President Muhammadu Buhari, recently virtually inaugurated the 326 Km Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line for commercial operation and directed the Ministry of Transportation to ensure that all the nation’s ports are linked to the rail line.
In Nigeria’s effort to achieve rapid economic growth and industrialization, in 1987, a contract was awarded to build the central line, a standard gauge railway to connect the iron ore deposits at Itakpe to the Ajaokuta Steel Mill and the Atlantic Ocean port of Warri. The rail line was originally planned for completion in five years, but irregular funding stretched out its construction period over 30 years.
In August 2017, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, announced that the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) and Julius Berger would complete the railway.
In October 2019, the government signed a $3.9 billion contract with the China Railway Construction Corporation Limited to extend the railway to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. The realization of the railway dream of over many years and the completion and commissioning of the Itakpe-Warri phase of the project will bring succour to low-income earners in the axis.
The rail corridor, in the opinion of this newspaper, should be seen as a major opportunity for investors to collaborate with the federal and state governments to explore existing investment windows. Small businesses can be encouraged to spring up in order to create jobs and wealth for the locals.
In our view, it is also important that both public and private sectors collaborate to add value to the historic railway corridor connecting the oil-rich region of the South-south and industrious South-east with the agricultural and solid mineral hubs of the North-central and North-west linking the nation’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
It is instructive that at the inauguration of the rail line, President Buhari announced that he had approved the prioritisation of viable railway routes in the country and also directed that the Itakpe-Warri rail line should be extended to the northern region of the country before the expiration of his tenure in 2023. The aim was to achieve effective and efficient train services supporting the country’s trade and commerce. The rail line from Itakpe via the steel town complex of Ajaokuta to Warri, is an important link for the country.
Furthermore, the federal government has already approved to link this line further from Itakpe to Abuja, thereby, connecting the Northern Zone of the country and also extending southwards to link the Warri Ports with a directive to link all the nation’s ports of origin and destination – Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Onne, Calabar Ports – to the rail network in order to significantly improve overall transportation and economic capacities.
The railway mode of transportation is a vital backbone to support industrialization and economic development of Nigeria. The project would serve as a vital link of South-South geopolitical zones of the country to the Northern zones. It will link people across the cultural divides and expand the frontier of trade and commerce, which will lead to better standards of living for the citizens. We urge those who work on this line to uphold maintenance and safety culture necessary for long lasting service.
Similarly, the primary beneficiaries of this transportation backbone, including, the iron and steel sector, stakeholders in agricultural and mining sectors on this corridor, as well as the host communities should protect and sustain this infrastructure and maximize the benefits that could be derived from it. This project will increase the volume of the trade and resuscitate the iron and steel complexes.
Already projections indicate that the commencement of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail line will account for close to one million passengers annually and also unleash approximately 3.5 million tones capacity of freight annually that will service all off-takers on the corridor and beyond. The rail line network connecting Delta, Edo to
Kogi states, will make goods coming through Warri ports to be easily evacuated as federal government is highly committed to opening the businesses in the area and decongest the Lagos port which is becoming a source of worry to Nigerians.
Meanwhile during the recent test run of the rail project along the Itakpe-Warri corridor, this paper observed that it is imperative that government build communication network along the corridor or liaise with the Nigerian Railway Corporation to engage telecommunications companies, which can take advantage of non-availability of network coverage to build and install same along the axis.
This will enhance efficiency and encourage passengers to use the train. As stated earlier, both the rail line and stations must be maintained on a sustainable basis. The project facilities including the toilets must be properly maintained and should not become an eye sour after a few years as has become common in most public facilities. The commissioning of this all important rail line is an indication that the country is slowly but surely marching forward on the path of economic growth and development.