BEVERLY HILLS, September 28, (THEWILL) – There is, no doubt, that this, indeed, is a season of “denials” for Nigerian public officials. The manner in which some of them rush to deny what is already obvious is, however, not only embarrassing but, sometimes, shameless.
In most cases, the denial or damage control they intend to do with such denials or rebuttals eventually end up betraying the “hidden agenda” behind the unpopular decisions they try so much to justify and defend.
This, exactly, is the case with the controversial Kano – Niger rail project. The Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, had broken the news after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, last Wednesday, confirming that a whopping $1.96bn had been approved for the project by the Federal Government.
Media aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, Ajuri Ngelale, was to later corroborate the news, saying “The rail line will connect 3 states: Kano, Katsina & Jigawa.”
According to Ngelale, the rail line “moves from Kano to Dambatta, Kazaure, Daura, Mashi, Katsina, terminating in Maradi, Niger Republic,” adding,”This financially empowers Nigeria as the import/export hub for Niger.”
However, the wave of controversies that trailed and is still trailing the “shocking” announcement was never expected, especially the condemnation.
Nigerians have continued to express great disbelief in such an approval as they question not only the rationale behind such a project but also the wisdom behind it, especially now.
To most Nigerians, the Kano – Niger railway project is not, in any way, well thought-out, given the financial straits the country has suddenly found itself. In fact, many consider the approval of the project as not only insensitive but another arrogant display of nepotism and lopsided development that the Buhari Administration has always been, allegedly, noted for.
However, in a bid to douse the raging controversies trailing the announcement , the government moved in swiftly to do what it always does in such a situation by “smartly” denying that the rail line would go into Niger Republic thus saving its face the embarrassment the approved project has become.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, in a statement, said: “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).”
According to Shehu, “Going by this, the two nations would each build a rail track to meet at the border town of Maradi…The objective of the rail is the harnessing of raw materials, mineral resources and agricultural produce.”
He added that “When completed, it will serve domestic industries and play the role of a a viable transportation backbone to the West African subregion, starting with the neighbouring Niger Republic for their export and import logistic chain.”
Nigerians, however, are not convinced by these explanations and are no longer ready to take government’s justifications of unpopular decisions hook, line and sinker.
To many Nigerians, the decision to approve a whopping $1.96bn for this economically-unviable project, under whatever guise, meets more than the eyes, moreso, as it is expected to be financed, as always, by another Chinese loan.
THEWILL therefore joins other well-meaning Nigerians in condemning the approval as we call for a total cancellation of the so-called trans-border rail line project. We are not convinced in any way, just like other Nigerians, that the much-flaunted economic benefit of the project justifies the almost $2bn investment at this critical time in our chequered history that Nigeria is already overburdened by external debts.
Already, the country’s debt stock is expected to hit an embarrassing N31.7 trn, with fresh World Bank, African Development Bank and International Development Bank loans. It would therefore be very unwise for anybody to add to the already heavy debt burden through a project many believe might just be in pursuit of another selfish agenda.
While we agree that railway infrastructure is a good transportation mode, and is good for multimodal means of public transportation that we so much desire, we don’t believe that a rail line to Niger Republic is so urgent, important and strategic to Nigeria’s infrastructural development unless there are other things the government is not telling Nigerians.
A landlocked country, Niger Republic, currently finds it easier and cheaper to channel its imports and exports through the coastal ports of Lome in Togo and Cotonou in Benin Republic because they are nearer to its border than Nigerian ports, which are far down south. This further debunks the dummy of some projected economic gains the government is trying to sell to Nigerians.
Moreover, many are wont to ask about the quantum of trade Nigeria intends to make with Niger, a very poor country of 17 million, to justify the $2bn investment under a very austere time for Nigeria.
It is sad and unfortunate that a government that has literarily abandoned the Lagos Light Rail project, despite its huge economic potential and has also left the West African Trans-border Highway project to suffer a major setback is now finding a rail project to Niger Republic a priority.
We therefore call on the Federal Government to reconsider the priority it is giving this unpopular project and suspend it outrightly. Instead, priority should be given to the completion of all ongoing rail projects in the country and consider a major rail line to link the States in the South Eastern region instead of dissipating much energy and scarce resources on a clearly uneconomically viable project that is of little or no importance to the majority of Nigerians.