OPINION: JIBIYA/MARADI 55KM RAIL LINE: IN WHOSE INTEREST?

The bitter truth remains that the planned construction of Jibiya/Maradi 55km standard rail line by the Nigerian government does not serve the overall and overriding interest of her citizenry. Nigeria as a nation is already in a dire fix. Her domestic challenges are increasingly taking a heavy toll on the nation and her people. Emerging signs that the nation may be plunged into another recession if it is not already in one is glaring. Suffice it to say that; a man whose house is on fire does not hunt for rats. The golden rule is to love your neighbour as yourself.

Therefore, the idea of embarking on an unsolicited rail project in favour of a foreign land for any reason whatsoever was not only ridiculous but ill-conceived and unconstitutional. It was a priority largely misplaced. If our desire to have a Nigeria of our dream still tops the agenda of government, policies must reflect the interest, wishes and aspirations of Nigerians at all times. The plan by the country to heavily invest on developing another nation’s rail infrastructure was mooted in President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2018 New Year Message to Nigerians. Excerpts of that speech read thus: “Negotiations are also advanced for the construction of other railway lines, firstly from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic passing through Kazaure, Daura, Katsina, Jibiya to Maradi”. It must be noted that; Maradi is a border town near Buhari’s hometown, Daura, in Katsina State. And it is an open secret that the paternity of some Katsina people are linked to that region of Niger Republic. Is this a compensatory project to an ancestral home? One wonders if the personal interest of President Buhari who made the disclosure during an annual national broadcast to the nation had not interfered with his official conducts and or decisions.

On January 8, 2018 – over two years ago, a foremost columnist with Vanguard Newspaper, Ocherome Nnanna in an article entitled, Nigerian railway to Maradi in Niger Republic? No way! had extensively questioned the rationale behind embarking on such project. It is a misplaced priority for a nation like Nigeria battling to attain its full potentials in rail transportation and in other critical sectors to contemplate dashing Niger Republic a 55km rail network without asking. According to Nnanna; “For some reasons unknown to me, Nigerians are no longer paying attention to things that matter about the way they are being ruled. They no longer pay attention to some of the things their rulers say. Otherwise, a strange item in President Muhammadu Buhari’s New Year Day speech should have brought millions of Nigerians to the streets in angry protests.” However, there was no protest and there will never be. The media paid little or no attention to the issue. The labour unions, civil society groups went to bed while the unorganised opposition parties have not come to terms with their primary roles. Nobody and or institution was ready to bell the cat. Typical of Nigerians, many did not even read the piece. For those who had, we paid little or no attention to the letters and intent of that address two years ago. We moved on as if nothing happened or was ever going to happen. The clear case of rivalry between the executive arm and the leadership of the 8th senate led by Bukola Saraki must have stalled the appropriation of the project for two years before it was captured in 2020. Those who are bent on ensuring that the project sees the light of the day without minding the implications like the vulture patiently waited for the auspicious time. Now that we have an amendable National Assembly already seen as an extension of the executive, it is therefore not surprising how complicit the National Assembly has become in this conspiracy against Nigeria. Were the members of the National Assembly all completely blinded to the budgetary item during 2020 appropriation and budget defence? Those who smuggled this project into the 2020 budget must be told in clear terms that the move is self-serving and a complete waste of scarce national resources. This COVID-19 period ought to have taught even the government a lesson in opportunity cost.

While justifying governments action, the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said; “We realised that we had competitors for our landlocked neighbours, competitors like Ghana, Togo and even Benin Republic. Our landlocked neighbours are importing through these countries because we don’t have rail lines that go to them. So, to address the situation Mr President approved a rail line that will go to Maradi in Niger. But that rail line which will come from Kano to Maradi in Niger must pass through some cities. So the rail line passes through Kazaure, and then Daura before proceeding to Jibiya and then Maradi”. However, government’s position on the rail line today differs from the earlier stance of the minister. The Presidency had in an attempt to control the damage caused by the conversation and the injury it had inflicted on the integrity of government came out to clear the air. According to the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, in a number of tweets on his verified Twitter handle, said; “the Nigerian end of the rail line would terminate at the country’s end of the border with Niger. Nigeria isn’t building rail line into Niger but, only to the designated border point. An agreement between Nigeria and Niger in 2015, coordinated by the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation has a plan for “Kano-Katsina-Maradi Corridor Master Plan, (K2M)” as it is called. Going by this, the two nations would each build a rail track to meet at the border town of Maradi…” The conflicting and vacuous responses of both minister of transportation and the presidency’s spokesman served little or no purpose to justify spending huge national resource on an infrastructure beneficial to another sovereign nation. It is totally uncalled for. Moreso, before now, it has not come to the notice of Nigerians that both countries at any given time signed a memorandum of understanding to construct a rail line. At no point also was it reported that each country shall take the full financial responsibility of building the line which runs through their respective territory as asserted by the presidency.

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Party politics and good governance has been reduced to the mundane and outrightly parochial by the All Progressive Congress (APC) led government. At a point in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, government was begging for ventilators. Why would the country not concentrate its investment on pressing national needs? Those in position of authority have brazenly violated their oaths offices by plundering state resources and shamelessly planting projects in their communities. But the idea of siting a Nigerian sponsored project in another country is a novel path introduced by this government. Therefore, we should all resist every attempt by the ruling party to auction our common wealth for personal interests. A man at 60 like our country Nigeria has come of age. Expectedly, excellent application of wisdom on issues of state craft and governance are carried out in such a manner that it reflects the wishes and aspirations of the people. With the approval of $ 1.9 million of this rail contract by the Federal Executive Council, the nation would be consolidating its position as the poverty capital of the world courtesy of inconsiderate leadership. And only a well organised civil disobedience or a substantive order of a court of competent jurisdiction could compel the Nigerian government from doing this unthinkable. Those who love Nigeria should not sit on the fence even when the president has taken or is seen to have taken action or decision inimical to national interest. This planned railway project is a selfish venture devoid of any direct bearing on the lives of all Nigerians. The question remains: In whose interest is the planned construction of Jibiya/Maradi 55km rail line by the government of Nigeria?

*** Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a Media and Communication Specialist, is the publisher: thenewinsightng.blogspot.com. He writes via sunnyeze02 @yahoo.com and can be reached on 08060901201.