The Value News

Niger:Kano- Maradi Rail Project, A Drainpipe As Buhari Assures That The Country Would Benefit From It With The Operationalisation Of AfCTA

By Elizabeth Chukwuma

In spite of the fact that past  and present Administrations in Nigeria,    had found it difficult to connect the entire country to the existing rail network , President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General,  appears to have found it Convenient to approve linking the West African country of Niger  to the country’s rail network

The questions on the lips of most people was:  why the Nigerian President would want to link Niger Republic to  the country’s  rail network when the south east states of Abia, Anambra, Eboyi, Enugu, Imo,  and thesouth-south states of Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-river,  Delta, Edo, Rivers including the north  central states of Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Nassarawa,  and Plateau,  which many believe are agricultural states,  are begging  to be linked to the south west and north west  rail networks which had been modernised to the standard gauge rail line but no luck.

 The worry of many  was that the landlocked West African  country does not deserve such a favour from Nigeria  as the ountry had been   fingered by security experts  as a base for Bandits  which had besieged Kaduna, Katsina , Zamfara over the last five years and the insurgents harassing  the residents of the  north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe,  over the last 11 years.

The country have also been described a as home of smugglers.  The Katsina state born Nigerian President hadt said that much when he disclosed recently that the Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS,  and his men,  ‘’cannot effectively  supervise the border areas across the country  with Niger Republic’’. The Nigerian President had concluded to the fact that ‘’only  God can do it’’.

He had said that the smugglers operating between  Benin Republic, Niger, and Nigerian   had taken  advantage of the  over 1,400 Kilometers, between  Nigeria and the two other West African countries, which  60% of the border routes are in Niger alone,  to carry out their nefarious activities of smuggling foreign rice, Small and Light, SML, arms into the country through the porous borders.

Issofou: Outgoing President Of Niger

    A school of thought, however, believe that the Nigerian President may have opted to link   Mohammadou Issofou, the outgoing President of Niger and former Chairman of Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Authority of Heads of States and Government, home country to Nigeria’s rail network ‘’to address  its poor transport infrastructure   that has   stymied economic growth for decades in the country’’.

 According to  an informed source, the Nigerian President  is not happy  at the impoverished northern part of the Niger because of the short distance between Daura, his home town and the country, which he had said had  been  ravaged  for the past 11 years  by  the activities of the Islamic Fundamentalist Group, Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP ,as well as well as   the Bandits.

   The Value News learnt that president Issofou, tof Niger, had repeatedly reminded the Nigerian President in their closed door  discussions  of his promise to develop the  northern part of Niger, by starting the  construction of a rail line from the ancient city of Kano to  terminate at Maradi, which is in the northern part of the country. 

 The Value News learntth  the $1.959 billion  for the   rail line  linking the two countries was approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC,  in 2020, meaning that Niger  has no financial contribution towards the multi-million dollar project.

 As a prelude to the construction   of the rail line  passing  through three states,  Kano,   Katsina and Jigawa, in the north west  to  terminate in Maradi, Niger Republic, the Nigeria government had   signed a memorandum of Understanding, MoU,  with Portugal’s Mota-Engil Group, a Multi-national Engineering and construction Company which had won the contract. The two parties were said to have signed the agreement in    in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, on              Monday, January 11, 2021.

Rotimi Amaechi: Minister of Transportation

 Rotimi Amaechi, a former, governor of Rivers state  and now minister of Transportation, who many believe is acting out a script of the Nigerian President and who sees himself as the minister of ’’ Nigeria Railway’’, was said to have signed the  MoU, document,   on behalf of the Federal government while Antonio Gvoea, the Managing of the Portugal Company, which  won the contract, signed for his Company.

 Aware that there is no tertiary Institution in northern  Niger, the Portugal firm, was said to have agreed to  build a University in Maradi town  as a way of bringing development to the  city.  Eric Ejiekwe, spokesperson of the ministry of Transportation had said that ‘’ the 283-750 Kilometers  rail line,  besides developing the freight and passenger  transport of the country,  will be integrated with its road transport’’ .

  Amaechi, the minister of Transportation, may have spoken the mind of the President  when he said that, ‘’given the weak purse  of the government, they were uncertain ‘’ if the economic befits  of constructing  a rail line  to connect Niger Republic  and Nigeria will outweigh  the cost of the project’’.

 He  had said that  the Kano-Maradi rail project  will provide  support  for the trade of goods  and services  especially   with the recent operationalization  of the  African Continental  Free Trade Area, AfCTA, agreement as the provision of infrastructure  is vital  to the country’s ability  to benefit from  the biggest trade in the African economic bloc, since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, an  agency of the United Nations, UN,  in 1994.

Prior to the signing of the MOU, between the Nigerian  government and the prtugal firm , that had won the multi-million dollar Kano-Maradi, rail contract,  Amaechi, had confirmed that the Contractors had been ordered  by the government ‘ to begin the acquisition of the right of way, payment  of Compensation  and Right of way clearing’’’.  Indeed,the Contractors ought to have mobilized on site in January 2020, but could not due the inability of the Nigerian government to fulfill its own part of the financial bargain.

Recall that the Asian country of China emerged coronavirus , popular, COVID 19,  which the minister had said had infected over 60 workers of the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company, CCECC,  on the N5.3 billion Kano-Ibadan Project site, may have informed why the government had put projec  on hold.

The Nigerian government may have given people the impression that the Kano-Maradi project could go on because the severity of the Pandemic  in the south west  states of Lagos and Oyo, could not be the same Compared to the situation in Kano state or the land- locked Niger Republic.

Many believe that the $5.3 billion Ibadan – Kano rail project may have been  put  on hold to expedite  work on the $1.96 billion Kano-Maradi, in Niger Republic rail project. The  Buhari  Administration may have   hastened  effort for the execution  of the Kano-Maradi  multi-million rail  project for fear that if the Opposition People’s Democratic, PDP, or any othe party,  other than the All Progressive Congress, APC, clinches power in the upcoming 2023  general elections, in the country, the Kano-Maradi , rail project , may be cancelled.

 Amaechi, the former Rivers state governor had alluded to this when he said  that ‘’the Buhari Administration  is very  much concerned  about the downside risk of possible  abandonment   given that  the multi-million dollar, Kano-Maradi rail project  will exceed the tenure of the present Administration, considering  the country’s history  of  incomplete projects , project delays and cost overruns by the government’’. It is not surprising why the  Nigerian President go is doing everything within his capacity, using Amaechi, the minister of Transportation,  to expedite action on the project to forestall abandonment by another regime in 2023.

A  ministry of Transportation source  who spoke to The Value News Magazine disclosed that the Kano-Maradi rail project was one of the capital projects that was ear marked by the government in 2020, fiscal year that had been rolled over to 2021.  It is instructive to note  that  the  government  had set   a revenue target  of N7.9 trilion for the 2021 fiscal year. Hajia Zainab Ahmed, the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning  had said that  30% of  the revenue would come from the nation’s oil sector and 70% from the non-oil sector. 

Given a breakdown of the budget,  the minister had said  that about N1.8 trillion  would be spent on  capital projects, which was exactly the same amount  earmarked for  capital projects in the 2020 fiscal year, which included the Kano-maradi rail project.

 Recall that Amaechi who had been on top of the Kano-Maradi rail project had said that the government is not going to put down  a  dine in the execution of the project, stressing that ‘’ it  would be managed  under a 14-year  buyer  Credit and long –term – Commercial loans’’.  He may have opened up on the funding of the $1.96 billion rail project to win the heart of Nigerians who  are not  happy over the project  which they described as  a’’drain-pipe’’.

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Stephen Ubanna

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