The controversial rail line, Why the $1.96bn project sparks outrage

Angry tongues, especially from the south, have risen, pouring fire and brimstone on the Muhammadu Buhari presidency the moment the Federal Executive Council (FEC) announced a $1.96billion approval for a rail line starting in Kano and ending in Niger Republic. According to the FEC and the Transportation Minister that announced it, the rail system will be single standard gauge with high speed from Kano, Katsina snd Jigawa states cutting through Kano to Dambatta, Kazaure, Daura, Mashi, Katsina, terminating in Maradi, Niger Republic, a total of 248km.

To most southerners specially from the south-south and east, the project is a misplaced priority and another demonstration of sectionalism. This made one social media influencer, Dapo Fidale to dub it family planning, insinuating that President Buhari, a Fulani, must be interested in creating a traveling corridor between his kinsmen in Nigeria and those back in Niger Republic.

Dapo further enthused that the president who has since been under huge suspicion of striving to unite all Fulani under one umbrella with Nigeria as hub, may be planning to build rail network within the West African sub-region for his people to fasten their migration to the proposed modern headquarters (Nigeria) and to form a centre of Fulani civilization expected to take over Nigeria and West Africa, the same objective that Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) has openly declared as their objective, though with violence as a weapon.

Most easterners have remained beside themselves in anger since the near $2Bn rail project to another land was unveiled by their son, the Minister, on behalf of the FEC. One editor asked: “Do we have anything in the South East? People are saying that we don’t have any rail line connecting the South East to other parts of the country. There is an ongoing gas pipeline going from Kano to the same Niger Republic. What is special about Niamey?

“Why are we neglecting the suffering of citizens and concentrating on other countries? Look at Apapa; the major problem is that there is no railway functioning there; yet government is reaping hugely from the ports in Apapa without any thought on how to improve transportation of goods and petroleum products. Why do we love strangers more than ourselves? Make the people smile here first before extending the goodwill to our neighbours. It is clearly an insincere motive.”

Niger-Nigeria connections: Family planning?

Both countries have much in common, but the negative seems most glaring in the sense that most easterners claim that northern presidential candidates move people across the two countries to amass votes to topple their southern opponents. It is often claimed in the south that Nigeria’s population during elections remains uncertain because of the loophole created between both countries through cross-border passage. Policing seems impossible between the two.

Most herdsmen, killers, bandits, robbers, terrorists, and sundry criminals switch nationality during interrogations but many end up being from Niger. Most essential commodities such as petroleum products and fertilizer targeted at established Nigerian populations end up in the other countries especially Niger.

The closeness is not only in name as a Nigerian and a Nigerien can easily be mistaken. Both countries drew their Nigerians to one river, the Niger. Both flags look almost alike, adopting green for the fertility of the banks of the Niger and white for peace and purity. Nigeria stopped there but Niger took red to support their brand probably to reflect a strong determination to make.

At one point or the other, both countries had been part of one empire ruled by one monarch or emir. The most common denomination is the presence of the Fulani in both countries and the source of Usman Dan Fodio and his religion. There is a long association (both good and bad) of both the Fulani (also Peul or Fulbe) and Hausa of both countries from 1200 to 1500 and up till the 18th century when most Fulani were said to have grown unhappy with the kind of Islam practiced in Hausaland, thus the jihad. From the Sokoto Caliphate to the Kanem-Bornu empire, both peoples have been under one rule, only to break away, until the present reality of two stable countries.

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The desert has been the cause of the modern migration from Niger and Chad to down south, Nigeria, but many must be reminded that the Sahel was not a dry bad place from the beginning. It was a wet desert that supported agriculture next after the Nile areas of Egypt. It is when climate change crept in that the area became dry and migration southward began. Many say that the desert is fast getting to Nigeria and that most parts of the north may migrate downward and that in the process, land grab tussles would one day be a new reality even in the south. It may not only be about dipping the Koran in the Atlantic Ocean.

That must be why most Nigerians felt that the late military head of state, Sanni Abacha, was tilting toward Niamey, having strong connections with that country from both Kano and Bornu empire links.

