Nigerians’ excitement over the federal government’s plan to build a viable rail system is being threatened by lack of funds, the minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, has said.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP, the minister explained that the non- availability of funds had hindered the kick-off of the Ibadan-Kano rail line, the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri narrow gauge, and other rail projects across the country.
On the Ibadan-Kano rail line, Amaechi said that “we are waiting for the Federal Ministry of Finance. We have done our bit. We awarded the contract. So, we wait till finance raises the money. So until they come back and say, see the cash, you and I will be waiting.”
Commenting on the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail project, the minister said that,“President Muhammadu Buhari has given approval earlier for the construction of the standard gauge, the seaport in Bonny and Port Harcourt Industrial Park, so what we have done is that we need approval again. If we start pursuing the money to construct Port Harcourt to Maiduguri now in case of loan, we may not get the loan easily. So, why not give us permission to do two things at the same time. While looking for the money for the standard gauge, allow us to rehabilitate the narrow gauge. That is to yank off what we have now and replace them with new ones and that will cost us slightly below $3 billion which is easy to get and extend it to Bonny. The people are willing to build the seaport and industrial park with their own money. But if you give us that approval, we will source for that money.
“That is what is before the president, we submitted it last week and we are waiting for his approval. The president is a bit more determined that we construct a standard gauge, but if we continue to wait, we may not get the funds to construct the standard gauge now.
“I am not saying we are not going to get it but when you see how long it took us to get $5.3 billion for Ibadan to Kano, which took us more than three years and you are asking for $12 billion loan; it won’t be that easy. So, for us at the ministry, we thought, why not at least rehabilitate the narrow gauge, remove the slippers, ballers, tracks, replace them, rebuild the stations; extend it to Damaturu in Yobe State and to Bonny in Rivers State.
“While they are running at 80 kilometres per hour, don’t forget that the standard gauge is 120 kilometres per hour. In fact, the design is 150 kilometres but the actual operation is 120km and the difference between 120 and 80 is just 40, and we can bear it pending when we get the money for standard gauge.
“But don’t forget that the president’s argument is that he wants standard gauge. We agreed with him, we are going to look for the money for the standard gauge pending when we get the money, the rehabilitation of the old ones will facilitate trips,” Amaechi said.
On the proposed partnership with GE, the minister said that GE had sold its transport company and the new buyer is not engaged in that line of business.
According to him, they (GE) handed over to East Africa Star, noting that “they are having a bit of problems, and once the two leading people are no longer there, you have to start afresh. But I also think that while we are waiting for them, we are losing business. GE asked that we should borrow $700 million and that could not have done the rehabilitation of all the narrow gauges. You are looking at Lagos to Kano and that money would not have done the rehabilitation of the stations, signalling and all that. To do all that, you need close to $4 billion between Lagos and Kano, another $2 to $3 billion between Port Harcourt and Maiduguri. So what we have done instead of waiting (because we have lost quite a lot of years,) was to try to get the federal government to allow us borrow money and fund it.”
Speaking on the new coaches that had just arrived in the country, Amaechi explained the problems they are having is transportation.
He said: “They have to transport the ones they have now to Marina. I recently received a request for approval to direct CCECC to transport them to Marina, which is the right thing. Because CCECC has the right contract and the contract ends in Lagos. I hope they won’t argue about the transportation of those coaches to Abuja. I think before the end of the month or first week of March they would have reached their destinations. They include two locomotive (diesel motorcars) and eight coaches; next is 10 for Lagos and 10 for Abuja.”
The minister also spoke on his meeting with CCECC president and the delay of work on the Lagos-Ibadan rail line.
Amaechi said: “It was not their fault, but the fault of the urban nature of Lagos. We have pipes. We had to bring a company from Italy to identify the pipes. The next thing we looked was that if we tried to dig our pipes, power supply will stop in Lagos, there will be no fuel for literally the entire country apart from those who go from Port Harcourt. So, we brought another company that was not part of the contract to find a solution on how to build on those pipes without causing any damage, because one of the problems with those pipes is once it is not properly done and it explodes, and the whole of Lagos would be in trouble.
“We have to put enough engineering in place to protect the pipes and the oil that they carry so that we don’t have an explosion, all that took time. Once you leave Ibadan, the only place you will have a problem may probably be Kano, but from what we did, all our construction is outside Kano. In Lagos all the lands are occupied so there is no way we would have done that. I don’t see us meeting those problems. In other areas, that is why we are compelling them to promise that they will complete it in three years. The contract is for six years but we are saying the president must step out of the villa by commissioning the Ibadan to Kano,” he said.
On the extension work for the Lagos-Ibadan project, the minister said that he had been told that they had moved rapidly and were about crossing Ikeja, adding that “if we push them further they should be able to get to Ebutte Meta in the next three to four weeks. If they get to Ebutte Meta, then we are done with the first phase of the contract.”
Giving details o on his recent trip to Russia and the fallouts, Amaechi said that “we are waiting for them (Russia). They have replied and asked for some specific documents and we have supplied the documents. So, we are waiting for them. The cost would not be possible now. We won’t know till they do their bill of quantity. It may be cheaper than the Chinese bill, you can’t tell, the Chinese bill is $11.1 billion, it came down from $11.9 billion.”