December 28, 2017

Options for developing our railway system

High speed Train

ONE area the President Muhammadu Buhari regime appears to have recorded noticeable impact is the transport sector, which has Hon Rotimi Amaechi as the Minister in-charge.

Surprisingly, in spite of obvious political differences with the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari has continued to extend the revitalisation of the rail projects commenced during that era. These include completion of the Abuja city – Abuja Airport rail line/Airport Station and the Abuja – Kaduna standard gauge railway lines

However, not much progress has been recorded on the Lagos – Kano railway line. The Eastern rail project appears to lag far behind the rest.  So also is the Lagos-Ibadan line.The major impediment to the restoration and modernisation of our rail network is poor financing, especially the abysmal response of the budgetary process to the needs of the sector, and perhaps, lack of political will.

During his appearance before the Senate Committee on Land Transport, Amaechi sadly revealed that his Ministry had received only N31bn of the N192bn in the 2017 budget by the second week of December 2017. That represents 16.5 per cent. For the Federal Ministry of Transportation, 2017 has ended on a sad note. Even its own share of the N750bn promised by the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, will not alter the result.

It is now obvious that if Nigeria continues to depend on budgetary allocations to develop ambitious infrastructure like the mammoth Nigerian railways master plan, then we will never get far. The low levels of capital provisions in our annual budgets which continue to hover around 25 per cent to 30 per cent, certainly, are too little to produce anything tangible. To worsen the situation, the Federal Ministry of Finance (FMoF) has always failed to release the full amount of funds dedicated to capital projects.

We may have no alternative than to return to the template of sourcing large amounts of foreign loans to dedicate to the development of our railways. We can also combine this with giving out sections of our railway network to reputable and financially-reliable local and foreign investors as concessions to build, operate and eventually transfer if necessary.

We call on the Buhari administration to clean up its act in respect of the various loan agreements reached with China and draw down the necessary funds to massively develop our national rail infrastructure. It is a very profitably bankable venture, as Nigeria has a large and economically-mobile population.

The main problem of ensuring that all parts of the country benefit from the proceeds of the loan should be addressed in tandem with the National Assembly to eliminate allegations of nepotism and sectional favouritism.

Once this political hurdle is scaled, we believe that the loans and the involvement of the private sector will help us to actualise our national railway ambitions.