That could also lend credence to the submission of a facebook follower of a female journalist and social media Amazon, Oby Ndukwe, who said Abacha started the rail overhaul with a loan from China and that much of it failed.

He however said there was no plan whatsoever to extend railways into Niger. “It was a cataclysmic decision taken by agents of the Buhari administration. How can you media people not know? Olusegn Obasanjo sought to improve the quality and standards and only renegotiated some of the Abacha transactions for railways. Most of the Chinese contracts in the Abacha regime were subcontracted to cronies of the Abacha family. Time will tell.”

Neglecting the South-South & East:

The same commentator, Okey Igbokwe, wrote on Oby’s timeline; “The East-West Road, the most strategic road in the Niger Delta linking Warri and Calabar, was used as a campaign tool to taunt and abuse Goodluck Jonathan by Chubuike Amaechi and his South-South APC gang. They said Jonathan did not want to complete that road and that Buhari, who is a detribalized Nigerian and lover of the Niger Delta, would complete it if elected and would also turn the region to London.

“It is over five years now since Jonathan was chased out by Amaechi and his APC gang and installed Buhari, but that all-important East-West Road is still in the condition Jonathan left it, no single sand or cement has been dropped there by Buhari.

“So, instead of applying the same pressure on Buhari to finish the road, Amaechi is rather building an irrelevant $1.96bn railway line from Buhari’s home town to Niger Republic. The East-West Road and Buhari’s railway to Niger Republic, which one is of more economic importance to the Niger Delta people?

“Niger Delta APC supporters would look at that railway to Niger Republic from their creeks and mangrove and feel very satisfied with the campaign they did in 2015 and ’19 and praise Buhari for developing Niger Republic instead of the promise to turn Niger Delta to London.”

This has been the tone and pattern of the avalanche of attacks and condemnation raining on Buhari, Amaechi and the APC.

Buharists, Amaechi’s supporters come to the rescue, point to evidence

One of the Special Advisers to the president who hails from Eleme in the Niger Delta, Ajuri Ngelaele, countered thus: “This financially empowers Nigeria as the import/export hub for Niger Republic.”

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Another, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, an Amaechi supporter, said: “This rail line will be the most economically viable and that must have been why lenders gave it priority. Let’s understand these things to help our nation not aid opposition propaganda inadvertently.”

Did Jonathan approve the Kano-Niamey rail line?

Information has come out that the rail line to Niger Republic, in fact to the capital in Niamey, was proposed by the then Jonathan administration, though Igbokwe rejected it. But, an APC stalwart in the south-south, Chris Finebone, emphatically stated: “Do you think that two administrations (Jonathan’s and Buhari’s) cannot see the economic importance to Nigeria for connecting our rail line with Niger and only citizens of Republic of Facebook that will be wiser? Remember, that the initial plan by the Jonathan administration was to build the rail line up to Niamey in Niger.

“On August 13, 2013 in Nigeria, the Vice President of Nigeria, Namadi Sambo, announced that Nigeria was to construct a line into the Republic of Niger. According to him, the new track would be an extension to the existing branch from Zaria to Kaura-Namoda, which is to be continued via Sokoto to Birnin Kebbi. In the longer term, he said that it would extend the line across the border to Niamey, capital of Niger.”

Many have attacked Finebone in an ugly manner, accusing him of giving excuses with Jonathan administration five years after. But the Opobo chief said he was only showing that the rail line to Niger was part of a national plan started years before Buhari.

National, not family planning

Many have pointed to the economic importance of the Madari route saying it would broaden the old trade route from Kano through Niger to Libya, Algeria to Europe. A commentator, Ruskin Amadi, said people should be broadminded. “I don’t see anything so bad about the Nigeria -Niger rail line that will make it evil. Every project just like everything on earth has its pros and cons.

