Says FG to apply for $11b loan to construct Lagos-Calabar rail line
By Dirisu Yakubu – Lagos
Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has called on the people of the South- East and South-South geo-political zones to close ranks in a bid to foster development in the regions.
Amaechi made the call yesterday during an interactive session with the South-East and South-South Professionals of Nigeria, SESSPN, in Lagos.
The group had taken advantage of the Minister’s presence in Lagos to hold talks with him on challenges facing the regions, particularly in the areas of security, power, social integration and representation in the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government.
Amaechi said, “We fight a lot among ourselves. In the South-South and South-East, we fight amongst ourselves. I’m saying this so that we can separate emotions from reality. Today, it is not about President Buhari, it is about us. This administration is doing a lot, but because it’s President Buhari, we pretend not to see it.
“We complain about lopsided appointments. Apart from the area of security, have you checked other areas side by side? The President will appoint someone from the South-East and people from the same region will fight against the appointment. If you are the President, how will you feel?
The Minister also spoke on the leadership style of President Buhari, saying unlike some leaders, the Commander-in-Chief believes in the continuity of projects, particularly those that will impact the lives of the people positively.
“When we took office, the President asked us to complete all projects left by previous administrations before starting new ones. We did that and it was across all regions. We completed Port Harcourt airport, we are working on Enugu airport; On Enugu-Onitsha road, work is going on, no matter how slow. The second Niger Bridge in Onitsha has reached 48 per cent and we have assured the country that by 2022, it would be completed. Those who are from Onitsha have you gone to the site and work is not going on? When we came, it was at zero level. Most of you don’t see it because it’s not beside the Niger Bridge, so you don’t see it unless you visit the site.
“Onitsha is a River port, 3.5 metre draft. The only thing that can go there is barge. Port Harcourt and Warri seaport will be the highest. And people still criticize a President that is doing this much for this zone. How do we survive by ethnicity?” he asked.
On why railway work is yet to commence in the South-East, Amaechi said, “I hate tribalism. I’ve said this before. For me, I’m a Nigerian, and what informs my decision of choosing which rail line to construct at any point in time, is the economics of rail; and currently the economics shows that Lagos to Kano has the capacity to move 30 million tonnes of cargo per year.
“I did same analysis for Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail line and it’s 11 million tonnes. We are currently doing the analysis for Lagos to Calabar to know how many tonnes of cargo can be moved there per year. So, we started with the Lagos to Kano rail line. President Olusegun Obasanjo approved it, President Jonathan started construction on it by doing Abuja to Kaduna and President Buhari told us to complete all previous projects.
He continued: “Now, we are applying for $11b loan to construct Lagos to Calabar rail. There was no design for Port Harcourt-Maiduguri. We knew that the first thing to do was to commence a feasibility study, after that, we’ll do the design. It’s now they’ll start to do the site drawing. In the three months they will be doing that, you’ll start shouting again: why are they not constructing? You forget that Ibadan to Kano, they are just finishing the design now, that’s why they’ve not started construction.”
“The President told us that all rail lines in Nigeria must be standard gauge. So we did a standard gauge design for the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line. We went to Bonny to do studies and we did that study up to Maiduguri. I did a feasibility study that brought it between $14 billion to $11 billion. When we finished, we got approval from the President, but I realized that we may not get the money in this government. I changed my course, and I said, while we are looking for money for the standard gauge for Port Harcourt-Maiduguri, let me ask for money to reconstruct the narrow-gauge at $3.1 billion. And the President after much argument, accepted. After sometime, he agreed, that we can proceed with the narrow-gauge, while seeking money to construct the standard gauge.
“At least, I’m sure that before we leave government, we would have done up to 80 per cent of that rail line. Also, there was no line to Owerri, I added Owerri to the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail design, because of the Industrial Park and the University of Transportation in Ubima,” Amaechi added.
In his opening remarks, SESSPN President, Hannibal Uwaifo, said, “We will need to work with our people in government, support them, no matter what political party they belong to, to help and promote our region. It is those of us that are exposed, those of us who are professionals that can put heads together with our people in government to overcome these challenges. We have to up our game in order to get a better tomorrow for our children.”