The National Assembly, on Thursday, tackled the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, over plan to construct a standard gauge for Kano-Maradi rail line and a narrow gauge for other rail projects in the country.
LEADERSHIP reports that the federal government had planned a narrow gauge for the proposed eastern rail corridor, which begins from Port Harcourt, Rivers State to Maiduguri, Borno State.
The Minister, who appeared before the National Assembly Joint Committees on Land and Marine Transport for his ministry’s budget defence exercise at the Senate wing of the National Assembly on Thursday, explained that the standard and narrow gauge rails have the same load capacity but the difference is speed, which is about 20kilometer difference.
But the lawmakers, dissatisfied with the Amaechi’s submission, said the plan was discriminatory against other parts of Nigeria.
The chairman, House Committee on Transportation, Hon. Pat Asadu, said: “We are now looking at the difference between project D which is the construction of 284 kilometers Nigeria-Maradi railway standard world-class line against Project C where you talked about the total rehabilitation and reconstruction of Port Harcourt to Maiduguri eastern rail network defined as narrow gauge.
“For a segment of this country that is known for trade and commerce, they need railway as they need air. If the Ministry feels that doing a 287 kilometer of railway track from Kano to Maradi that you will fund with Nigerian money borrowed for Nigerians to be paid by our children to do a world class railway to Maradi.
“I also know the economy of Niger Republic and I believe the economy of the South-East is bigger than that of Maradi. I am not even talking of South-South. So what policy guide, what need assessment, what study of federal character integration would make the Ministry of Transportation to put 284 kilometers railway from the end of the North to Maradi and then constructing a narrow gauge in the South-East and South-South.
“This to me is why the integration of this country will always be challenged because things are done with so much impunity. This is our commonwealth. So if we approve this budget for you, you will go and do Kano-Maradi standard rail line and do a narrow gauge rehabilitation for the South-East. My heart bleeds. Instead of doing the right thing, you are now giving us this one as what will enhance the economy of Niger and Nigeria, while the economy of Nigerians especially those who have the containers and who are always on the road are given a narrow-gauge rehabilitation.”
For his part, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Senator Danjuma Goje, also criticized the rail projects.
“Why will you give those of us from the eastern part of Nigeria, from South-East, North-Central, North-East the archaic, old-model narrow gauge, then you are now spending a lot of money to do the modern standard gauge to another country.
“Are people from the South-East, North-Central and North-East not Nigerians? Why should there be a double standard in this matter? That is why we are quarreling.
“You are telling us you are designing Ibadan to Abuja, you are doing Kaduna to Kano, you are doing Abuja to Itakpe and to Warri. What wrong did the South-East, North-Central and North-East, particularly the South-East, Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Bauchi, Gombe, Borno and Adamawa, what is wrong with us? Are we not Nigerians? I completely concur with Honourable Pat Asadu 100 per cent,” Goje said.
But responding to the issues raised by the lawmakers, the minister said, “the total cost for the construction of the Eastern line which begins from Port Harcourt to Borno State is between $12billion and $14billion.
“If we start looking for the money now and it takes time before we get that money, you will say it is Amaechi that refused to give you railway. Because already as we are talking, we don’t even have the money to do Ibadan to Kano. That is why on our own, we are funding Kano to Kaduna while looking for the money.
“We are looking for $11.1billion for Lagos to Calabar. Do you want us to include you on that where we are searching for money or to be practical?
“He (Mr President) wants a standard gauge from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. But when I laid the cards on the table and explained that if we start looking for money, we will not construct. I said to the President give me two approvals so that every part of the country will have a rail line.
“The first approval is to reconstruct and not rehabilitate the narrow gauge. Then give me a second approval that will enable me to look for the $14billion to construct standard gauge.
“So with the two approvals, anyone I get money for I will go ahead. But the one that is quicker to get the money is $3.020million. So that by the time you finish it, the rail is running while we are looking for money to construct standard gauge.
“For Christ’s sake what is the difference between standard and narrow gauge? The difference is speed which is about 20 kilometers. Whatever weight of cargo that narrow gauge will carry is the same weight of charge that standard gauge will carry.
“Now as a Minister, my mind tells me you won’t go home if you don’t provide railway for your people. I now said since it will be difficult for me to get $14billion, let me ask for the small one of $3billion so that I can at least reconstruct this one to run between 80 and 100 kilometers. Standard gauge for Christ’s sake is 120 kilometers. So, the difference is if you take off from Lagos, you may get to Ibadan 20 minutes ahead of the person using narrow gauge.”