Amaechi: With Huge Financial Commitment, It’s Work in Progress
Huge financial allocations by the federal government has helped Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, to make substantial progress, Sumaina Kasim reports
Although the Rotimi Amaechi-led Ministry of Transportation is one of the key ministries President Muhammadu Buhari is passionate about, and wants to use to bequeath to the nation adequate infrastructure at all front, four years on, it is debatable whether the ministry has lived up to the expectation of the president.
In spite of the huge financial commitments to the sector in the past four years, the minister said recently that the federal government would require additional $45 billion to fix the country’s transportation infrastructure, saying that rail infrastructure is a capital intensive sector.
Explaining the amount spent so far on rail infrastructure in the country, the minister revealed that this figure would be needed to solve the country’s “problem of transportation to a great extent.”
“It is capital intensive. N1trillion is about $2.7 billion and that is just about 200 kilometres of the railway. So, if you plan to do Lagos-Ibadan and you are looking at about $8.7 billion – this will be between N3 trillion and N4 trillion. How much is the budget of the country?
“That is why I said we need about $35 to $45 billion to be able to do Lagos-Kano, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri, Lagos-Calabar, and Abuja-Warri. Once you do these four tracks, you have covered the country, and you have solved the problem of transportation to a great extent,’’ the minister added.
Amaechi also gave a breakdown of the expenses incurred so far on rail construction most especially the Lagos-Ibadan railroad.
Even though many said lots have been achieved in the sector in the past four years, other critical stakeholders believe that Amaechi’s recent request for additional huge fund is a sign of not-too-impressive achievement.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) traces its history to the year 1898, when the first railroad in Nigeria was constructed by the British colonial government. The nation’s return to democracy in year 1999, has paved way for proper rail modernisation.
Starting in 2006, plans were made to restore the rail lines and add new locomotives with foreign assistance. And the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan made it possible for young Nigerians to feel rail infrastructural facilities. In December 2012, regular scheduled passenger service was restored on the Lagos to Kano line and the Kaduna-Abuja Standard Gauge rail line began full operations.
Given all the necessary support since 2015, many believed Amaechi has been able to redirect the rail sector. With a day-to-day supervision, Amaechi has been able to fix some abandoned rail projects; constructed and commissioned new ones.
To achieve the rail project goal, the ministry had set up a stakeholders’ monthly meeting and inspection tour of all rail projects. The tour is to ensure that projects are not only delivered on the stipulated time, but done in high standard.
Having delivered the Kaduna-Abuja Standard Gauge rail line, the minister was said to have gone ahead with the Lagos-Ibadan rail project, and at the same time, face the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail project.
The ministry has also been able to complete and inaugurate the Kaduna-Abuja Standard Gauge rail line started by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Administration.
Starting with the overhaul of rail projects across the country, the ministry has revamped the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail project, which is about 80% completed, and recently commenced commercial activities on the route, having initially offered a free ride on the axis.
With plan to link major cities in the country with rail line, the Ministry of Transportation has also completed the Lagos-Abeokuta Section of the Lagos-Ibadan rail project, and efforts are on to complete the project before May 29, 2019.
Worried by the sudden upsurge of passengers on the Abuja-Kaduna train service, due to the notorious activities of kidnappers along the Abuja-Kaduna road, Amaechi recently ordered the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to move two additional coaches from Itakpe-Warri rail lines to reduce the pressure. He recently embarked on a tour to China, where he disclosed that the ministry was set to take delivery of the first batch of 10 coaches, out of the 64 coaches expected from China in June 2019, to reduce the congestion at the Abuja-Kaduna rail line.
Under, Amaechi, the ministry also completed and commissioned the first Inland Dry Port in the country, located in Kakuri community, Kaduna State; and added more coaches and locomotives to the few available ones on the Kaduna-Abuja rail line. He noted that the Dry Port will greatly provide the needed stimulus for massive economic growth in Kaduna State and the country at large. Today’s event has opened a new vista of commercial opportunities, not only for Northern businessmen, but also neighbouring countries.
The progressive effort of the present administration in rail rehabilitation and construction was aimed at ensuring effective transport connectivity nationwide. On the average, the ministry is making progress.
