By Favour Nnabugwu & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—MINISTER of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, said, yesterday, that $16 billion had been approved for the eastern railway but noted that there was no money yet to commence work.
Amaechi, who stated this in a chat with State House correspondents after briefing President Muhammadu Buhari on the progress made so far on the transportation sector, especially railway project, also disclosed that the government was expecting 17 locomotives, 10 of which would be for Kaduna/Abuja axis, while seven are for Itakpe-Warri axis.
The minister said he was summoned by President Buhari to the Presidential Villa, Abuja to brief him on the level of work done in the realisation of the vision of the administration, adding that the blood pressure of the President went high when he was not briefed on the ongoing progress on railway projects.
Explaining the reasons for his summon by the President, the minister said: “Don’t forget that I am the Minister of Transportation, obviously there are issues around transport that I have to discuss with the President.
“You are aware that we have got approval for the eastern flank of the Nigerian Railway modernisation, which has to do with rail link from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, cutting across Aba, Owerri, Enugu, Umuahia to Makurdi, to Abakiliki, and to Awka, Lafia down to Bauchi, Gombe, Yola and to Damaturu and ends at Borno.
“Also, the other railway from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic, I need to brief the President about how we are progressing with negotiations of loans and others and our possible financiers.
“I also need to brief him about the current activities going on in the Lagos/Ibadan axis and what we intend to do to complete the Lagos/Kano railway. It is basically about my office.”
Asked when work will commence on the eastern railway project, Amaechi said: “There are approvals but we have to look for the money. The money is just not there. It is not easy, it is a total of about. $16 billion and you don’t pluck $16 billion from the sky.”
On whether the eastern railway modernisation project will be executed through Public Private Partnership, PPP, Amaechi said it was the thinking of government but that private investors most times do not want to invest in railway projects.
He said further: “That (PPP) is the first line of action, we will try and see if we can work on PPP, particularly as it pertains to the seaport.
“Don’t forget that two deep seaports have been approved – Bonny deep seaport and the Warri deep seaport. For the Port Harcourt Railway Industrial Park, we should also be able to implement that through PPP. l hope we can but l doubt if it will be easy to get railway as PPP because it is quite expensive.”
The Minister said the Nigerian Port Authority, NPA, has commenced the process for the dredging of Calabar port, and had already advertised for it, adding that there was arrangement to carry out the dredging through PPP.
He also said expenditure for the ports was about $16 billion which, he explained, could not all come through loan as the first step of action was through PPP.
“It is after we finish with PPP that we can say the actual total figure of what the loan will look like,” he said.
When asked on what was the vision of the President on railway transportation, he said, “That is why I was summoned. Don’t forget that the President sleeps and wakes up thinking about railway.
“If his BP (blood pressure) will not rise, I must see him and tell him how far we have progressed. Once he hears that progress is being made, he feels a bit happy.
“He is also pleased with what we have done in terms of the narrow gauge. Between now and December, we should ensure efficiency in the narrow gauge. We are bringing in more locomotives; we are bringing in more coaches and wagons.
“In terms of the narrow gauge, if not for a hitch, we would have commenced trucking cargo from Apapa seaport to Ebute Metta and take away the challenges we are having with that Apapa bridge and the bad road, that will happen before December.”
Also on the number of locomotives expected, he said: “We are expecting 10 for Kaduna/Abuja, another seven will also come and that seven we hopefully think will go to Itakpe/Warri because we believe by next year June, Itakpe-Warri should be ready.”