Growing Self-sufficiency in Rail Transport 

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the overall purpose of the Wagon Assembly Plant in Kajola in Ogun State, which is in its infant stage, is to grow local technology and ultimately make Nigeria not only self-sufficient in certain components of locomotive rolling stock, but also an exporter

To meet the increasing demand of both passenger and freight on the new Nigeria Standard Gauge Railway Service, the federal government recently  awarded a contract for a Wagon Assembly Plant in Kajola in Ogun State. From all indications, it is the first of its kind.

This move has been applauded in several quarters given the numerous advantages it portends for the nation at large, especially when it comes to capital flight. According to the Ministry of Transportation, this Wagon Assembly Plant will see to the

production of rolling stock, that is, locomotives, coaches, wagons and even contemporary diesel multiple units to serve movement of passengers and freight on the Abuja-Kaduna, Itakpe – Ajaokuta– Warri train services as well as the ongoing Lagos – Ibadan Railway. It will also serve any railway service in the West-African sub-region.

Championed by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, the plant, upon completion, will have the capacity to produce 500 wagons per year and will undertake key production processes like welding, assembly, painting, drying and testing. It will also have the capacity to produce open, container, flat, tank and box wagons, as well as provide 5,000 jobs.

FG’s Rail Modernisation Project 

Thus recently at the groundbreaking ceremony of the plant, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while commending Amaechi and his ministry for the very hard work and commitment they have demonstrated from the inception of the rail modernisation project, he also acknowledged the Chinese government, particularly the investor, CCECC Nigeria Limited for this significant and strategic investment.

Stressing that the railway holds the master key to transforming the economy, he noted that its modernisation by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration will provide linkages, job creation, and more.

Spending after riding the Lagos-Ibadan train from Iju to Kajola, Osinbajo, who performed the groundbreaking of the plant said: “This ceremony is not just another event, it is a historic turning point, for us, the railway is not just an alternative and comfortable mode of travel, it holds the master key to  transforming commerce in Nigeria and across the continent.

“The sighting of the plant here in Nigeria and the commitment to hiring Nigerians and Nigerian businesses affirms the president’s directives in Executive Order five on prioritising Nigerians and Nigerian businesses in the innovation, production and procurement of engineering projects and services.

“The plant would offer an important platform for engineers, technicians, artisans and other professionals to gain the specialised skills required for the production and maintenance of rolling stock. This will invariably conduce to spin-off businesses in the region of operation in particular and across the country wherever rail networks are in existence. The plant is expected to generate about 5,000 direct and indirect jobs.”

Furthermore, he said the plant is an important project for so many reasons- it is central in the production of rolling stock spare parts and maintenance equipment needed for the railway modernisation programme being implemented by this administration.

By linking the nation’s ports to rail lines and now, building the rolling stock locally, the vice president enthused that import and export business within and out of Africa’s largest market will be completely transformed. “When completed, it is expected that the plant would produce some parts of the wagons for the Lagos – Ibadan and Abuja – Kaduna rail lines, but also for the central rail lines and to satisfy the needs of other rail operators within the West-African sub-region”.

 He also charged CCECC to move on very quickly to the next phase of this project, which is the assembly and construction of coaches and locomotives.

Highlighting some of the rail achievements by this administration he said: “After completing the Abuja – Kaduna Railway project in July 2016, this administration commenced construction works on the Lagos – Ibadan Railway modernisation project in March 2017, following which we initiated the rehabilitation and completion of the abandoned Itakpe – Ajaokuta – Warri rail line which was started over three decades ago.

”Furthermore, last month, we signed an agreement with Messrs China Railway Construction Company International to construct the Itakpe – Ajaokuta rail line which will be extended from Itakpe to Abuja through Baro Inland Water Port in Niger State with a branch line to Lokoja in Kogi State. This rail line will link into the new Warri sea port being constructed under the agreement.

”Also we are optimising the Lagos-Ibadan rail modernisation project by extending it to the Apapa Port, the nation’s busiest port for the efficient movement of cargo from the port to various destinations. This will expedite import/export flows, decongest the ports, and depressurise our roads in the process. Also, we are putting all mechanisms in place to achieve the swift completion of the Ibadan Inland Dry port which will off-take containers and cargoes from Apapa port through the Lagos – Ibadan rail line.”

Meanwhile, he charged the host communities to  continue to support government’s efforts by effectively cooperating with the contractors in safeguarding and protecting these lasting investments so that all intended objectives and mutual benefits are attained.

The Minister’s Drive 

If there is one thing the minister breathes and talks, it’s the completion of the rail system. Over the course of the last few years as minister, his passion for the rail has been unequivocal and visible achievements have been recorded.

