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The Lagos –kano Rail Modernisation Project – Where To From Here….?

The Federal Government recently suspended the proposed $8.3 billion Lagos to Kano railway modernisation project awarded to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. This decision – one of many ‘reversals’ of Yar’Adua government – is seen as regrettable by the punter, however it might be a blessing in disguise as it offers an opportunity for a rethink. I’m however not under any illusion about why the project was cancelled.

Mr. Tanimu Yakubu, chief economic adviser to President Umaru Yar'Adua, told the committee probing the $8.3 billion proposed Lagos-Kano standard gauge rail line that the Chinese firm was in contravention of Section 54 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (Cama), which prohibits foreign companies from doing business in the country without being legally registered in Nigeria. He said the President Yar'Adua-led administration considers the contract to be illegal because it was not presented to the National Assembly for ratification. While the official status of the project is yet to be disclosed, the status of the contract however needs to be clarified because the body language of Yakubu indicates that the contract is as good as dead.

My concern with the project has nothing to do with budget appropriation or registration of CCECC with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). I consider the basis, need and justification for such a huge financial investment in upgrading a rail line between Lagos-Kano to be fundamentally flawed for various reasons.

Firstly, why do we have to procure rail engineering expertise from China? There is a fundamental difference between ‘human resources’ and ‘human capacity’. With its population size, there is no doubt in my mind that the Chinese have the resources to undertake any project (as seen in recently concluded Olympics). However, I’m not convinced that they have the capacity (in terms of skills) to design a ‘world class’ rail system. When you mention rail projects, we are not just talking about construction workers, but technical expertise in terms of planning, design and engineering. It is worth noting that the planning, design and engineering expertise for the recently constructed Beijing-Tianjing Intercity Rail was sourced from mainland Europe. Only contracts for civil construction and engineering supervision were limited to local Chinese firms. That says a lot about how much faith the Chinese have in their own expertise. I don’t Nigerians are interested in ‘Made in China’ railways, or train parts from ‘Chinatown’.

Secondly, why spend such a huge amount of money on upgrading an existing rail line – converting narrow gauge track to standard gauge?

The Lagos-Kano rail line stretches to 11,315 kilometres and would run on double track. The speed limit will be pegged at 150 kilometres per hour. After the upgrade, it would take less than four hours to travel from Lagos to Kano. The project will also include construction of 39 stations and two workshops and would be run through independent power supply system. The Chinese also offered a five-year maintenance period. The entire project would cost $8.3 billion. Even though the Federal Government only paid the Chinese company a paltry sum of $250 million being three per cent of the entire total cost, instead of $1.356 billion, being the 10 per cent mobilisation fee promised, the company immediately moved to site, armed with the due process certificate for the payment made.

While this might look good on paper, the question needs to be asked about how many people will be travelling daily between Lagos-Kano to justify this investment. With a travel time of four hours, are constructing a commuter or tourist rail network? For me, the rail line will only b useful for long distance travel. This in itself raises more questions than answers. How many people travel daily on this route? How many times a day is it expected to operate? Has there been any cost-benefit analysis undertaken for the project? I’m sure that if a cost-benefit analysis is undertaken, the numbers will definitely not stack up. Does the time savings to be achieved by converting narrow gauge to standard gauge worth $8.3 billion dollars in real terms?

While I’m not totally against upgrading Nigerian railway infrastructure, I’m of the opinion that $8 billion earmarked for this project can be better spent. For starters, let me point out that there is nothing wrong with ‘narrow gauge’ rail tracks. While standard gauge is modern and used in most parts of the world, there are still many developed nations with narrow gauge rail tracks. While it might be better to build new rail tracks as standard gauge, the conversion cost is too expensive for most countries, hence the reason why it is still widely in use.

The Federal Ministry of Transport should be setting a strategic policy for rail development in the country, starting with a cleansing of the Nigerian Railway Corporation. Railway transport in Nigeria is inefficient and has hardly developed at all over the past 100 years compared to railways in the developed world. This is due both to maladministration by successive governments and to the lack of a functional transport policy ensuring a constant pattern of railway development.

