nothing wrong in collecting loan from Exim Bank of China but that a committee should be set up to ensure that the loan is judiciously expended for the purpose of which it is meant.
He described the concession of some aspects of railway operations to General Electric as well as the ongoing construction of Lagos to Ibadan standard gauge railway line as contradictory.
The president general, Nigerian Union of Railway Workers, also stated that it is more economical for government to maintain the existing narrow gauge railway system and use same to convey materials that will be used for the construction of the standard gauge railway line than to rely on General Electric for the use of the tracks to convey construction materials.
He decried the neglect of the development of the country’s rail system by successive governments saying, “It is regrettable that while other developed countries have already gone beyond the development of the standard gauge rail system to the metro line, Nigeria is still grappling with the development of the standard gauge rail system.
He commended the zeal and determination of the present administration towards the development of the railways than ever before but that there should be improvement in the remuneration of workers.
According to him, it will not make any economic sense if General Electric imports 20 locomotive engines and 100 wagons as announced by the minister of Transport when the staff who are expected to manage the facilities are not well remunerated.
The president general noted that for instance, locomotive engine drivers and other categories of workers should be given incentives so as to boost their morale and encourage them to work hard like what obtains in the banks.
“Fraud in the banking sector has been reduced to the barest minimum because members of staff have access to housing, car and furniture loans and their offices are comfortable so there is no need to defraud the banks,” he declared.
Another respondent who pleaded for anonymity said that it would be unfair for the Senators to politicise the issue of obtaining loan to modernise the existing the narrow gauge railway line.
According to her, the existing railway line is connected to some parts of the South East and South-South like Aba, Enugu and Port-Harcourt, adding that it is not possible for railway line to be connected to all the state capitals.
She stated that even in the developed countries, railway lines are only connected to the seaports and other vital capital cities.
Chief Executive, Connect Rail, Mr Edeme Kalikume, said that Nigeria has the right land and population to make construction of standard gauge a huge success.
“Once people and freight can be moved from one point to another at a cheaper rate, it will help to enhance economic activities,” he stressed.
According to him, there is nothing wrong in collecting loan to develop the rail transport sector as this will promote cleaner environment through the reduction in carbon emissions from vehicles as vehicular traffic will reduce in preference for trains.
Mr Chika Enabi noted that despite the fact that the minister of Transport, Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi is from the South South, he is doing the bidding of certain interests otherwise why should the South East and South be excluded from benefiting from the loan?
He stated categorically that the eastern part of the country is more viable and more food crops are produced therein for onward transportation to other parts of the country by rail.
Chairman, Nigerian Union of Pensioners, Lagos District Chapter of Nigerian Railway Corporation, said that the loan should be utilised accordingly for the modernisation of the existing narrow gauge and construction of standard gauge railway line from Lagos to Calabar.
According to him, the country will not be where it is today in terms of rail development if successive governments had given rail development the priority it deserves.
Experts however agreed that the implementation of the National Transportation Master Plan in terms of rail development will no doubt, take the country to the next level.