Mohammed: Uncommon Communicator in a Challenging Environment
Olawale Ajimotokan x-rays Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s sojourn in the Ministry of Information and Culture and finds that the ebullient lawyer comes across as an uncommon communicator despite the very challenging environment
Those very close to him said that Alhaji Lai Mohammed effectively played his part as the official spokesman of the federal government in the last four years that he served as the Minister of Information and Culture.
His task was to communicate the federal government achievements to the public, especially in the promise to fight corruption and tackle security challenges retarding the nation.
While some members of the public said that Mohammed employed propaganda in carrying out his official assignments, those working very close with him said he was up to the task.
For example, they argued that under his watch, the federal government also sought to gain public sympathy through the whistle blower policy that exposed corruption in high places.
It was reported that within the first two months of the whistle-blowing policy, the federal government recovered over $178 million stolen from the government. By June 5, 2017, the Ministry of Finance received a total of 2,150 tips from the public, while by the following year, it was reported that government had so far recovered about N9.12billion through its whistle-blowing policy introduced to reward informants.
In 2016 the national reorientation campaign, “Change Begins With Me” was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari. The concept, coined by the minister, aimed to achieve a paradigm shift in the ways Nigerians were doing things.
Also in 2018, Nigeria hosted the 61st edition of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Commission for Africa (CAF) Meeting in Abuja.
The minister led the media on a nationwide tour to showcase some of the major infrastructural projects by government, including the Third Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Oyo-Ogbomosho- Ilorin Expressway, Ilorin- Jebba road reconstruction and the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail project constructed by China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC).
He similarly highlighted the stride of the country in agriculture, in relation to large scale rice cultivation in some northern states, under the CBN Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme, that has cut imported rice from Thailand from 644,000 MT to about 22,000 MT from 2015-2017. Also the number of rice growers in the country increased from five million to 12 million.
In the area of social intervention, the minister listed the achievements of the administration to include the feeding of 9.3 million school children everyday, employment of 500,000 unemployed graduates under N-Power, 300,000 families benefiting from the Conditional Cash Transfer and interest-free loans of between N10,000 and N100,000 under the TraderMoni and the MarketMoni Schemes, respectively, to small business owners.
Under Mohammed’s watch, the federal government also launched a campaign against Fake News, which the minister effectively deployed as a campaign tool against the opposition.
He was always in the frontline raising his voice to the danger the spread of fake news posed to national unity and in the fight against insurgency in the North east.
The minister ascribed the escalation of the farmers/herders bloodletting in the restive north-central to the efforts of religious bigots. He often likened the effects of fake news to a time bomb waiting to explode.
“In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like ours, fake news is a time bomb. And in recent week, many suspected anarchists have been doing everything possible to detonate the bomb. But for prudence and vigilance of Nigerians, they- the religious and ethnic bigots among us- would have set the nation on fire, especially over the farmers/herders clashes as well as communal clashes, “Mohammed said.
To underscore the way government perceived fake news and how it intended to control it, he disclosed that government planned to partner with Facebook and other social networking platforms to assist Nigeria in tackling the menace.
He also played a prominent role in 2018, when Nigeria hosted the 61st edition of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Commission for Africa (CAF) Meeting, in Abuja.
The hosting afforded Nigeria the unique opportunity to expose her rich culture to the rest of the world, put the nation’s tourism industry in particular, on the world map, attract foreign research experts and promote the necessary network that will form the basis for future cooperation.
The ruling political party also leveraged on his ability and other key stakeholders to mobilise the grassroots support in his home state of Kwara, where his doggedness and political clout led to sweeping of the stakes by APC candidates during the presidential, national assembly, governorship and state assembly elections.
His fiery disposition against the opposition in the days preceding the polls has not abated in spite of APC emerging victorious in a disputed presidential election.
Mohammed ripped at PDP Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, accusing him of trying to win by subterfuge after falling short at the polls.
In the same vein, he accused the PDP presidential candidate of desperation and for aiming to replicate the Venezuelan model of two parallel leaders- Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido- in Nigeria, without realizing that Nigeria is not Venezuela, while the situations in both countries are not the same.
