Onitsha Coastal Rail: All eyes on President Buhari
By Simon Njoku
In October last year( 2019), President Muhammadu Buhari assured the South East of a third bridge project, a coastal rail. Work on the project is expected to commence this year, 2020, going by the president’s promise even as the second Niger Bridge is to be completed in 2021, six months ahead of the earlier date.
The coastal rail will pass through Onitsha, with a spur into Nnewi, in Anambra State. From Onitsha it will pass through Asaba to Agbor to Warri, from Warri to Utako to Ajaokuta to Abuja. The president made the promise in a goodwill message to the Obi of Onitsha during his 18th Ofala festival. He was represented by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.
Expectations are high in the South East and South South with respect to the commencement of the coastal rail project. The importance of this project cannot be overemphasized, considering the dogged efforts of Nigerian Inland Waterways Chairman, Kingsley Muoghalu to ensure speedy completion of the Onitsha inland port. Viewed against this background, the significance of the rail project to the economy of the South East and South South regions can better be appreciated.
The coastal rail which has a spur to Nnewi, an industrial hub, is indeed a well-thought out project. It will ensure smooth movement of people and goods from Nnewi through Onitsha to Asaba to Warri, Utako, Ajaokuta and to Abuja. This reduces pressure on the dilapidated road network from Onitsha to Abuja, besides eliminating the danger posed by articulated vehicles on these routes.
Besides, it will remove delays encountered in the movement of goods through the road transportation system, in addition to avoiding unnecessary costs incurred by businessmen in this process, including extortion by security men especially policemen, customs officers and others. These costs which are usually passed on to final consumers and lead to high costs of goods and services are therefore going to be cut off, resulting in lower prices of the goods and services.
Apart from the above, the anticipated boom in business activities arising from the multiplier effects of the coastal rail project in the affected towns/cities should be great cause for cheer; talk of employment generation through the opening of railway stations at the designated routes and personnel to man them; location of banks, motor parks, restaurants among others near the stations.
Moreover, the security of goods in transit by means of the coastal rail project cannot be glossed over. The risk in transporting enormous volume of goods by road is averted such that cases of missing goods with attendant losses to importers/businessmen will be minimized. So also will incidence of goods diversion by unscrupulous drivers of articulated vehicles be drasticallyreduced. The menace of armed robbers, bandits and kidnappers who constantly harass transporters and commuters on major roads will cease to be a source of concern.
The project is again vital because it is going to be the first rail project in recent times to come to the South East and South South. All eyes are now on the Minister of Transport, Hon. Chibuike Amaechi and the President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that work commences on the project as we enter the first month in the second quarter of this year. The people of the two regions are all ears to hear from the minister and the president when the ground-breaking ceremony for the coastal rail project will take place.
The minister himself acknowledges that the South East and South South have been so far sidelined in the Federal railway project schemes. Some of the ongoing rail projects in the country include the Railway University in Daura, Katsina State, the Railway Equipment Manufacturing firm at Kajola, Ogun State, the Lagos Ibadan railway among others. It will be recalled that Amaechi had in August, last year, during an inspection tour of the Lagos-Ibadan rail project disclosed that over $30 billion would be needed to kick-start similar version of the projects in the South East and South South and that such money was not available.
Now that the president has given his blessing to a rail project in the South East and South South, we believe that necessary funding will be provided for its take-off especially now that the president is about to secure approval for a $22.5 billion loan from the legislature.
Let this Onitsha coastal rail plan mark a turning point to the neglect of the South East and South with respect to the rail projects and a fresh beginning in capital projects location and execution in the two regions. President Buhari cannot, therefore, but deliver on his promise. The eyes of the regions are on you, sir.