By Stephen Ubanna
Even though President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General, who rode to power as an elected Nigeria’s President , first in May 29, 2015 and then in May 29, 2019, on a three-pronged promise of security, revitalising the economy and fighting Corruption , may have failed the nation, he appears to have cashed in on the failures of past leaders to develop the country’s colonial narrow gauge rail line into a double standard gauge to do so.
Between 2006 and 2014, there had been attempts by late President Umaru Yara’Addua and former President Goodluck Jonathan, of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, to replace the existing British-built narrow gauge system , which has a lower design capacity and in a deteriorated state , with a wider gauge system and allowing-speed trains operations to work,.
Bu the Katsina born Nigerian President had succeeded in doing it to the admirations of Nigerians.Late President Yara’dua, had started the moves for the replacement of the colonial narrow gauge system by awarding a $8.3billion contract to the state owned Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company, CECC, in 2006.
The Chinese Construction firm, however, could not mobilise on site due to the paucity of funds. The death of the Katsina state Nigerian former President may have provided an opportunity for Jonathan from the oil-rich Bayelsa state who succeed him, in his capacity as the then Vice President to resume work on the abandoned multi-billion dollar project. He was said to have re-warded the contract back to the Asian country of China state owned Construction Company in 2012 but that was how far he could go.
When all hopes appear to have been lost in replacing the country’s narrow guage rail line system, the Nigerian and the Chinese governments released funds for the project forcing the CECC, to mobilise on site on March 10, 2017.
The project may have been segmented as it has pretty difficult for the Asian country Construction company to deliver it on schedule. The Chinese Construction Company was said to have begun work on the $874 million first segment which was between Abuja and Kaduna, put at approximately 186km in 2011. The Company was said to have completed it in December 2014 and handed over to the government for use
. In 2016, the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, Authorities, on the orders of Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and minister of Transportation , had started allowing its High-speed trains to run on the standard gauge by passengers from Abuja to Kaduna and back at an approved fare.
The completion of the nine stations Abuja-Kaduna segment of the project for both passengers and cargo trains, may have encouraged the Nigerian President to give the nod to the CECC, which had originally won the contract to start work on the $1.53 billion Lagos-Ibadan rail line. The 10 stations railway route for both passengers and cargo trains is expected to operate on a maximum speed of 150km/h. It is instructive to note that the Lagos-Ibadan rail line is the second segment of the new 2,733km Lagos-Kano long double –track standard gauge rail line project.
Amaechi the minister of Transportation, who gave an insight on the extent of work that had been executed by the Chinese firm on the Lagos-Ibadan project at the Chartered Institute of Transport Administration, CIoTA, under the close watch of Bashir Jamoh, who incidentally is the Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, last Thursday, had confirmed that the rail project had been delivered to the government by the CECC, stating that ‘’its usage would commence before the official Commissioning by the Nigerian President by January 2021’’. The minister was emphatic that ‘’the President is set to commission the newly constructed Lagos-Ibadan Lagos-Ibadan rail line’’.
Giving an insider information on the project, he disclosed that he has approved the fares for the route, which many believe was not much different from the fares currently being paid by passengers and cargo owners on the Abuja-Kaduna route. An elated Amaechi said the approved cost of transportation for the Lagos-Ibadan route was quite fair, noting that passengers and cargo have no reason to complain.
The Rivers state born politician, described as one of Buhari’s closest political allies, who could not hide his feelings, had said that in the transport sector alone, the Buhari Administration had done a lot as more projects are still on going, like working ‘’to complete the terminals under the Aviation ministry’’. He cited the changes that had been made at the Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT , and the PortHarcourt Airports. He may have failed to speak on the Lagos and Kano, projects, insisting that the only person who is competent to divulge such information, on when it would be completed is Hadi Seriki, the minister of Aviation as it is directly under his supervision.
He may have gladdened the heart of the CIoTA, officials, when he gave kudos to Jamoh, their President, for his bold initiatives in the Institute, which has taken it to a new level, stressing that the Federal ministry of Transportation ‘’would partner with it’’ to encourage Professionalism in the nation’s Transport sector as well as ensure seamless and effective transportation across all odes’’.
The minister may have cue into the call by Yakubu Gowon, a retired Army General and former Head of State and Chairman of the CIoTA Transport Summit, at the FCT,,’’for partnership between the public and private sectors in order to come up with innovative ways of solving the transportation challenge in the country’’.
In apparent response to the minister’s speech, Jamoh, the CIoTA, President, had ‘’lauded the effort of the Buhari Administration to upgrade transport infrastructure in the country’, noting that ‘’ the Institute under his Leadership would stop at nothing in promoting Professionalism and training to aid the government with the right manpower to man the country’s transport infrastructure’. According to him, ‘’governement has made significant investment in the country’s transportation sector’’ that cannot be allowed to waste due to inadequate manpower.
In a voice laden with emotion he said, ‘’ the journey for the Institute has just begun’’, He disclosed that the Institute which is building on the broad policies that are anchored on a tripod of ‘’Professionalism, Education, Research, Development and Advocacy’’. Would never fail the nation. He is right.
Philip Kaynet, a Deputy Director and NIMASA , Head of Corporate Communications, confirmed that the Leadership of the Institute are doing everything within its powers ‘’to empower members with the required skills, knowledge and expertise to man the country’s transport infrastructure’’.
There indications that the Institute is already working with Universities and other tertiary institutions to build Professionalism in the country’s transport sector from the undergraduate level. The establishment of the University of Transportation at Daura, the Nigerian President’s home town by the All Progressive Congress, APC, ruling government speaks volume.
Recall that that Jamoh, the CIoTA President had said that that the Institute had set up Committees to follow up on its policy recommendations to ensure their implementation to avoid being jettisoned by the government. He disclosed that the country’s Transport sector was ‘’moving into a new era of Professionalism that was set to usher in excellence across the various modes’’.