Buratai: It’s All Motion, Little Movement
Chiemelie Ezeobi examines the performance of Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, and concludes that it’s been all motion and little movement
When he was appointed army chief and promoted lieutenant general at the inception of this administration May 2015, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, an infantry officer with degrees in History and Philosophy, had his job well cut out for him. At the time of his appointment, the reputation of the Nigerian Army was at its lowest. Boko Haram terrorists had territorial control of several local governments in Borno State, the insurgents raided military camps with ease, soldiers returned from the theatre of operations in body bags, and scores of Nigerian military men who had found their way to Cameroon in what was then described as “tactical maneuver”, an euphemism for running away from the battlefield, were disarmed by Cameroonian forces. Buratai’s immediate duty therefore was to restore the morale of the officers and men, transform them into a fighting force, and take the battle to the Boko Haram insurgents with a view to displacing them and recovering every inch of Nigerian territory under their control.
In the first year of Buratai’s appointment as army chief, Nigerian soldiers regained their mojo. They took the battle to Boko Haram, inflicting on insurgents heavy casualties and recovering the territories they had occupied. By the end of 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, military chiefs and top government officials had made a song and dance of Boko Haram being degraded or technically defeated. Indeed the insurgents could only hit at soft targets by carrying out suicide bomb attacks on churches, mosques and markets. In no time, however, the insurgents regrouped, rearmed and returned to battle stronger and deadlier. In one attack on 157 Battalion, Metele, Borno State, late last year, official statements put the casualties among officers and men of the Nigerian Army at 23. However, some top army officers put those killed at more than 200. Since then, it has been yo-yo between the soldiers and the insurgents, with neither side having a clear advantage.
What is worrisome is how banditry and criminality on other fronts have worsened the state of insecurity in the country, particularly in the north. Bandits involved in illegal gold mining have made Zamfara State a hellhole. Kidnappers have made the lives of people residing in many states in the northwest miserable, with Abuja-Kaduna road particularly unsafe for travellers. Herdsmen have turned the farms across north central states into killing fields. To be fair, Buratai’s Nigerian Army has embarked on specialized military operations to address every security challenge. There is the counter-insurgency Operation Lafia Dole in the northeast and its sister operations in that axis: Operation Crackdown to clear the remnants of Boko Haram insurgents in Sambisa forest; Operation Safe Corridor for the de-radicalization and rehabilitation of repentant terrorists; and Operation Gama Aiki to deal with the insurgents in the northern part of Borno State. There is also Operation Safe Haven to quell ethno-religious conflicts and other criminal activities in the north central states; Operation Sharan Daji to deal with bandits and cattle rustlers in the northwest; Operation Delta Safe to crush the resurgence of Niger Delta militancy, bunkering and oil theft in the south south; Operation Awase to contain criminal operations of kidnappers and pipeline vandals in Arepo and along Lagos-Ogun axis; and Operation Python Dance to contain the activities of Biafran agitators in the South-east.
Although the Nigerian Army is faced with several challenges including but not limited to inadequate funding, obsolete hardware, politicization of recruitment and posting, injudicious application of military vote by Defence Ministry, and poor welfare package, Buratai has never shy away from extolling his achievements. He had listed among his achievements recovering and keeping Nigeria’s territories from Boko Haram, improving internal security operations, effective civil-military operations, support for democracy and 2019 elections, reorganizing the army towards professionalism, improved training and capacity building, improved welfare packages, and enhanced innovation.
With the worsening security situation in the country, some of Buratai’s claims cannot stand serious scrutiny. Boko Haram and its allies in the Islamic State of West Africa are still deadly terrorists in the north-east. Across the three zones in the north, bandits, kidnappers and killer herdsmen have killed hundreds of people. Amnesty International has serially accused men of Nigerian Army of human rights abuses; under Buratai, soldiers attacked Shi’a’ cleric Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and killed over 300 of his followers. Those killed in battle barely get decent burial.
In the circumstance of the worsening security situation in the country, the general thinking is that the leadership of the army needs fresh ideas.
Not a few persons think that President Buhari needs to review his decision to retain Buratai despite the fact that he has exceeded his service tenure and due for retirement.