By Chukwudi Enekwechi
For close to thirty years the Ajaokuta-Itakpe rail line project has been put on hold based on the visionless leadership we have witnessed in the past. The project was conceptualised to facilitate the evacuation of raw materials and end-products from Itakpe to the multi Billion Naira Ajaokuta Steel Complex. This project will also reduce the pressure on the asphalted roads as heavy duty goods like cement, rod and other raw materials will be transported by rail.
Under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, hope is rising on the Ajaokuta-Itakpe rail project following the recent approval of over Thirty-Two Billion Naira for its completion.
It will not be out of place to give credit to the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi for his resilience in seeing that this vital economic life wire of the country is revived. Of course there are several benefits derivable from the realisation of the project.
Firstly, based on the huge investment most of the communities along the rail corridor will witness a boost in economic activities. Additionally, it will ease the movement of persons, goods and services between the South and Northern parts of the country, especially if the plan to extend it to Abuja comes to fruition.
Generally, the operations along the rail line will stimulate the nation’s economic activities as mini factories and industrial clusters will spring up along the rail corridor.
It is also worthy of note that with the revitalisation of the rail project, perhaps the Warri seaport, and other ancillary waterway services will come on stream. Therefore, it is not only visionary on the part of Mr. Amaechi and the Buhari administration, but it is also a laudable move.
Under the present administration, the country is witnessing a revolution in many sectors, but it seems the transportation sector is being positioned to place Nigeria on the world map as a black nation that has found its mission. It is also commendable that despite the economic recession and dwindling revenues, the Buhari administration is still focused on delivering on its electoral promises to Nigerians. Gladly the President has able lieutenants like Amaechi who are working tirelessly to make Nigeria a better place.
The policy of using timelines to deliver on critical national projects is quite desirable as it will put the contractors on their toes and on the Ajaokuta- Itakpe rail project, Nigerians are expectant it will be delivered by June 2018 as announced by the minister.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has also become famous for not abandoning critical projects including those started by previous administrations bearing in mind the impact they can make on all Nigerians. It is a mark of statesmanship and maturity for a president to continue with the uncompleted projects of its predecessors.
It is also worthy of mention the innovative approach which the Minister of Transportation has brought to bear in actualising the various rail projects in Nigeria. This is evident in the participation of General Electric, CCEC and the Chinese government in the rail modernisation projects.
Despite dwindling oil revenues and reductions in budgetary allocations, Mr. Amaechi and his able team are not relenting at ensuring that our railways are once again functional.
I recall that as a youngster growing up in Enugu in the mid-seventies I hawked bread at the Nigerian railways terminals and the major means of transportation for our mother who was the breadwinner of the family was the railways.
She usually embarked on bi-monthly travels to Gusau in far-away Zamfara state to sell her wares which included expensive lace materials, cotton clothes (abada) and snuff leaves. The message inherent in this is that the railways helped to provide for the livelihood of many families in the past and it is still possible this 21st century. It is also a known fact that travelling by rail is safer than the roads, as there are rare cases of accidents.
All these changed with the neglect of the railways in the subsequent years. Therefore, it is a thing of joy that under the visionary leadership of Mr. Amaechi and President Buhari the glorious era of travelling by rail will once again return.
For most of our young ones who have never experienced any travel by rail, the rebuilding of the rail infrastructure will afford them the opportunity to live their dream.
Having acknowledged the zeal and determination of this administration to revive the railways, it is also important to remind them on the need to closely monitor the contractors to ensure that they deliver on their mandate, and according to specifications.
Gladly, Nigeria can boast of an experienced and competent team in the current management of the Nigerian Railways Corporation. This team from all indications is adequately prepared and possesses the requisite knowledge necessary to help the Buhari administration achieve its objective, in bequeathing to the country a rail system that is comparable to the ones in Europe, Russia, Asia and America.
There is also the need for the ministry of transportation to liaise with its works counterpart to begin a massive rehabilitation of the adjoining roads at Ajaokuta axis of the rail line bearing in mind that both modes of transportation complement each other.
If these repair projects are carried out simultaneously they will add value to the vision of President Buhari to revamp the country’s dilapidated infrastructure, as well as the durability of the rails lines and supporting facilities.
Chukwudi Enekwechi, Journalist and Politician, wrote from Abuja and could be reached via email@example.com