Transportation, anywhere in the world, is a critical sector of the economy being a major aid to trade and commerce. This is why investment in transportation is welcome as a catalyst for economic growth.
But investment decisions should be guided, first, by expected gains and then by over-riding public interest. Investments are also guided by scale of preferences in which case making the right choices or getting priorities right is overly critical and instructive.
These, arguably, explain the concerns raised over the decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria to build a rail line that will connect three Northern states of the country to Maradi in Niger Republic.
Contract for the 248-kilometre rail line which will cost the country $1,959,744,723.71 was approved a few days ago by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari. Nigerians are told that the rail line is expected to aid the transportation of crude oil.
According to Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who spoke to journalists at the end of the FEC meeting, money approved for the development of the proposed rail line that will be linking Kano-Dutse-Katsina-Jibia and to Maradi in Niger Republic was inclusive of Value Added Tax (VAT).
It is as commendable as it is heart-warming that Nigeria is returning to the rail system of transportation. There’s no-gain-saying that there can’t be an efficient and complete inter-modal transportation system without rail lines with capacity for mass movement of men and materials.
The Goodluck Jonathan administration laid a good foundation for the revitalisation of the country’s rail system which the Buhari administration seems to be building on with some level of commitment. This, in our view, is quite commendable and needs to be pursued with greater vigour.
But, like many other well-meaning Nigerians, we find the current move to build a rail line that will connect Nigeria to Niger Republic not only objectionable but also a wrong placement of priorities at a time when the country is choking and wreathing in pains over a lot of deficits in its national life.
Maybe tomorrow, but it remains to be seen or understood today why the Federal Government decided to build a rail line and extend it to another country when many parts of the country are not linked to one another. The South Eastern part of the country, for instance, has no rail line linking it to anywhere.
Lagos, the country’s commercial capital and West Africa’s economic hub, is a choking environment as a result of poor and inefficient transport system. The city’s light rail project, started over a decade ago on Lagos-Badagry Expressway, has remained a still-birth and the Federal Government looks away, not minding that both the road and rail projects are of strategic economic importance to the country.
Apapa, Nigeria’s premier port city, is in Lagos. Apapa is fast degenerating into a waste land due to the heavy influx of haulage trucks involved in maritime activities in the port city. It is yet to be disputed or disproved that Apapa is the worst port city in the world today.
Anywhere, anytime people gather to discuss the Apapa problem which has killed many businesses and sacked many landlords from their houses, recommendation is made for an efficient rail transport system that will carry containers in large numbers and send the rampaging trucks back to their parks.
It is painful to note that many agencies of the Federal Government at the ports including Customs, NPA, SON, NIMASA, etc generate hundreds of billions of naira revenue on monthly basis, yet the government cannot invest part of this revenue in rail lines and other infrastructure that will make port operations efficient and generate more revenues.
We are in agreement with the views expressed by concerned Nigerians that the problem of the Buhari government is about not getting its priorities right and it is such that, at the end of the day, Nigerians are the ones who suffer from poor choices by the government.
Looking at the Kano-Niger rail line project from the standpoint of the economy, we wonder what the economic benefit of this project is to Nigeria, given that the economy, as it is today, is not in a state to contain this bogus spending.
We advise the Federal Government to rethink this project and redirect the extra-spending that will take it to another country to other areas of need in Nigeria. Apapa in Lagos is one such area. Doing so will not only make the project more economically viable, but also save people’s lives and investments.
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Kano-Niger rail line: Getting our priorities right