By Tunde Shorunke
Contrary to the reasons given by the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, for the proposed $1.96 billion Kano-Dutse (Jigawa)-Katsina-Jibia–Maradi (Niger Republic) rail line project, experts have said that it would add no economic impact to the nation.
Just recently, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved $1.96 billion for the development of the rail line from Kano to the Niger Republic. But industry stakeholders and experts who spoke with The Daily Times believed that the rail line has no economic value, but, rather a project motivated through religious and cultural affinities shared in the northern hemisphere.
For instance, a Developmental Economist and Chairman of the Board, Amaka Chiwuike-Uba Foundation (ACUF), Dr Chiwuike Uba, who spoke in an exclusive telephone chat with our correspondent, noted that the conception of the project is, indeed, a clear sign of lack of planning and insensitivity on the part of the federal government to embark on the Trans Africa railroad project when there is a huge deficit gap on internal rail infrastructure projects.
According to him, it is clear from the public outcry following the announcement of the project that the proposed project is not commendable. It is a misplaced priority. In fact, the proposed project has little or no real economic, foreign relations, and political value to Nigeria and Nigerians.
“One may be forced to conclude that the referenced project is predicated on religious and cultural affinities than it is for economic purposes.
“The religious and cultural affinities among Katsina, Kano, Kaura Namoda Nguru in Nigeria, then Diffa, Magaria, Maradi, and Zinder in the Niger Republic are not hidden and is one they cannot toy with. It surpasses national allegiance because according to them, it existed even before Nigeria and Niger were created.
“This is also reflected in the wordings of the 49-year-old NigeriaNiger Joint Commission for Corporation (NNJC) Treaty. After all, in line with the term called ‘exode’ in Niger, hundreds of thousands of Nigeriens migrate to Nigeria seasonally with no identifications and records.”
Speaking further, he added, “We saw what happened during the 2015 and 2019 Presidential elections where top government officials of the Nigerien government attended campaign rallies in Nigeria. The conception of the project is, indeed, a clear sign of lack of planning and insensitivity on the part of the Nigerian government to embark on the Trans Africa railroad project when there is a huge deficit gap on internal rail infrastructure projects.
“All the villages, towns, communities, and states in Nigeria need to be connected with the railroad first, before linking up with external countries. Niger has been a big encumbrance to Nigeria and as long as Nigeria continues to treat it as an appendage of Nigeria, Nigeria will never escape from Niger’s drag effect. The building of rail lines between towns and cities within Nigeria is not a bad idea. However, such decisions should be taken after carrying out a thorough cost-benefit analysis.
“Is the Kano-Jigawa-KatsinaJibia to Maradi rail line the most commercial axis and heaviest use traffic in the country that needs rail service? The answer is a capital ‘NO’. The most commercial axis is the Lagos-Benin-Onitsha-Enugu-Port Harcourt-Calabar corridor. And that is the busiest commercial track in the country currently. “Even if the government decides to continue with the project without considering the cost-benefit implications, we could save the cost of extending the rail to Maradi which is 179 kilometres from Daura. And if it stops at Katsina, it saves the country another cost of extending it to Maradi which is 94 kilometres from Katsina.
“This is in addition to opportunity costs – including social, fiscal, and economic costs. Instead of wasting such a huge amount of money to extend a rail line from Daura to Maradi, constructing a shoot out on the Lagos-Calabar coastal rail line from Benin City to Enugu which is 185 kilometres (just about the 179 kilometres from Daura to Maradi) would be the best option.
“Benin to Enugu line will link up Agbor, Asaba, Onitsha, Awka, and Enugu. That would be a more responsible and viable investment than Daura to Maradi. Just thinking aloud! Why is the cost of rail construction highest in Nigeria compared to other African countries? Honestly, I consider it a self-deceit when the government argues that the essence for the rail project to Niger for crude oil export and other traderelated benefits that would accrue to Nigeria when Niger is connected to Nigeria’s port in Lagos State.
“That the argument is very laughable and unsustainable because it lacks empirical and evidencebased support. How can that happen when the Cotonou port is far better managed with quicker turnaround time than any port in Nigeria? And in recognition of this fact, Niger signed a bilateral treaty with the Republic of Benin for the construction of a railroad from Cotonou to Niamey (the main city in Niger).
“Niger’s best option is via Cotonou and that is why they opted for the Cotonou-Niamey project. More so, Maradi is of little or no economic significance to Nigeria.” “Finally, it is more painful when the country is funding the project through a loan that would be repaid by all. Nigeria is already confronted by a debt crisis and should stop borrowing. We need to try other funding alternatives such as Public-Private Partnership (PPP), among others.