Friday, 5 February 2016

ABANDONMENT OF THE ABUJA-KADUNA RAIL PROJECT

As Nigeria seems perpetually consigned to the morass of hopelessness in the hands of a ruling elite that does not know what is best even for its own survival, the nation’s story continues as a heart-rending narrative of waste and wasted opportunities. Nothing exemplifies this most like, the stalled railway project between Abuja and Kaduna.

Roughly five years ago the Federal Government secured the sum of $849,750,903.00 (about N170 billion) from the Chinese Export and Import Bank for the construction of a 186-kilometre standard gauge rail line from Abuja to Kaduna. According to the contract agreement signed with the Government on October 22, 2009, the Chinese construction firm, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), was expected to complete the job in 46 months, which should have been in December 2014. The project is two years behind schedule, and most important aspects are still under construction.

The Chinese government was expected to release the loan in tranches and in the form of physical materials provisioning, such as steel rail tracks, structural equipment, earth movers, concrete bridges, Chinese trucks, concrete sleepers, precast T-beams, for the laying of rail tracks. Nigeria was required to provide modern railway engines, cabins of various categories, personnel, and frequency band for communications.

However, a number of reasons have been adduced for the tardiness that has attended the project. First, is the delay on the part of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to give a ‘final’ approval to the Chinese firm through the Ministry of Transportation for a selected frequency band wave for rail movement, especially communication between engine drivers and ground stations. Second, is the declining value of the naira, which makes it difficult to complete certain contents of the bill of quantity captured with the old rates. Third is the weak monitoring or supervision by the Federal Ministry of Transport, which has the duty to ensure compliance to terms of implementation as well as the meeting of schedules for completion of project as engrossed in the contract agreement. And the fourth, is the stealing of already laid materials and equipment, engendering growing security concerns and unforeseen additional outlay.

There are now worries that the imported equipment from the global giant, General Electric (GE) by the last administration such as speed train engines, new model cabins, wagons and crude carriers may rot away, unless haste is made. The imminent abandonment of the Abuja-Kaduna rail project is a demonstration of the lack of continuity or lack of political will to do right by Nigerians. And this reminds the nation of the Lateef Jakande administration’s laudable metro line project in Lagos on which the country had to incur twice the amount the project would have cost as payment for sheer violation of the contract, when it was terminated by the then military government.

Beyond this, a trend would seem to be emerging in which the country is notorious for truncated projects involving Chinese Companies or partners. For example, there is unending renovation going on at the nation’s airports. Naturally, this can only provoke the question: why is CCECC in Nigeria not as successful in project delivery as its home-based parent company? President Muhammadu Buhari in his last media chat seemed to have pointed to the cause of the debacle when he said that Nigeria seemed not to have met her counterpart funding part of the deals even with the favourable terms of the loans secured from China. So, Nigeria is the problem.

It is important to note that the completion of the Abuja-Kaduna rail project is part of the Federal Government’s 25-year Strategic Modernisation Programme of the rail transport sector comprising the I,342.50-kilometre Lagos-Kano rail line; 181-kilometre Lagos-Ibadan route; the 200-kilometre Ibadan-Ilorin route; 270-kilometre Ilorin-Minna route; 145-kilometre Minna-Abuja and finally the Minna-360 kilometre Kano-Minna rail line. This is a critical project that should not be trifled with.

This construction must not be discontinued like the Lagos metro line project. Apart from the fact that the rail project is strategic, the cost of abandonment would far outweigh that of construction. Modernisation of the railway system is a desideratum for this country, and given its rising population, the railway remains the most viable means of mass movement.

Importantly too, not only must the rail system be built, capacity must also be built to sustain it. It does not make sense to bring someone from outside to do a job for you and subsequently rely on the same expatriate for maintenance. Countries like India have since transformed the rail system they inherited from the colonialists, owning it and becoming experts in the production of the critical infrastructure.

While available information indicates about 80 per cent completion of the laying of track, expectations are that the remaining part of the work on track laying as well as completion of the nine stop stations would have been completed by now. Given the current administration’s vaunted commitment to infrastructural development, this rail project must be the road taken and attention must be paid to its completion. (Guardian)