The federal government has expressed dissatisfaction with the non-utilisation of railway transportation system for the movement of cargoes.
The Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, said yesterday in Lagos that such a situation was not good for the growth of the rail sector.
He spoke on the issue while discussing “Rail Infrastructure: Progress and Plan” at the Nigeria 2020 Economic Outlook organised by Deloitte.
According to him, unless businesses and individuals start utilising the railways for the movement of goods, it would be difficult for the federal government to recoup the huge amount spent in constructing the railways.
He said: “Itakpe to Warri railway is ready, where are the cargoes for it? So, you said the federal government should provide infrastructure, which we have done; we have awarded another contract to construct railway from Abuja to Itakpe, to connect Abuja to Warri, with a new seaport to be constructed at Warri.
“But at least for now, Itakpe to Warri is ready, but where are the cargoes? Nobody is talking about moving cargoes from Lagos to Ibadan, or from Ibadan to Lagos.
“When you talk about railways, if it is to move passengers alone, then there is no need to construct railways because it is very expensive.”
He added that the federal government would soon commence construction of the railway from Ibadan to Kano, which he said would cost $5.3 billion, for the distance covering 860 kilometres.
Amaechi stated: “And all you want to do is to carry passengers at subsidised rates?
“So, the reason for constructing railway is to provide logistics for the movement of goods.
“We have finished Abuja-Kaduna railway, not even one cargo has been moved. We have moved from 300 passengers a day to 3,700 passengers a day.
“So, we need to change the thought pattern of Nigerians.”
He attributed the development to the fact that Nigeria is not a producing nation, just as he stressed the need for Nigerians to start looking inwards.
“We must start producing in this country. In Nigeria we produce nothing, but we blame government for everything,” he said.
According to him, the private sector in Nigeria is an extension of the public sector and without support from the public sector, a lot of operators in the private sector would go out of business.
Amaechi faulted news making the rounds that the train from Lagos to Ibadan takes three hours to get it to its destination.
“When we start running Lagos to Ibadan, there would be three kinds of operations. The first would be those who are rich; we would give them services that would start from Lagos and end at only three locations and there will be another one that would be dropping people at different locations.
“We have paid for 200 wagons, but it will carry nothing! Where are the cargoes? If all we are hoping to do is to jump into the trains and get to Ibadan, it will cost the federal government more money to run that because we would not break-even,” he said.
The minister stated that the first standard gauge railway in Nigeria was developed 34 years ago, but was not completed. That is from Itakpe to Warri, which is 350 kilometres.
He expressed satisfaction that the Buhari administration has completed the project.
The minister added: “If you add that to Abuja to Kaduna, which is 186 kilometres and then Lagos to Ibadan, which is about 600 kilometres of railway, there is an approval I am going to seek from the president in the next one week, if I get the approval and we commence construction, we should be leaving Nigeria with another 3,000 kilometres of railway.
“But that still makes us one of the countries with the lowest kilometres of railway in Africa or in the world. South Africa has about 35,000 kilometres of railway.
“The problem Nigeria has is both the leadership and the followership; but more of the followership. First, the railway we met, there was no maintenance and nobody was asking questions.
“When we came, there was no railway contract that was awarded to the seaport. For me, the movement of goods is the essential element of railways.
“So, all the president has said is that we would leave enough infrastructures for the next government. We believe that when the factors of production are okay, the cost of production would reduce.
“Today, Nigeria is not competitive, compared with Ghana. Because of the ECOWAS protocol, you can produce in Ghana and sell in Nigeria. What am I doing here (Nigeria), where there is no power, no water, no security and no logistics.”