THE FRONTLINES With Joseph Ushigiale
This is my second commentary on the same subject matter, the first was published last weekend and I am again compelled to follow up in the hope that truth and reasoned argument would eventually prevail over parochial sentiments by canvassed by the present administration.
Alot has been written about the desirability or otherwise of this project. Majority of the commentaries are against the extension of this rail project to Niger republic because it serves no meaning economic benefits to Nigeria.
However, the federal government has been very adamant and hell bent on seeing through this project at the expense of tax payers money with President Muhammadu Buhari insisting that the rail project to Niger is in Nigeria’s interest. This is standing truth on the head.
The most revealing truth about this project which again provoked this commentary was revealed by Minister for Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. Remember it was Amaechi who first announced that the federal executive council (FEC) had approved the award of contract for the rail line to Niger Republic few weeks ago. An announcement that provoked the deluge of criticisms and vituperations from a cross section of Nigerians..
During the week, Amaechi also made a startling revelation. At a meeting with Nigerien Ambassador to Nigeria, Alat Mogaskia, he said the federal government is going to contact the governments of Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso to intimate them of its intention to extend the rail project into Niger Republic. This evidently means that while our own government had approved the project, allocated funds, those to benefit from the project are unaware.
According to Amaechi, “We are trying to build a rail up to Maradi, we want to meet the State Governor over the infrastructure where it would be located because we plan to construct rail stations and a warehouse.
“Since the contract was awarded, this is the first meeting we are having to see what we really need to do to get the rail into Maradi, I plan to do a letter by Monday to the Minister of Transport in Niger to help us seek approval from the State governor or federal government to enable us to construct the rail to Maradi.”
Mogaskia in his response assured that “We are really behind the development, the matter is not too late for the Nigerian government to intimate the Niger government about the project. The most important person in the parliament is from Maradi and he welcomes this idea.
“On leaving this place now, we will immediately contact all the relevant bodies in Niger, they will all be sensitised about the project.
“Whatever presentation we are making today will get a good reception for a quick response, so that the project can go ahead,” Mogaskia assured.
It is very clear from these exchanges that the federal government has a hidden agenda by choosing to engage in this project without carrying out due diligence. It has also raised a lot of moral questions bothering on where our President’s loyalty resides.
What does he mean when he says the project is in our national interest? Since when has the siting of a project in a foreign country becomes our national priority? Is our President Nigerien or Nigerian? Is he loyal to Niger or Nigeria? Who carried out a business case to determine the viability of this project?
There are those who believe that this unilateral decision taken by Buhari is first to pave the way for easy influx of more fulanis from neighbouring countries into Nigeria. They also argue that the rail line to Maradi is compensation to the Nigeriens for their overwhelming support in the 2015 and 2019 presidential polls.
To be sure, projects of this nature abound all over the world. For instance, the European infrastructure corridor linking various EU countries has been in existence for decades funded by the EU. Recently, an ambitious project ‘The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF)’ which is the EU funding instrument was launched for strategic investment in transport, energy and digital infrastructure.
In the transport sector, CEF is dedicated to the implementation of the TEN-T and aims at supporting investments in cross-border connections, missing links as well as promoting sustainability and digitalisation.
During the period 2014-2019, CEF Transport awarded EUR 23.3 billion in grants to co-finance projects of common interest, out of which EUR 11.3 billion was transferred from the Cohesion Fund.
In Asia, The Belt and Road Initiative, formerly known as One Belt One Road or OBOR for short, is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations. In Africa, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now the African Union (AU) also launched an infrastructure development plan aimed at linking all African states by road and rail networks and quite a lot has been achieved in this direction. The new Kenya born African Union’s high representative of infrastructure and development, Raila Odinga says he intends to oversee the construction of 60,000km highways linking the entire continent and the Trans-African highway project commissioned in 1971 to open up continent for trade.
He assured that the “Primary projects will be an 8,000 kms highway linking Cairo (Egypt) to Dakar in Senegal. Another 8,0000 kms road will stretch from Cairo and Cape Town (South Africa). A 6,000kms road linking Mombasa (Kenya) to Lagos (Nigeria) is part of this ambitious project.”
Raila said he believed land transport was an integral part of the continent’s economic growth, added that he intended to have another 4,700kms road between Dakar and Lagos built. He explained that out of nine highways proposed over four decades ago, only the 4,500kms road between Dakar and N’Djamena in Chad had been constructed.
“My belief is that having reliable road infrastructure and railways linking all corners of Africa will open up the continent and make it a gateway to the 21st century. Through my new position I am determined to take Africa to economic independence,” affirmed Raila.
Given these windows of opportunities at the AU, there are question begging for answer is: why did our government not exhaust and keyed into these opportunities open to it as a member state before deciding to drag the country into needless debts?
Apart from the AU, Nigeria, Niger are members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and in fact the Nigerien president is the current Chairman of the body. Why did Buhari who recently stepped down as Chairman of the body not canvassed joint funding of this project by the benefiting countries rather than choosing to saddle Nigeria alone with the debt burden? It would appear Buhari also believes money is not Nigeria’s problem?
In all this, the greatest culprit is the Minister of Transportation. He has failed to articulate a local, regional and pan African transport roadmap with funding alternatives to guide the government going forward.
With the examples from Europe, China Silk Road Initiative and ongoing projects initiated by regional and continental bodies, it is not late for the Buhari administration to stop this project forthwith. If the project must be extended into those countries, the benefiting countries and not only Nigerians must bear part of the cost of project realisation.
The current headwinds buffeting the country as a result of COVID 19, fall in crude oil prices and with the country sliding into yet another recession, it is clear that squandering $2bn on a project that has no direct benefits to Nigerians and for which these benefiting countries did not even ask for, smacks of insensitivity and an outright misadventure.
Pix: Rotimi Amaechi.jpg