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I challenged cabinet members to show where private people invest in railway – Amaechi

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By Egufe Yafugborhi

Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, says he cares less about those praising him as Transport Minister because same praise singers most times turn around to disparage you when you are no longer there. Excerpts:

Unfavorable feedback from rail travelers 

It depends on what time you are getting the feedback. Don’t forget that before this time, the feedback was ‘oh, it’s punctual, beautiful, the air-conditioners are working, the toilets are working, the service is efficient’. Then in the last one month, when pressure has come in, why won’t you complain if the service provided for 300 passengers going, 300 coming is now overran by over 2,000 passengers a day.

So the service you provided for 300 passengers is now overwhelmed by excess 1700 passengers. To solve that problem is to increase the service. And to increase service is to buy more locomotives, more coaches. That certainly would happen when you continue to have these pressures, but you can’t say when increased service would happen because it wasn’t budget for.

We didn’t at anytime say let’s increase the number of coaches because there will be increase in crime on the Abuja-Kaduna Road. So what you’ve done is that you’ve transferred passengers, including big men who use to drive their cars to Kaduna, to now use train. So that extra 1700 passengers will put pressure on the toilet system, catering, ticketing, and even on the locomotives and coaches. Maybe not on the locomotives because they can take any tonnage of cargo on it, but certainly on the coaches.

And this (insecurity on road) is temporary, and it requires temporary solution. If you then say ‘okay, let’s budget for 50 coaches, and say 10 locomotives’, and you put them there, transporting passengers now, on the day insecurity is resolved, it becomes wasted investment. You know the train operates according to fixed time. So if you want to be in Kaduna by 10am, you won’t want to take the train by 6.30am.

For every transport system you put in place, you must do traffic count. If the traffic count tells you this is the number of persons that can use this system at any point in time, you provide for that number of persons. We did that, we targeted it, and we were correct until that pressure came to bear on it. Once that pressure is resolved, it means you back to the target traffic count. We have a traffic count that says, prepare for SYZ number of coaches in so so number of years. We’ve not gotten to that number of years, and we are now under pressure.

Cost intensiveness of rail construction contracts

What the public should be saying is how to resolve the insecurity and there are so many thing to do to resolve it. You need to do community policing, you need regular policing and you need to fight poverty. Once you do that, the traffic will normalize.

I can’t tell you the figures without having papers in my hand, but I know the Lagos-Ibadan will cost $1.6billion. That does not include the extra cost of things we didn’t prepare for, things we didn’t see in the valuation. To construct the Kaduna-Abuja cost us about $1billion. We have awarded a contract of $500,000.00 to buy locomotives; in fact rolling stuff for Lagos-Ibadan. I can’t remember how we spent on rolling stuff for the Abuja-Kano.

All the noise you hear people say we’ve spent $8.something, $7billion, it is not true. These are things we’ve borrowed. I don’t think we’ve spent more than $3billion so far.

Everybody knows rail transport is preferable, but it’s capital intensive. A trillion Naira is just about $2.7billion. That’s just about 200km of railway. So if you plan to do Lagos Ibadan and you are looking at $8.7billion, it will be between 3 and 4 trillion Naira. How much is the budget of the country, to just do between 1300 -1500 km of railway. That’s why I said we need between $35 and 45billion to do Lagos to Kano, Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, Lagos to Calabar, and Abuja to Warri. Once you do these tracks, you’ve covered the country and solved the problem of transportation to a great extent.

What we are implementing now is current government’s 25-year strategic vision. That’s is the design. You can amend, do further studies, but that’s what we are implementing. What you have there is Lagos to Kano, which we are implanting. Part of it Kano to Maradi, in Niger Republic. We’ve expanded Port Harcourt to Maiduguri after a directive of the President that we must ensure presence in nearly all states’ capitals. Lagos to Kano, we have included Ekiti. It wasn’t in the initial 25-year-plan. We’ve now put a spur from Ogbomoso, I believe, to Ekiti.

Lagos to Calabar is from Lagos to Benin, passing through Ore. We’ve also added Akure to the initial plan. It wasn’t there before. Where you have massive inclusion is Port Harcourt-Maiduguri. Ordinarily we would have run it straight on. What we’ve done now is a spur, ether from Port Harcourt to Owerri, or a spur from Aba to Owerri. Owerri wasn’t part of it. Then we have Umuahia, that was part it, but a spur to Awka.

So, there are two design considerations on this. Either from Port Harcourt, passing through Ikwerre axis to Owerri, continue to Nnewi and then to Awka, Enugu, all standard guage. It’s a speed train, now we are doing 120km/h. Fleets are doing 350km/h, if you can pay, in four to five hours, you are in Kano.

Overlapping rail lines across borders

The Niger Republic route is part of the 25-year-design. If there money, that would run from Kano to Dutse, Kazaure to Daura, to Jibiya, to Marabi, a border town, to Niger Republic. Why is that necessary? If you complete Lagos to Kano, and you take that to Marabi, the implication is that, with our neighboring countries we don’t have to use our seaports for that fact you now have a transportation system that eliminates police checkpoints, no customs, immigrations. Once you’ve cleared your goods at the seaports, you are heading straight home.

