By Festus Ahon – Asaba
The 326-kilometre Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line and Railway Ancillary Facility Yard at Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex, Owa-Oyibu, Ika North East Local Government Area, Delta State has been commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In a virtual inauguration of the rail line, Tuesday, Buhari directed the Federal Ministry of Transportation to link all the nation’s seaports of origin and destination – Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Onne, Calabar – to the rail network in order to significantly improve overall transportation and economic capacities.
Buhari said his administration recognised the importance of the railway mode of transportation as a vital backbone to support industrialization and economic development.
The President said: ”Accordingly, I have approved the prioritization of viable railway routes for either new rail lines or the reconstruction and rehabilitation of some, to achieve effective and efficient train services supporting the country’s trade and commerce.
”The railway infrastructure that I have the honour to commission today is the rail line from Itakpe via the steel town complex of Ajaokuta to Warri, and it is an important link for the country’s economy as the central rail line.
”This government has also approved to link this line further from Itakpe to Abuja, thereby connecting the Northern zone of the country and also extending southwards to link the Warri Ports”.
The president expressed confidence that the project, which served as a vital link of the South-South geopolitical zone of the country to the Northern zones, would be completed by his administration.
”It will link people across the cultural divides and expand the frontier of trade and commerce, which will lead to better standards of living for our citizens,” he said.
He restated that to further give recognition to Nigerian sons and daughters who had distinguished themselves at nation-building and development, 11 railway stations and railway villages were named after some deserving citizens.
Buhari listed them as Adamu Attah Station, Itakpe; Abubakar Olusola Saraki Station, Ajaokuta; Augustus Aikhomu Station, Itogbo; George Innih Station, Agenebode; Anthony Enahoro Station, Uromi; Tom Ikimi Station, Ekehen and Samuel Ogbemudia Station, Igbanke.
Others are Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex, Owa-Oyibu; David Ejoor Station, Abraka; Michael Ibru Station, Okpara; Alfred Rewane Station, Ujevwu and Michael Akhigbe Railway Village, Agbor.
In his remarks, Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his bi-partisan approach to governance which engendered the completion of the
Okowa said that the rail line which was conceived in 1987 under the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida suffered serious delay until it received attention from the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He expressed appreciation of Deltans and the people of Ika in particular, on the successful completion of the project under the watch of Buhari.
He pledged his administration’s commitment to collaborating with stakeholders, including the private sector, to initiate programmes and policies that would stimulate economic production in the adjoining communities and harness the untapped potential of the youth population.
He urged the private sector to take advantage of the historic corridor by establishing investments that would create jobs for locals, curb youth restiveness and stem the tide of criminality.
The governor also called for collaboration between the Federal Government and states to provide adequate security cover for the rail line, adding that people would be encouraged to patronise the train services if they felt safe, secured and protected.
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He said: “Deltans are excited that this day has come,’’ he said, adding that “Ika nation is glad of the recognition accorded former President Goodluck Jonathan in naming the railway complex in Owa-Oyibu after him.
“We are excited as a people because the rail line has strong potential for stimulating socio-economic activities and bringing succour to low-income earners.
“In the post-COVID-19 era where governments all over the world are looking for ways and means to rebuild their economies, this project has the capacity to kick-start new small-scale businesses, support existing ones and rejuvenate the rural economy.
“Although now a passenger and cargo line, it is my hope and expectation that the original intention of this project will be sustained for accelerated industrial growth and job creation.
”It is imperative that the Federal Government in collaboration with the States provide adequate security cover for this rail line corridor”.
Also, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State congratulated the President on the feat of completing the project, saying that it was quite fortuitous that few days to the country’s 60th independence celebration, the president had achieved the completion of the critical infrastructure.
”For us in Edo, we are excited that we have a few stops that have been completed and we are going to be working with you to utilise this infrastructure,” he said.
Obaseki appealed to the Minister of Transportation, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, to extend the rail line to the industrial park in Benin City to facilitate the movement of goods to the northern part of the country.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the Transportation Minister had said that the project was fully funded by the Nigerian government, adding that eight of the 10 stations on the line were in the Niger-Delta/South-South region of the country.
”There is no loan on this project; it was funded from the budget and I had the directive of the president to go and revive it and complete it as soon as possible,’’ he said.
He added that the project started under the military era in 1987 but ‘‘underwent protracted hiccups, prolonged abandonment and massive vandalisation,’’ before it was resuscitated by the Buhari administration.