By Olasunkanmi Akoni
The Senate Committee on Land Transport, yesterday, met with the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi over the planned concession of the narrow gauge rail network across the country to General Electric (GE) at cost of $2.7 billion investment.
The Senate committee, under the Chairmanship of Senator Gbenga Ashafa, had via a letter, dated 13th November, 2017 invited the Minister to brief the committee on the effect of the planned concession on the activities of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, the future of the staff of the Nigerian Railways and most importantly the effect of the concession on the budgetary provisions for the narrow gauge rail lines when same is handed over to General Electric.
Ashafa, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Olasunkanmi Adebowale, explained, “According to reports by a news cable network in Lagos on Saturday, 11th November 2017 the Minister was reported to have stated that General Electric (GE) would be investing the sum of $2.7 billion on infrastructure, Operation and Maintenance (O and M) of the entire narrow gauge lines concession.
“Also, the Minister was reported to have stated further that once the concession agreement with General Electric is concluded, the Nigeria Railway Corporation will hand over the affected rail lines to General Electric.”
Ashafa explained that the meeting obviously became necessary when the Senate Committee on Land transport being the supervisory Senate Committee of the Ministry of Transport and representing the interest of millions of Nigerians was not being carried along.
He also expressed worries over the fate of the NRC worker’s vis-a-viz this concession.
Minister, in his response began by apologizing to the Committee for not bringing the committee up to speed earlier than now.
He however, clarified that no agreement had been signed yet concerning the concession with General Electric.
Amaechi stated further that what was imminent was the signing of an interim work schedule (Interim Phase) which involves General Electric investing the sum of $45 Million to carry out some rehabilitation and repair of the track infrastructure among other things before the signing of the main concession agreement.
As regards the future of NRC workers the Minister of Transport stated, “The NRC Staff would remain employed by the NRC following the commencement of the concession.
“NRC Staff had however, expressed a desire to be paid their full entitlements and disengaged prior to the commencement of the concession. This approach would put a significant upfront liability on the Federal Government. The stated preference of the Ministry/NRC is to retain all the staff in NRC except for staff being transferred to the concessionaire.”
Amaechi however, promised that the final agreement would not be entered into without the Senate Committee on Land Transport being duly carried along.
The Senate committee therefore, advised the ministry to tread carefully with respect to the issue of the workers to avoid a repeat of what happened with the PHCN staff which was eventually fraught with series of claims and counter claims from disengaged employees.
At the end of the meeting Amaechi was cautioned not to view the invite as a witch- hunt exercise, but rather as an avenue for both the committee and the Ministry of Transport to be on the same page as to the concession agreement in order to present a unified front in support of the President Buhari Administration.