We are not doing it into their country. You are providing it to a border town so that they can use your rail system; you are doing it so that they can come to export and import through your seaports and rail system. All you are doing is increase the competitiveness of your seaports.

Limit of Public Private partnership on Nigeria rail system

I have said this in the cabinet that ‘I challenge anyone to show me anywhere in the world where anybody has seen a private investor in the railway’. The people referred to as private investors in rail system are people who put money in operations, not in construction of rail tracks because it is highly capital intensive. I told you now what we are doing, and that the cabinet awarded last week a contract for Abuja to Warri. Abuja to Itakpe,  Itakpe to Warri, from there to the deep sea port. We are building a new seaport in Warri.

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That’s about $3.9billion. And if $2.7billion is one trillion naira, name the private individual who can bring that money? Let them come. We are waiting, because for a private investor to bring $3.9billion, return on investment is essential. Railway does not make such returns. What it does is that it feeds the economy, that is, provide access for you to make money. So if you put $3.9bilion, how many years will it take you to recover it? Close to 40 years. How many investors are willing to do that?

Clarifying perceived duplication of rail contracts

There’s supposed to be a Lagos to Kano rail. Going for $8.7billion. When it commenced I heard that the federal government then, under Obasanjo, decided to do segmentation. Segmentation is to do Lagos-Ibadan first, Kano to Kaduna, second, Kaduna to Minna, Minna to Ilorin, then Abuja to Kaduna, then Mina to Kaduna and you would have completed it. So when we came in, they had done Kaduna to Abuja, first segment. We chose two segments, Lagos to Ibadan, Kano to Kaduna.

China Exim Bank decided to fund Lagos – Ibadan. When we went for the next release for Kano to Kaduna, they said no, they would prefer we take the entire contract which is from Ibadan to Kano. When you take a segment, you obliterate the old contract. You have to award a new contract, so we awarded a new contract which is Lagos-Ibadan. For $5.something billion that will take it to Kano.

The interest on the loans is 3%. It’s not concessionary loan. Where can you get that kind of thing? That’s why you see China struggling to release such kind of money to us. The meeting I attended with them, they were complaining they pay more money on borrowing from the international market and then giving to us at a cheap cost. So they pay 5% and give us at 3%.

Decongesting Lagos Port

You can’t force an importer to import at a particular port. It’s a business decision the importer has to make. Most people who import from Onitsha, Aba, you expect to import through Port Harcourt but most of them import through Lagos because of insecurity. I had announced to the country that the President had approved a contract of $195million to enable our navy, army, police, air-force, SSS to be able to man our waterways and rid it of insecurity.

Unfortunately, more than two years, to implement that contract has been an issue because of other forces we couldn’t control. However the President was insistent on the implementation of that contract. So, we are implementing that contract now. These are not equipment you buy off the shelf. You can’t pick a helicopter off the shelf because there are about 2 or 3 helicopters that will fly above our waters. There are fixed-wing planes to buy, with cameras. They are not things you buy off the shelf. There are vessels, fast speed boats and all that.

We have finished training the officers, the soldiers, trained a lot of people, but that is not what will solve the problem. What will solve the problem is that these equipment must come onboard and we are taking time to complete fabrication of these equipment. Once completed and brought into our waters, you can be sure that we will not experience what we are currently experiencing. We are tempted to get into the water by June even thought they don’t have enough equipment. We believe that before end of the year, those equipment should be available for use in the Nigerian waters. When that happens, then people can freely import through Port Harcourt and Warri and others because we would have gotten rid of these criminals who kidnap and do all sorts of things in our waterways.

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Motivation for transportation university 

Knowledge is the thinking behind it. One thing about railway engineering is that if you are not part of it, you are not part of it. You can’t come to Nigeria, construct railways, then you go and people are not trained. So what we are doing is to say you can’t remain here permanently. You can’t construct and run and maintain forever till we die. You need to transfer this technology.

Chances of continuing as Transport Minister

I am not in the position to make assessment as to whether I have done well. Life is about improvement. If I say this is the best I could have offered, it means I am not open to better knowledge. You study further and make improvement in your relationship with your work. The media confronts me with the apprehension that based on the passion I have for railway, whether another person coming may be able to sustain the trend.

I told them you never can tell, the next man may do better. And I jokingly told them, that’s how I did in Rivers state as governor. Few years after I left, Governor Wike went and said I did nothing, and you (the press) joined in saying ‘oh he did nothing’. So you have forgotten the primary schools we were inspecting, the health centers, power stations we built, roads we constructed and one man just came to say ‘he did nothing’ and you say ‘he did nothing’, same way the people that were saying ‘Hosanna Hosanna’ shouted ‘crucify him, crucify him’ on Jesus.

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