The plan to construct Lagos-Ibadan Speed Rail Project did not really start last week. It did not start either under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. It actually started under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Then, however, the latter did not put in much commitment that could have delivered the project long before the former took over the reins of government.
But the federal government indeed demonstrated its commitment last week when the acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo re-launched the Lagos-Ibadan section of the Lagos-Kano standard gauge railway project. In spite of hitches the project had suffered under the Jonathan administration, obviously, Osinbajo said the unveiling “is an epochal moment in our national life in many ways.”
That truly explains the height of national support the project received even before its take-off. And the support was demonstrated by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, his Oyo State counterpart, Senator Abiola Ajimobi and that of Ogun State, Senator Ibinkunle Amosun, all of whom personally attended the take-off ceremony of the rail project, which Osinbajo said, would redefine our national life.
For different reasons, therefore, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, described the rail project as a step in the right direction “to optimise the federal government’s change agenda in the transportation sector.” Contrary to some critics, Amaechi explained the strategic significance of the transportation sector, which he said, was an economic index for growth and development.
A little background
Before the renewed effort, the plan to reconstruct and modernise the Lagos-Kano rail preceded the last three administrations. It was first initiated under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Beyond its conception in 2006, the Obasanjo administration then awarded the project to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) at a whopping cost of $8.3 billion.
On two major grounds, the Obasanjo administration could not execute the project, which transport strategists said, could have transformed the country’s national life. First, Obasanjo could not execute it due a short period he had to the expiration of his second term. Second, even though his tenure expiration was close, Obasanjo could have started executing it if not for a challenge of funding.
Practically, the time was too short for Obasanjo to raise funds for the rail project. But had it been his successor, former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua really shared this vision, his administration, which started in 2007, could have started where Obasanjo stopped. After he became the substantive president, Jonathan re-awarded the project to the same contractor in 2012 to be executed in six phases.
Under the Jonathan administration, it was designed to start with the Lagos-Ibadan corridor. For reasons yet to be known, Jonathan started Segment I, which runs between Abuja and Kaduna, though did not complete it. But the Buhari administration completed the first segment. Now is the time for Segment II, which connects Lagos to Ibadan. According to Amaechi, it extends to Lagos Port Complex, Apapa.
Other segments, which will be constructed one after the other, comprise Ibadan-Ilorin, Ilorin-Minna, Minna–Abuja and Kaduna-Kano. Already, Segment I, which runs between Abuja and Kaduna, had been completed. Its construction started under the Jonathan administration, but was not completed. It cost about$876 million, consisting of $500 million in loans from the Exim Bank of China.
Covering a distance of 156.65 kilometres, Segment II, which runs from Lagos to Ibadan, was, for the third time, re-awarded to the CCECC at $1.5 billion after Buhari visited China June 2016. Of the project cost, Osinbajo disclosed that the federal government had paid its counterpart funding of N72 billion, which he said, was a condition for granting facilities it obtained also from the Exim Bank of China.
By implication, Amaechi said the Lagos-Ibadan rail project “involves the construction of ancillary facilities.” So, the minister cited the construction of eight railway stations along the corridor at Apapa, Ebute-Metta, with intermediate stations at Agege, Kajola, Papalanto, Abeokuta, Omi-Adio, a passing station at Olodo while the Ibadan Station will be an intermediate station with technical operation.
He added that the station at Kajola in Ogun State “will be a locomotive workshop, rolling stock depot and marshalling yard. Traffic volume forecast is that the project will handle over 3.2 million tons of goods/cargoes per annum in its first year of operation, while passenger services can take 16 pairs of passenger trains. It will be extended to Ibadan to Ilorin, Minna, Kaduna and Kano in the future.”
The minister said the project captured the acquisition of land for joint estate development partnership as well as private sector logistic park and goods platform “to generate the revenue for the sustenance of the rail line and in the actual repayment of the loan.” He thus said the federal government “will abandon the project as it did in 2006. Work will not only start, but will be completed in record time.”
Even though the rail project had run into bumps and hitches under the last three administrations, the acting President said its ground breaking signaled the determination of President Buhari “to modernise the national rail system in keeping with his promise to the Nigerian people. If there is a project so close to Buhari’s heart, it is the rail project which he promised Nigerians when he assumed office about two years ago.”
He, therefore, said it was the core reasons President Buhari personally visited Peoples Republic of China in June 2016. During the visit, Osinbajo said the President reopened the negotiations on the Chinese support for the rail project, which he said, was truly the height of political commitment the federal government “has demonstrated to realise, not only Lagos-Ibadan rail project, but also to other strategic projects.”
Aside, Osinbajo said the groundbreaking of Lagos-Ibadan rail project marked the beginning of the federal government’s plan “to move speedily to improve links between Lagos which is the national economic nerve centre and major ports to other state capitals and towns across the federation.” In the modern world, he said, that was the way to go if people must transit freely and goods transported without let or hindrance.