At the groundbreaking in Kajola, Amaechi, while reiterating his dream to connect regions and states through the rail, said the contract for the plant was awarded for the procurement of rolling stock to meet the increasing demand of both passenger and freight on the new Nigeria Standard Gauge Railway Service.

Going down memory lane, Amaechi recalled  that Osinbajo had on March 7, 2017 performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the segment two of the Lagos – Kano Railway Modernisation project: the Lagos – Ibadan segment with extension to Lagos Ports Complex at Apapa which is nearing completion.

This segment he posited, holds the key to the development of the economy of the nation from the commercial city of Lagos to the commercial hub of Northern Nigeria, Kano.

Thus to meet the increasing demand of both passenger and freight on the new Nigeria Standard Gauge Railway Service, he said the the federal government awarded contract for the procurement of rolling stock that is, locomotives, coaches, wagons and contemporary diesel multiple units to serve movement of passengers and freight on the Abuja-Kaduna, Itakpe – Ajaokuta – Warri train services as well as the ongoing Lagos – Ibadan Railway. It will also serve any railway service in the West-African sub-region.

He noted that the Ministry of Transportation realised the need of the advantage to set up this type of plant considering the potential need in view of the on-going rail projects in the country and the sub-region encourage Messrs CCECC to establish this plant.

He further posited that it is expected that the plant would generate job opportunities for Nigerians and as well facilitate the much-desired objective of the government towards the local content capacity development.

He said: “​It was in the pursuit of these objectives that the Federal Ministry of Transportation signed an agreement with Messrs. CCECC Nig. Limited in March, 2018 to establish this plant for the production and assembling of rolling stock, spare parts and maintenance equipment in Nigeria.”

On the choice of Kajola he said CCECC conducted a feasibility study in which the choice of Kajola, Ogun State was arrived at as the suitable location for the project.

“This project is therefore a direct investment of CCECC Nig. Ltd in the country and would remain as part of the gains from the contract signed for the supply of rolling stock. This will be the first of its kind in Nigeria and the first batch of the wagons to be assembled from the production line of this plant will form part of the rolling stock for Lagos – Ibadan and Abuja -Kaduna Railway operations. Subsequently, other rolling stock would be produced as its production capacities increase.

“The project when completed would be able to generate about 5,000 jobs and in the long run, Nigeria would be able to manufacture rolling stock for Nigerian use and for other African countries. More so, we would be able to conserve our much needed foreign exchange which can be deployed to other areas of development.

“Among all these, it is cardinal to mention that the sustainability of our railway modernisation projects would depend on our ability to develop local capacity to construct, maintain and manage our new railway system. It is on this note that we feel that this project is germane to the railway development in Nigeria and that CCECC should be given every reasonable support to actualise this investment.”

Investor’s Commitment 

In his address, the Managing Director of CCECC, Jiang Yigao, who expressed the company’s commitment to work with Nigerian authorities to achieve the country’s aim of modernising its railway, stressed on  the purpose of the Wagon Assembly Plant project and the benefits it would accrue to Nigeria through the project.

Noting that the inauguration of the project underlines the commitment of CCECC towards the industrial and economic development of Nigeria, he said: “During the past years, CCECC was impressed by the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Transportation for their determination and efforts on modernising the railway. Therefore, CCECC commits to spare no effort to cooperate with the Nigerian government.

“The concept of this Wagon Assembly Plant is to grow local technology and ultimately make Nigeria not only self-sufficient in certain components of locomotive rolling stock, but also an exporter.  With the completion and operation of the Abuja to Kaduna Railway, Abuja Rail Mass Transit and work on other railway projects, the plant will play a pivotal role in ensuring that provision of wagons.  The socio-economic benefits of the plant cannot be overemphasised. A number of youths will be employed and it will stimulate the creation of other ancillary jobs and bring development not only to Kajola community but the South -west in general.

“The plant has the capacity to produce 500 wagons per year and will undertake key production processes like welding, assembly, painting, drying and testing. It has the capacity to produce open, container, flat, tank and box wagons. Nigeria is surely marching to greater development and CCECC will continue to partner Nigeria in ensuring the technological development of the country.

“Strides with Nigeria is the creed of CCECC. We are working with relevant agencies to ensure the development of the railway system. This is not only in building and rehabilitating railway tracks and stations but also training indigenous personnel to operate and maintain them. CCECC organised a professional railway operation team to assist the Federal Ministry of Transportation in operating and maintaining the railway, training the local staff and establishing a modern railway operation and maintenance system.

“Today, the construction of the wagon assembly plant will open a new chapter of railway construction in Nigeria, which will help Nigeria speed up the railway industrialisation chain.”