THE reasons for our increased interest in the rail transport sector are not farfetched. We have noticed a commendable commitment by the Federal Government to rebuild and modernise the Nigerian railway infrastructure. This appears to have gone beyond mere political rhetoric.
Following the completion of the Abuja – Kaduna standard gauge rail line, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration sought and obtained over $5bn loan from China and engaged the China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC, to build a brand new Lagos – Ibadan – Abuja – Kaduna – Kano standard gauge railway.
Work on the all-important Lagos – Ibadan section is nearing completion, though the April 2020 date for the commencement of full commercial service will no longer be met due to unconscionable delays by CCECC and its Nigerian subcontractors.
Another section of this project which is of overwhelming national interest is the extension of the rail line from Iddo to the Lagos Ports. Work on that section is also proceeding smoothly. Having missed the December 2019 deadline, we hope the Minister of Transport, Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, who inspects ongoing rail projects once every month, will breathe hotly down the necks of the contractors to quickly finish the job.
When the lifting of cargoes from the Lagos Ports (including, we hope, the Tin Can Island Ports and other new ports being developed at Lekki and Badagry) commences, it will bring a great boost to the non-oil sector of the economy. It will automatically help in decongesting the Apapa Business District which has been choking from traffic gridlock for the best of the past fifteen years.
Every effort made by successive Federal and Lagos State Governments from 2005 to decongest the Apapa gridlock has woefully failed. The only viable way out is to fix the broken-down Apapa – Iddo rail corridor and massive movement of cargoes directly from Apapa ports into the hinterland as soon as they are cleared.
The Federal Government has already concluded plans to move containers from the ports to a depot in Ibadan where trailers from parts of the country can pick them up pending the completion of the Western standard gauge railway system and also that of the Eastern corridor from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.
We call on the Federal Government to see the task of speedily completing the Apapa – Iddo railway as a matter of national urgency. It will help to boost our non-oil foreign exchange earnings, restore the commercial, social and leisure livelihoods of the Apapa Business District and clear the traffic gridlock asphyxiating the zone.
We must pursue the comprehensive revitalisation of the nation’s railway network system, making sure it touches every zone.