The rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railroad has continued to gain reactions; this is even as stakeholders claim the project is politically motivated.
Abandoned since 1985, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari expressed commitment to ensure that the rail line is resuscitated.
President Buhari had said the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway would reactivate economic activities in the eastern corridor, which have been greatly impacted by rising insecurity in the region.
The president spoke on Tuesday at the virtual ground-breaking ceremony of three projects namely the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Port Harcourt-Maiduguri eastern narrow gauge railway project, Bonny deep seaport and Railway Industrial Park, Port Harcourt.
But stakeholders have, however, condemned the move, stating that the country ought to have invested in producing some of the infrastructures locally instead of outsourcing the construction of such a mode of transport to China, which they described as inimical to the development of the country.
Speaking with The Guardian, Dean, School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi, expressed surprise about the project since it appears that the Federal Government was jettisoning this for the standard gauge.
The excuse, according to Odewumi, is likely to be that of cost. He said this might be cheap only in the short run if the country is going to convert to standard gauge later.
Also, he said the world was moving away from the narrow gauge and except Nigeria starts manufacturing coaches and sleepers, the country might soon find out that maintaining a narrow gauge would be more expensive than the standard gauge that would be the global norm.
He said: “Besides the points made, I have repeated a position so often that one is beginning to sound like a broken record. The position is that the technology of railways, especially the tracks, is so basic that we should take up the production and construction locally. Jobs will be generated, maintenance will be easy and cheap.
“We may initially import the engines. But coaches can easily fabricate or direct local motor manufacturing companies like Innoson to design and produce the coaches. We may start with flatbed wagons that will be used to move our containers and tankers that have become the most ubiquitous means of transporting our goods,” he said.
The don added that all the wholesale outsourcing of the construction of this mode of transport to China is inimical to the development of the country.
In his reaction, resident governor of the project, Nyesom Wike, also urged Rivers State people not to be deceived by the antics of the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration following the unveiling of the narrow gauge rail line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, insisting that the project was politically motivated.
Wike stated this during the commissioning of the 6.1km Omuihuechi-Omuoko-Omokiri link Road in Aluu, Ikwerre Council Area of the state.
The governor explained that the proposed University of Transportation in Ubima, Rivers State, was deceitful because Amaechi could not complete the project, adding: “Since 2015, Ameachi just realised that he should build a University of Transportation in Ubima.”
Chief Executive Officer of West Atlantic Cold-Chain and Commodities Limited, Henrii Nwanguma, described the rehabilitation as a great development.
Nwanguma said the government should use the narrow-gauge asset as a proof of concept before pumping money into a standard gauge line.
He proposed that the government should repeal the extant Railway Act and allow for the liberalisation and privatisation of that sector to conserve national funds and allow private sector funds to drive the railway development.
“It is not a contest. All the assets of the standard gauge lines should be sent to the Eastern Line since they are no longer required elsewhere. But there must be liberalisation.
“We have more than enough to turn that sector around if the political will exists and I want the government to challenge us the private sector and see the impact within three years,” he said.
Chief Operating Officer, Automedics Limited, Gbola Oba, commended the project, stating that it is better than not having any functional rail service in that corridor.
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