Despite the criticisms that have trailed the federal government’s extension of the Lagos-Kano-Katsina railway lines to the border town of Marradi in Niger Republic the minister of information and culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed has defended the policy saying economic and commercial considerations are in favour of Nigeria.
The project will be financed from a $1.959 billion loan sourced from China.
Consequently, Nigerians are aghast at playing such a Father Christmas role to Niger Republic with a loan when its (Nigerian) economy is on life support.
But speaking on a live television programme in Abuja, Mohammed said the rail extension “is intended for Nigeria to take economic advantages of import and export of Niger Republic, Chad and Burkina Faso, which are landlocked countries.”
He said contrary to disinformation by some commentators on the rail extension project, the decision was taken in the economic interest of Nigeria.
“I think there has been a lot of disinformation and total lack of information over that linking of Lagos, Kano, Katsina railway to Marradi. The wisdom behind it is that Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso are all landlocked, meaning that they do not have access to sea.
“What this means is that most of their imports and exports have to go through neighbouring countries’ seaports like Cotonou in Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. Because we do not have a road infrastructure that will encourage Niger Republic to use our seaports, we believe that we will be able to take over their imports and exports with the rail linkage.
“The simple reason, therefore, is to strengthen the economy of Nigeria. For now, Niger Republic use the seaports of Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana and the exporters go through the stress, challenges and time of being on the road from Cotonu, Lome or Accra to their country.
“But by the time we link them from Katsina to Marradi, it will be easier for us to take over the business.
“There is nothing like territorial expansion, it is purely economic, we are taking advantage of the proximity and efficiency of rail system,” he said.
Similarly, the minister of transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi listed the benefits of the Kano-Marradi rail line and the economic importance of the Lekki, Bonny and Warri seaports approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He also highlighted the role the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line would play in boosting the country’s economy.
He said the Kano-Marradi rail line would afford the country the opportunity to compete in the area of transporting goods and services to and from landlocked neighbouring countries like Niger via the seaports in Lagos, adding that it is all about economics, not politics.
“Last week, we awarded the contract for Kano to Marradi and people were screaming why are we taking it to Niger Republic? It’s important to take it to Niger because of economic reasons. Most coastal territories in Africa are competing better than us in terms of cargoes coming from the hinterland, the landlocked countries.
“We decided to join the market and compete so that we can make our seaports very viable. We decided to introduce the Kano-Maradi rail, so that we can convey their goods from Marradi (a boundary village) to our ports with ease. I don’t know why people are screaming about it. It’s about economics, not politics.
“We believe that before the end of the year, two railway projects should commence- Kano-Marradi and Ibadan to Kano. For Ibadan to Kano, we are waiting for approval of the loan in China. Once the loan is approved in China, we’ll commence. For Kano-Marradi, the loan is almost ready. They are coming in next week for negotiation. Once we conclude the negotiation and agree, we’ll sign and pursue the construction. The contractor is a Portuguese company (Mota-Engil). They have come with a European bank and a German bank to fund the Kano-Marradi rail.”
On the part Niger Republic is expected to play in the construction of the rail line, Amaechi said: “We are the ones building the rail to their village at the border to attract their cargoes. They are comfortable going to Togo, Benin Republic and Ghana or all those countries around there. So, what we want to do is to attract them to a cheap and secure form of transportation, so you can’t therefore ask them to make a contribution. We are going to do the $1.98 billion at our own cost and at Marradi we stop, so that we can attract their cargoes and then get our seaports to be more competitive as compared to Lome, Benin and Ghana.”
On the timing of the Kano-Marradi project, Amaechi explained that railway generates employment and can be a means of curbing insecurity in that region as the criminality and banditry may have been as a result of poverty for some people who go into it.
“You should know that railway generates employment and that as you move from Kano to Marradi, you’re going to go to Kano, Dutse, Kazaure, Daura, Katsina, Jibia before you get to Marradi, imagine the number of persons that you’ll create jobs for just at the beginning of the construction.
“At the end of construction, imagine the number of businesses that you can site along that area just because there is transportation. So, when you talk about timing, poverty doesn’t have timing, unemployment is causing insecurity and banditry is a product of poverty, not just lack of education. So, you have to find an alternative for those who participate in banditry.
“So, what we are trying to create is a source of growing the economy of Nigeria and creating opportunities for those who want to do real business, so they’ll be able to move their manufactured goods and reduce the cost of production around that area. That’s what we are trying to do. So, timing won’t be an issue.”
For the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line, Amaechi said the government’s approval was imminent and that construction would begin before the end of the year or in the first quarter of next year.
“I believe that by next week Wednesday, if the Secretary to the Government of the Federation would add the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri to the agenda for the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, then I believe that the cabinet should be able to approve the contract from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.
“The Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail starts from Bonny, with a deep seaport approved by the President already but handled by a private firm, and then a rail line from Bonny to Port Harcourt – Aba- Umuahia – Enugu – Makurdi – Lafia – Jos – Kafanchan – Bauchi – Gombe – Damaturu and Maiduguri, with a spur from Port Harcourt to Owerri. So, what is left on that line would be Abakaliki and Awka.
“Where we have about two seaports or river ports in Port Harcourt, you’ll be able to transport a lot of Iron Ore deposits from the North-east through the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri rail. The completion of this project, which we hope that if it doesn’t start this year, it will start first quarter of next year, will move cargo, create employment, create industrial development and it will grow the economy. The same is applicable for Lagos to Calabar.
“The Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail has the capacity for hundreds of millions of cargoes, but for now, the amount of cargoes that go between Port Harcourt and Maiduguri is about 11 million tons, from the study that we did.
“We are still talking with the ministry of finance on the funding of Lagos to Calabar. This line starts from Lagos – Ore to Benin, there’s a spur in Benin that goes to Agbor – Asaba – Onitsha, then it continues from Benin – Warri – Yenagoa – Port Harcourt – Aba – Uyo to Calabar,” he said.