By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday inaugurated the 326- kilometre Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line for commercial operation as well as the ancillary facilities yard at the recently-named Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex in Agbor (Owa-Oyibu), Delta State.
The rail line was conceptualised over 30 years ago, precisely in 1987 by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s military administration and has been in limbo since then.
At the virtual inauguration of the rail line linking Itakpe to Warri, President Buhari directed the Federal Ministry of Transportation to link all the nation’s ports of origin and destination – Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Onne, Calabar Ports- to the rail network in order to significantly improve overall transportation and economic capacities.
The President declared that his administration recognised the importance of the railway mode of transportation as a vital backbone to support industrialization and economic development.
‘’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 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,’’ he said.
President Buhari expressed confidence that the project, which serves as a vital link of South-South geopolitical zone of the country to the Northern zone, would be completed during the tenure of this administration.
According to him, ‘’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 recalled that to further give recognition to Nigerian sons and daughters who have distinguished themselves at nation building and development, 11 railway stations and railway village swere named after them.
He listed them as follows: 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, Agbor, Owa-Oyibu; David Ejoor Station, Abraka; Michael Ibru Station, Opara; Alfred Rewane Station, Ujevwu; and Michael Akhigbe Railway Village, Agbor.
The President enjoined all Nigerians in the transportation industry, especially the railway sub-sector, to continue to support government in its stride to achieve other railway infrastructure projects.
He also enlisted the support of all at realizing this milestone of a functional and full-fledged central railway, after more than 30 years.
He said: ‘’I implore those who work on this line to uphold maintenance and safety culture necessary for long-lasting service in this difficult terrain.
‘’By the same token, I urge other sectors who will be primary beneficiaries of this transportation backbone, including, the iron and steel sector, stakeholders in agricultural and mining sectors on this corridor, as well as the host communities to protect and sustain this infrastructure and maximize the benefits that could be derived from it and which is readily available at their doorsteps.
‘’This project will increase the volume of their trade and kickstart and resuscitate the iron and steel complexes.
‘’All these, I hope will improve our industrial potentials and capacities as well as boost employment.”
President Buhari said projections indicate that the commencement of operation of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail line will account for close to one million passengers annually and also unleash approximately 3.5 million tonnes capacity of freight annually that will service all off-takers on the corridor and beyond.
Congratulating the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and his team for successfully completing the project, the President recognised the host communities on this corridor for their patience during the long wait of over 30 years for the realisation of the project.
In his remarks, Delta State governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, commended President Buhari’s bi-partisan approach to governance.
“It is a thing of pride and joy that this rail line was completed under your watch. Deltans are excited that this day has come,” he said, adding that the Ika nation was glad of the recognition accorded former President Goodluck Jonathan in naming the railway complex in Agbor after him.
In his remarks, Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, congratulated the President on the feat, saying it was quite fortuitous that a few days to the country’s 60th independence celebration, the President has achieved the completion of this critical infrastructure.
‘’For us in Edo State, 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.
In his remarks, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said the project was fully funded by the Federal Government, adding that eight of the 10 stations were in the Niger-Delta.
He said: ‘’There is no loan on this project, it was funded from the budget and I had the directive of the President to revive and complete it as soon as possible.”