In developed countries, transport policy is dynamic and changes responsively accordingly to technological trends in the transport sector. Efforts should be focussed on developing rail network in sub-regional areas. There is likely to be more patronage demand along Lagos-Ogun-Oyo, PH-Warri-Enugu and Minna-Kaduna-Abuja corridors. The Lagos Rail Mass Transit project should be supported by the FG with funds and be extended to Ogun State as part of the Lagos Mega City Project. The transport infrastructure in our major cities should be fixed as a matter of priority.

Even if the FG decides to go ahead with the project as it is, who will be responsible for operation and maintenance? Is it the ‘paralysed’ Nigerian Railway Corporation? Only God knows what goes on in the NRC nowadays. The organisation has proven beyond every reasonable doubt that it is incompetent to move the nation rail system to the next level.

Until the government comes out in the open to tell us its official position on the project, we can only keep asking ourselves, where to from here…, ?

Seyi Osiyemi is a Transportation Planner and lives in Brisbane, Australia

oluseyiosiyemi@hotmail.com[i][/i]

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12 answers

Nigerian Ultra Modern Railway Network Project

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I read a year or two ago that the government was trying to get people like Dangote in as investors in the rail business. Waiting for that to happen as I believe that would have opened the door to other investors willing to get in at the entry level on the deal. Unfortunately, that went the way many things go in the country. I was really hopeful as I believed, and still believe that a functioning and efficient commuter rail system is desperately needed in that country.

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dude are you serious!!!need more pl like ribadu??i think we need less people like him

a man who singlehandedly monopolised the price of cement in the whole of nigeria,the price of staples like sugar,salt,spaghetti e.t.c and then hedge out competitiors,do you know how many businessmen ribadu has ruined?i know of one person he nearly ruined just because the man competed against him in importation,he is not the only person who had rich parents/grandparents but he is the worst businessman i can think of in nigeria,go and find out what percentage of the port ribadu presently unfairly controls, nobody can protest or step to him because he has donated billions in bribes to any party in power/presidential campaign

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Nigeria needs more people like him, i'am not saying he is perfect but he didn't come out of nowhere. His grand father sold Kola and peanuts between Kano Accra Lagos by foot in the early 1900.

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al of a sudden he is so nice and charitable that he is helping his poor fellow nigerians by looking for funds to float the rail lines,dont be in a state of delusion misterwake up and smell the cofee!!!

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lubacrisi wrote "the fact is that as far as dangote is alive and kicking and our president and other political leaders are the way they are,then no rail will ever be connected sucessfully even in the next 100 years, the rail being sucessful willtotally anihilate dangote's haulage business and we know what he s likewith competition, wont be suprised if he sabtages the rail lines or something"

well u need to check this link http://www.thenationonlineng.com/dynamicpage.asp?id=44904

Check your facts mister before u start saying bullshit, the guy is actually looking for investors to build a railroad company.

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the fact is that as far as dangote is alive and kicking and our president and other political leaders are the way they are,then no rail will ever be connected sucessfully even in the next 100 years, the rail being sucessful willtotally anihilate dangote's haulage business and we know what he s likewith competition, wont be suprised if he sabtages the rail lines or something

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I'm not sure about what you mean. Which areas do you think I've made wrong assumptions/judgement. I stand to be corrected.

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Only bastards uses their left hand to point to their father's house.

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they should build simple spotless ROAD between Lagos and Benin.

maintain it for 5yrs, after that they can progress to building train tacks.

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@Poster, I actually expected some new information on where the project stands today. Please, this project, like so many white elephant projects we have had in that country, has been years on hold. Can we please wait to get NEW news to post next time? Some of us as really disappointed that yet again, another good idea sits and rots in the bin for years.

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You have made so many assumptions and so many mis judgements, i am not sure you know much about what you wrote about.

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