THE government of President Muhammadu Buhari has ignored the objections of a cross-section of Nigerians and gone ahead with the controversial construction of a standard gauge railway line from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic.
The project, which will cover a distance of 248 kilometres, will also cut through largely rural towns like Dambatta, Kazaure, Daura, Mashi, Katsina and Jibia within Nigeria. A contract sum of $1.96bn (about N760bn or over N900bn at the bureaux de change) was approved for the project by the Federal Executive Council on Wednesday last week.
We consider this project a misplaced priority at this juncture of our country’s development. This contract is being executed with a loan from China. It is the Nigerian people as a whole who will repay it or suffer the consequences of inability to pay as agreed. There is no indication that the Nigerien people owe similar liability.
All we are told is that Nigeria wants to be the preferred route for goods and passengers from Niger Republic and adjoining countries to the Lagos ports. We are also regaled with the additional “advantages” of linking six more Northern Nigerian cities by rail.
We are confounded at the continued neglect of the Eastern flank of the original East/North and West/North Nigerian railway network established by the founders of Nigeria – Great Britain – which helped to service our prosperous non-oil economy until the civil war over 50 years ago.
Now that we are reviving the rail sector with foreign loans, what is the rationale to concentrate only on the West/North line with additional impetus into a foreign country while neglecting the East/North line?
This follows the well-laid pattern of favouritism in terms of appointments and project distribution unblinkingly pursued by the Buhari regime since 2015.
This has unsettled our collective sense of belonging to Nigeria. It is unfair and unacceptable to saddle people with the repayment of a loan they were denied the benefits of.
Countries which borrow for development invest in economically-viable infrastructure and in areas of high commercial activities in order to stand a chance of timely repayment of the loan. They do not pursue personal aggrandisement, flights of fancy or play “big brother” with borrowed funds.
Nigeria is borrowing and at the same time pleading for “debt forgiveness”, and yet building projects just to gratify a few key people in leadership.
We do not endorse this “Father Christmas” and white elephant railway project because charity should always begin at home and go round first before considering a foreign country.
The National Assembly should have been involved in deciding the merits of this project with the country’s overall paramount interests fully considered.
It is not too late to rethink this project.