The Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committees on Land and Marine Transport on Thursday protested against the proposal of the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi, to construct a standard gauge for the Kano-Maradi rail line while a narrow gauge was planned for other parts of Nigeria.
The lawmakers expressed anger when Amaechi presented the 2022 budget proposal of his ministry before the Joint Committee.
While presenting the budget, Amaechi said, “The construction of Kaduna-Kano railways to link up the Abuja-Kaduna rail line has commenced. Survey and design for Ibadan-Minna-Abuja is ongoing.
“Construction of the 284 kilometres Nigeria-Maradi (Niger Republic) standard gauge rail line enabling interconnectivity with countries in the West Africa sub region for the promotion of trade and commerce.
“This important contribution by Nigeria would be mutually beneficial by adding to the economic growth of the two countries, Niger and Nigeria.”
Chairman of Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Senator Danjuma Goje, and House Committee Chairman, Pat Asadu, kicked against the marginalisation of other regions of the country in the rail construction.
Both Chairmen queried the minister why he was not constructing uniform rail lines across the country.
They also asked him to explain the rationale behind the modern standard gauge being proposed for the Kano-Maradi rail line when he was constructing the old narrow gauge in other parts of Nigeria.
The Chairman, Committee on Port, Pat Asadu, who opened the floor after the minister presented the budget to the committee, specifically asked why he was constructing modern rail line in one place and what he called “old rail lines” in other parts of the country.
He said, “Looking at your key railway projects which you’ve highlighted, I think they are worth the spend.
“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.
“Why is the ministry doing a 287 kilometers 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.”
Similarly, Danjuma Goje, said, “I concur with you because we have consistently challenged the minister.
“Why will you give those of us from the eastern part of Nigeria, from South-East, North-Central, North-East the archaic, old modern 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 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.”
Ameachi, while responding said the difference between the narrow gauge and standard gauge was speed, adding that the country might not get the money to build standard gauge across the country.
He said that the negotiation for loan for the construction of Kano- Maradi standard gauge line was about to be completed.
He also clarified that his ministry was yet to get money for Kano-Kaduna, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway projects.
On the economic justification for constructing the $1.3bn Kano-Maradi rail, Ameachi said the project was not based on sentiments but economic benefits for the country.