By Chinwe Ugwu
President MuhammaduBuhari is largely known to be a tough leader that is hard to please. A highly principled man, he is fastidious, reticent, scrupulous, uncompromising and not given to frivolous talks. Hence, when he utters a word, it is often sublime. It was therefore shocking to many Nigerians when PMB gave an emphatic and open endorsement of the giant strides of the transportation minister at the commissioning of the Abuja-Kaduna train services on Nigeria’s first-ever standard gauge rail track in June this year. According to the president, “The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and his team have put great efforts in the last few months to ensure the successful completion of this project under this Administration”.
Although, for those who are familiar with Amaechi’s pedigree, and proclivity to success, the commendation from Buhari was just a confirmation of an old story.Yes, people could accuse the minister of being proud, arrogant and perhaps loquacious but not even his enemies or political opponents would deny his penchant for delivering on his mandate and set targets. He may be gregarious but Amaechi is a goal getter, who never takes his eyes off the ball until the mission is accomplished. In fact, he could be said to be obsessed with excellence and success. Therefore, this declaration from the president further underscores the hard work, diligence and efficiency; Amaechi’salmost one year in office has brought to bear on the hitherto moribund railway system in particular and the nation’s dilapidated transportsector in general.
A man who is not deterred by criticism, Amaechi has within his short spell as transportation minister disappointed those who never gave him a chance when he was handed this ministerial portfolio on November 11, 2015. Of course, his appointment drew alot of ill feelings from those who had employed all manner of intrigues to ensure that he lost out in the political sphere. “What would a man who studied English language achieve in the transport ministry? He is not even a bureaucrat; he is just a run off the mills politician. He will fail. Buhari will sack him soon” These were some of the pessimistic views Amaechi’s opponents expressed at his appointment last year. The minister himself gave his opponent a fertile reason to hold onto when on a visit to some of the agencies and parastatals under his ministry confessed that he was not an expert in transportation. But surprisingly, this neophyte in transportation has within 10 months taken the ministry by storm and is positive change is being noticed and felt in the railway sector and other areas.
One of the major achievements of Amaechi in the railway sector is the successful completion and take off of the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge railway line. The flag off of the railway line signals the official commencement of train services (passengers and freight) on Nigeria’s first standard gauge rail line in Abuja. The project’s main terminal is located at Idu in Abuja. Buhari, who took a 20-minute ride from the Idu terminal to Kubwa station also in the city, expressed delight at the takeoff of the project and recalled that it was conceived “by a previous administration.”
“I am pleased to complete and commission it,” he said. Buhari observed that between 1963 and early 1980s, Nigeria had a vibrant rail system, which conveyed agricultural and livestock and solid mineral resources to Lagos and Port Harcourt seaports from where they were exported to other parts of the world. He noted that it was his administration’s vision and hope that “those good old days will soon be back with us and indeed in a more prosperous way with the restoration of rail transport system which today’s occasion symbolises.”
The president explained that the construction of the Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge rail track commenced in 2009 and “happily, we are on the threshold of presenting to Nigerians a Standard Gauge Railway Train Service that will be safe, fast and reliable.” According to him, the Abuja-Kaduna train service will provide the much-needed alternative transport link between the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Kaduna State, a corridor which he observed, has a huge potential for industries, agricultural activities and a growing labour force.
Buhari praised the Minister of Transportation, RotimiAmaechi, and his team for “putting great efforts” in the last few months to ensure the successful completion of the project under the present administration.
Amaechi, being an honest politician who does not seek to take credit for others efforts had during the flag off of the rail line explained that the contract for the project was conceived by the OlusegunObasanjoadministration while the Goodluck Jonathan administration laid the tracks before the MuhammaduBuhariadministration provided the communication, lighting equipment, among others before inaugurating it. He noted that the implementation of the project would impact on housing as people can live in Kaduna and come to work in Abuja, using the train. The fare from Abuja to Kaduna for economy class is N500, while business class will cost between N800 and N1000.
The project was constructed by a Chinese firm, China Civil Engineering Corporation (CCECC) at the cost of $1.457 billion. The project, initiated by the previous administrations of both OlusegunObasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, is jointly financed by the Federal Government and the China Exim Bank
With the successful commissioning of the Abuja-Kaduna standard rail gauge, the workaholic minister has shifted his attention to the Calabar-Port Harcourt Coastal rail line and the Lagos-Kano rail modernisation projects, which he has given assurances that they would be completed before the end of 2018. Already, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project with a Chinese company. And this is being signed in compliance with the China Exim Bank requirement. As the minister of transportation, he is coordinating well with Ministries of Finance, Works and Housing, National Planning and Justice all involved in efforts to drive the project to completion in record time.The Federal Government is to get the counterpart fund for the project expected to cost 3.4 billion dollars.According to Amaechi,“I want to give my commitment and assure you that on completion, the rail line will be as good as, or even better than the completed Abuja-Kaduna rail line
The significance of these projects when completed cannot be over emphasized because one it will reduce the current pressure on road infrastructure with resultant accidents and avoidable loss of lives, properties. The minister, being conscious of the safety of passengers, has already directed the Railway Command of the Nigeria Police Force to stop forthwith, the practice of passengers hanging on moving trains to avoid loss of lives. Amaechi insists that it is the responsibility of the government to protect lives of its citizens,and that it will be better to allow passengers who cannot afford the transport fare to sit in the train than for them to lose their lives.
These rail lines apart from easing transportation difficulties on the affected axes, will also throw up other opportunities including jobs and auxiliary services that will add to boosting the economy. The ministry of transportation under Amaechihas planned to open up the rail transportation system to the active participation of the private sector. A bill to realise this had been forwarded to the National Assembly and currently receiving consideration. The plan is to ultimately ensure that the rail system takes the centre stage in the nation’s public transportation system, with the private sector playing a pivotal role, unlike in the past where this segment of transportation was the exclusive of the public sector.
This is what the ministry of transportation under the able tutelage of Rt. Hon. RotimiChibuikeAmaechi has achieved within a short time in the rail sector. His exploits in other areas such as maritime are also a clear testimony of a clear headed and hardworking change agent that is out to help President MuhammaduBuhari deliver on his electoral promises. Certainly, Amaechi deserves a thumb up and should be applauded.
––Hon. Chinwe Ugwu, is a former board member, Nigerian Railway Corporation.