“Nigeria and Niger have trade links that would be useful in the new African common market initiative around the corner. It will yield huge revenue to Nigeria in terms of the freight to and fro. It will create jobs. It will boost our big brother status as Niger and their friends would likely take sides with Nigeria in African politics as game of numbers. Niger would have more motivation to help fight terrorism from their side. It may attract tourists if well built and open communities in both flanks to development.”

Amaechi explained on Thursday that the rail line would open trade and bulk goods transit to West Africa by rail.

Eastern rail and southern projects also on the line

The Minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, had weeks before, conveyed approval for the Bonny-Port Harcourt N80Bn rail project that would run mostly on water. He had said upon completion of the Lagos-Ibadan railway project by December, the Federal Government would immediately commence construction of the Eastern rail line which connects Port Harcourt – Bonny Island and to Borno at Maiduguri.

Amaechi said the planned commencement is subject to approval by the Federal Executive Council, while listing other projects in line for commencement. They include, the Kano/Maradi line and the Ibadan to Kano section of the Lagos to Kano rail line.

He said, ” We have sent to the cabinet the request for approval of two railway contracts, Port Harcourt – Bonny to Maiduguri. If that is awarded, that will be the next assignment for the Ministry of Transport. We are also pursuing the loan for the contract which has been awarded for the Lagos to Calabar rail line. We also expect that Ibadan to Kano will commence before the end of this year,” Amaechi said.

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On the Lagos-Ibadan railway project, he noted that much work has not been done on the Apapa station because the building of the station just commenced, “but I want them to finish all the stations at same time. And I have insisted that a special taskforce be set up to make sure Apapa station is completed same time as all the others”

Bonny historic rail?

An earlier report anchored by Ben Eguzozie said; “The federal government is considering giving its funding approval to the much-expected Port Harcourt-Bonny island rail line by July 2020. The rail line along with a deep seaport and an industrial park in Port Harcourt are estimated to cost N80 billion. It takes 44 km by road to hit Bonny Island from Port Harcourt.

“The rail line would combine with the ongoing N120 billion 38-kilometre Bonny-Bodo Road, the first-ever road link to the island to come on stream in 2022.

Ajuri Ngelali, senior special assistant on public affairs to President Muhammadu Buhari said on his Twitter handle @AjuriNgelale that funding for the rail line would be approved by the federal executive council meeting in July. His statement aligns with an earlier announcement by Transportation minister, Chibuike Amaechi, when he said China would be set to provide $5.4 billion funding for the Ibadan-Kano rail line.”

If this is achieved, history would be made as travellers would look at the mangrove forests, creeks and oceans along the route and enter Ogoni by rail.

Buhari ends the matter

President had personally stated in his twitter page thus: “The Kano–Maradi Single Track Standard Gauge Railway, Coastal Railway Project & Port Harcourt–Maiduguri Standard Gauge Railway, with its associated branch lines running through the South Eastern & Gombe States, industrial park & Bonny Deep Sea Port are all ready for concessioning.

“The Lagos-Ibadan Rail Line is 90% completed and would be extended to the Lagos Port which would help address the long-standing gridlock at the Apapa port. The Central Ajaokuta – Itakpe – Warri Line has been completed and is being extended from Itakpe to Abuja on one end and from Warri Town to Warri Port on the other. We are extending and upgrading our railway network too. We are introducing more locomotives, coaches and wagons for the Abuja-Kaduna Rail Line.”

What is not clear is whether or not the $1.96Bn approval is for concessionaire of direct job by the FG.

Conclusion:

Southerners may be angry but they have been advised to study the entire national rail plan and find out if the east and south-south have been left out to allow facts speak.

Another commentator advised the FG to unveil the entire rail network plan so Nigerians can view it and react once instead of piecemeal unveiling with frequent crisis on routes and loans.

As Oby Ndukwe mentioned, most of the projects stalled in the south-south were caused by indigenes and leaders of the same region. The $5.4Bn proposed loan for eastern rail projects was hung by Niger Delta leaders in the National Assembly when loans had been obtained for rail projects in other parts of the country. There may be need for peoples of the south-south and east to look inward.

Culled from Businessday

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