By Olisemeka Obeche &Idu Okechukwu
The federal government will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the commencement of the Railway University in Daura, Katsina state in September while the flag-off the Railway Equipment Manufacturing firm at Kajola, Ogun state, has been scheduled to take place in October. The locations of the two railway projects are in the home states of President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo respectively.
The minister of transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, who made the disclosure further disclosed that over $30 billion needed to kick-start similar version of the projects in South East and South-South geo-political zones were not available. The implication is that South East region, which has the least railway network in Nigeria, will remain in limbo for the foreseeable future.
The former Rivers state governor, who made the disclosure during an inspection tour of the ongoing Lagos-Ibadan rail project over the weekend, said his office was shopping for investors to bankroll the project.
“You see, Nigerians always ask questions about the project (railway projects in south east and south south) and why it has not started. But they failed to understand that the project is dear to me as somebody from the south. That project is what I would like to be commissioned under me but there is no money. The reason why that of the north is in focus is because of its viability. Lagos Kano is quite an economic boost and the sooner we have investors that of the South will takeoff”.
The minister hailed the proposed ground-breaking ceremonies in Daura and Kajola respectively, as a turning point in the federal government’s revolution in the transport sector. “This is because we have to start manufacturing wagons and coaches from China; also, we have stopped importation of railway spare parts from China. Everyone knows that this moves a lot of money out of this country. And, for the university, it is to ensure that subsequently the trained ones would take over the teaching of rail industry.
On his assessment of the progress of the rail project, Amaechi explained that the company handling the project was running behind schedule because of funding. “I can understand and that is because a minister must sign and during the time a minister was not there. So, by Monday, I will sign it and that money can be assessed in China Exim bank”.
He insisted that the Chinese construction firms handling the railway projects must start using locally sourced materialsas opposed to their insistence on the importation of every raw material used in the project. Amaechi further disclosed that strong warning had been given to the company to stop importation of all raw materials which can alternatively be sourced locally.
Speaking on the extra work to be done at Ebute Meta bridge, the minister said that his office would request for extra budget approval from the federal government since the project funds has not been part of the budgetary allocation.
“We have to do it because it is necessary. We discovered that if the road is left like that, the train must record accidents and people must die. So, we are creating under passes as well as over passes of the people and we have eleven of them like that and they will cost money. We are taking the matter to the executive council for more approval”.
Recall that the federal executive council, last year, approved the construction of the $50 million (N18bn) Railway University to be built by China Civil and Construction Company (CCECC). The project, according to the transport minister, was part of the federal government’s efforts to develop qualified manpower that would manage the many railway and transportation facilities across the country, Amaechi added.
He said the young Nigerians being trained on scholarship in China on railway engineering, upon completion of their studies, would be deployed to teach in those universities for a period of time before they are allowed to go into other endeavours.