The resumption of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail inspection has elicited hope for the completion of a project meant to change the transportation narrative, writes ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE
The regal presence of the ‘bullet’ locomotive and its brand new coaches was enough to arrest passers-by. Many could not believe it was possible. They stood rooted to a spot, at Tejuosho, in Mainland Lagos, admiring the train which later took off to Ibadan.
The Managing Director, Nigerian Railway Corporation (NSC), Fidet Okhiria, said they had received approval to begin commercial operation mid-September.
Okhiria said the NRC would run 16 trips daily on the route. But passengers may have to get tickets at make-shift spots in the meantime, until minor stations along the route are ready.
Meeting with the contractor, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), after a five months’ suspension of work, due to the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, last Saturday, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, directed that the seven minor stations be completed by next month, while December deadline was given for the completion of the three mega stations at Ebute Meta, Kajola and Omi-Adio in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states. Ten stations are to service the route.
As at Saturday, many of the minor stations were said to be about 80 percent completed and achieving the mandate should not be impossible.
Amaechi was accompanied on the visit by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, as well as heads of agencies under the Ministry of Transportation, including Okhiria, Chairman, NRC, Alhaji Ibrahim Alhassan Musa, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala -Usman, and the Executive Secretary, Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC) Hassan Bello.
The visit also offered Mohammed an opportunity to access the project. He agreed that the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge has performed creditably, adding that it might be the benchmark for other projects for which the administration was seeking more infrastructure loans from the China EximBank.
Mohammed said: “There is no better way to answer Nigerians as to what we have done with the money we borrowed all over the world than this trip.
“You have seen first-hand the people at work at the stations. This is a project that will outlast virtually all of us here.
“Please come and see for yourself what we are doing with the money borrowed. We didn’t borrow money on services. We didn’t borrow for overhead expenditure. We borrowed money for capital projects – rail, roads, bridges and power infrastructure.”
Mohammed expressed the need for Nigerians to be better informed on the loans, especially at a time like this, adding: “There is nothing bad in borrowing provided the borrowing is invested in infrastructure. There is nothing bad in borrowing if that borrowing is going to create jobs and an enabling environment for wealth creation.”
One of the most audacious ambitions of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is to connect the 36 states and Abuja by rail. It seeks to achieve this by 2023 and has been borrowing to achieve this.
Of recent, the lower parliament raised the alarm at the terms of the loans, especially from China, which allegedly portends some dangers to the nation’s sovereignty.
But rising stoutly in defence of the loans tagged ‘infrastructure loans’, Amaechi urged the parliament to apply the brakes and allow the loan processes to be concluded before the probe as doing otherwise may send the wrong signals and put a stop to the hope of getting the loans thereby aborting the march in infrastructure development.
The Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge, which would be delivered latest first quarter next year, is a 154 kms double standard gauge rail line with a branchline from Ebute Meta to Apapa Wharf. The intention is to ensure that rail gained maximally from the international commerce at the port by ensuring cargoes are freighted by rail to the interlands.
The NSC’s response to this mandate is the establishment of a dry port at the end of the track.