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.
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, 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’’.