Similarly, the acting President noted that the ground breaking graphically “reflects the plans of the federal government to build a globally competitive economy with first grade infrastructure.” He, therefore, acknowledged the critical role of infrastructure, which he said, explained the reason railway was strategically integrated into in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan the federal government unveiled last week.
So, he said, rail development is strategic to rescuing Nigeria from economic recession. He added that it was underscored in the last two fiscal regimes. For this reason, Osinbajo said the federal government “has made provisions for matching funds in the 2016 budget to complement the concessionary loans taken from China.” He, thus, said China and Exim Bank of China “have always proved to be our reliable partners.”
Undoubtedly, he said, the rail development means a lot for the Buhari administration. For this purpose, the acting President disclosed that negotiation on the Kaduna-Kano of portion of the rail project “has now been completed and this phase is next in line.” Besides the Lagos-Kano rail project, Osinbajo disclosed that the federal government had already appropriated the Lagos-Calabar railway under the 2017 budget.”
Osinbajo said it was not just that the Lagos-Calabar railway project had been incorporated under the current fiscal regime. He added that the federal government “has equally provided its own for funding the coastal railway. We expect that negotiations on the foreign component of the funding will be finalised in the next three months,” after which he said, the Lagos-Calabar railway project would come on stream.
From every indication, Osinbajo said the country’s national railway project “is of great economic value.” Definitely, the acting President explained its centrality to the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, which he said, had been adopted to rescue Nigeria from economic meltdown. Reasons for prioritising the national railway projects as key to the rescue plan are not far-fetched. As Osinbajo said, the rail development can help create jobs massively and facilitate the movement of goods and people faster than expected.
Osinbajo, thus, noted that an active and vibrant railway system “confers many benefits on the country and our ultimate goal is to restore a railway-using culture for both commercial and personal transportation.” Of these benefits, first, Osinbajo said the national rail project could help create up to 500,000 direct and indirect jobs. If completed, it was said, Lagos-Ibadan corridor alone could create at least 250,000 jobs.
Aside creating 500,000 jobs, the acting President cited its potentials “to facilitate the movement of over 3.2 million tonnes of cargo per annum.” As a result, he said, “it would reduce the burden on national highways; preserve our road networks and increase the lifespan of our roads.” Also, he said, “it will help reduce freight cost, the railway network will support efforts to diversify the economy and enhance our export potential.”
In the past, he reflected, several of Nigerians cities were known as railway towns. In the same way, according to him, the federal government expects to boost economic activities along the railway lines that will eventually cut across the entire country. To achieve these objectives, he said the federal government had completed visibility studies for up to 13 routes, which he said, would be developed for this purpose.
The acting President noted that the routes “have already been identified for connecting state capitals and major commercials centres to the rail network. We should begin to see significant activities in this regard very shortly.” He emphasise the need to have viable self-sustaining and self-improving railway service, which he said, should not be dependent on government funding that might not always be available.
He proposed a model, which he said, could be upgraded and improved over time and not left to decay due to management issues or lack of attention. He said this proposal explained why the federal government supported the replacement of the 1955 Railway Act with a legal framework, which according to him, had opened railway projects in Nigeria for greater private sector participation.
For Ambode, a direct consequence of the rail project will be productive time man often wasted on the roads due to gridlock and bad roads due to heavy duty vehicles. When completed, the governor said, the federal government would spend less resource on road and maintenance repair because of the rail presence. For the South-west, he said, the project will tremendously boost regional integration and growth.
He, thus, noted that the South-west states “are excited about this project because it would further open up the economy of the region and facilitate regional integration and growth. The agricultural sector will receive the long awaited boost because the rail line will be a faster and more convenient means of transporting farm produce from the hinterland to the city, thereby increasing the economies.”
Even though strategies for ensuring to run efficient modern and reliable train services have been mapped out, Ambode believed the federal government “has a duty to state governments to build light rail or metro line.” Under the administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Lagos State has indentified seven routes, though has been having difficulties with the federal government on their implementation.
Ambode cited the on-going construction of Light Rail (Blue Line), which he said, was at advanced stage. He, also, cited the proposed red line, which he said the federal government just approved the right of way after several years. He mentioned the plan to construct a Marina-Ikoyi-Lekki Monorail on which the state had partnered the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Obviously, Ambode admitted that the national railway project “marks a new dawn in the transformation of our transport infrastructure.” However, he sought cooperation and understanding of the federal government, especially the Nigeria Railway Corporation when the state rolls out its Red Line Project, which he said, would be constructed parallel to the Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan railway.
With federal cooperation, he said the state’s proposed Red Line Project “will breathe a new lease of life into our roads and highways. A direct benefit of this project is that containers and goods from the Apapa Port will now be transported by rail thereby reducing the number of trailers and other heavy duty vehicles on our roads. It will end gridlock; ease burden on roads and reduce deplorable roads.”
As the federal government facilitates linking states and cities together, he canvassed the need for monorail and light rail, which he said, would serve public interest in a metropolis like Lagos State. He, therefore, emphasised the need for the federal government and all its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) “to be enablers rather than constituting cogs in the wheel of states that want to make progress.”