THE delay in the resuscitation of the Eastern railway network is a great disservice to efforts to diversify the economy. Cognisant of this, the Senate Joint Committee on Land Transport and Local and Foreign Debts chaired by Senator Gbenga Ashafa, recently invited the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi, to explain factors behind what is being seen as the “exclusion” of the Eastern rails from the Muhammadu Buhari regime’s railway agenda.
Amaechi explained it was not a case of exclusion but rather a delay caused by the Public Procurements Act. He also blamed paucity of funds to finance the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri railway line which is expected to gulp at least $12 billion. Amaechi also doused speculations that the General Electric Corporation, GE, which last year signed a $2 billion concession agreement for 3,500 km of Nigerian narrow gauge rail network (Lagos – Kano and Port Harcourt – Maiduguri) had pulled out. He said the job is being transferred to GE’s “sister” group, the Transnet consortium.
These explanations notwithstanding, it is beyond argument that the Eastern flank has been neglected in the overall plans to revive the Nigeria railways. Efforts to restart the comatose rail network way back to the Olusegun Obasanjo regime placed primary focus on the Western line (Lagos – Kano).
The tepid endeavour to bring the Eastern line back to life during the Goodluck Jonathan regime did not go beyond Port Harcourt and Aba. The Buhari regime’s new railway agenda has treated the Eastern flank as an afterthought under the China borrowing plan. Instead, great emphasis is being devoted to the extension of our railway network to Maradi in Niger Republic.
We must be reminded that the foundations of the Nigerian economy which were reflected in the two-legged rail system established by the British colonial masters starting from 1898 are still relevant till today. The colonial rail network was very inclusive. It not only greased commerce nationwide, it also promoted integration between the North and South. The new railway system we are pursuing must continue to serve these objectives. This cannot be possible when only one rail line engages the minds of our leaders.
Nigeria is paying dearly for the emphasis on the development and use of the Lagos theatre of the Nigeria ports while those in the Eastward flank, such as Warri, Koko, Port Harcourt, Onne, Ibaka and Calabar are neglected. It is the major cause of the perennial Apapa traffic gridlocks which have been choking the Lagos metropolis.
We must eschew negative politics and carry every section of this country equitably along in our planning and execution of government projects. The Eastern railways must be revived and put into operation along with that of the West. It should no longer be neglected.