By Dike Onwuamaeze
Members of the organised private sector (OPS) have endorsed the construction of the railway line to run across some states in Nigeria and terminate at Maradi in Niger Republic.
President Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday, had justified the extension of the Kano-Katsina-Jibiya rail line to Maradi in Niger Republic, saying the project, when completed, will boost trade between the two countries, foster trans-Sahara trade and contribute to the expected gains of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).
Buhari, during the virtual groundbreaking for the Kano-Katsina-Jibiya-Maradi rail line, had noted that Jibiya and Maradi constituted a significant trading core between Nigeria and Niger Republic – a tradition dating back many centuries.
“This vital infrastructure line will establish an end-to-end logistic supply chain in railway transport services between northern and southern regions of the country, reaching Nigerian southern ports of Lagos and Warri.
“The entire route encompasses territory inhabited by close to 80 million people across 10 states of the country. This project has a branch line to Dutse, the capital of Jigawa State, to open up this corridor which is endowed with vast resources,’’ he had stated.
Members of the OPS – Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), told THISDAY in separate interviews that the rail project will spur increased economic activities in Nigeria and enhance the country’s competitiveness as the preferred trans-shipment corridor for the movement of cargoes from the coastal ports to Niger Republic, which is a landlocked territory.
They added that the rail project will deepen regional integration of West African economies and invigorate the participation of Nigerian businesses in the current implementation of the AfCFTA agreement.
The Director-General of MAN, Mr. Segun Ajayi-Kadir, said the project would boost businesses in Nigeria despite the criticisms of its relevance.
Ajayi-Kadir noted that information from Nigeria’s government sources indicated that the rail will provide connectivity for some states, particularly Kano, Katsina, and Jigawa States and boost economic activities in the states.
He said: “Moreover, movement of industrial goods, raw materials, machinery and spares would be enhanced. More importantly, Niger Republic is a landlocked country. So, this cross-border rail network will enhance the status and business fortunes of Nigeria among the coastal states of Benin Republic, Togo, and Ghana in the West African sub-region. These three countries have dominated the movement of cargoes from this landlocked country to their seaports for either export or import.
“With the construction of the railway line, Nigeria will be able to get a share of the business and the influence and cooperation that comes with it, including on security and environmental issues.
“Nigeria should now be able to compete for the servicing of not only the Republic of Niger but other similar landlocked countries like Burkina Faso and Chad.”
He added that the rail line will provide the vital support for the trade in goods and services and movement of persons and consequently investments within the context of the AfCFTA that commenced last month.
“Having entered the operational phase of the AfCFTA’s agreement, provision of hard infrastructure such as this is critical to the country’s chances of benefiting from the free trade area that has 1.2 billion people market,” Ajayi-Kadir said.
Ajayi-Kadir’s counterpart in NACCIMA, Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, told THISDAY that the construction of the rail line is a welcome development considering the importance of rail infrastructure as a tool for sustainable economic development in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the desire to boost trade and economic ties between Nigeria and its West African neighbours.
Olukanni said: “The rail link to Niger Republic in particular is indeed a good development. Apart from enhancing free movement of people as envisioned under the ECOWAS treaty, it will also help to expand trade between people in our northern geo-economic zone and the Niger Republic.
“I am also sure that a landlocked country like Niger Republic will be delighted with this development because it will expand the volume of goods and industrial raw materials which usually transit through Nigerian ports and are usually conveyed by trucks.”
According to him, an efficient rail system will place Nigeria in an advantageous position in the context of the AfCFTA, as part of the needed infrastructure to facilitate the movement of goods for the successful implementation of the agreement.
Also, the Director-General of the LCCI, Dr. Muda Yusuf, said the railway will provide connectivity along with Nigerian cities it will pass through and is critical to Nigerian economic growth.
Yusuf stated that the fact that the railway line would pass through many Nigerian cities before it got to Niger Republic “will bring the connectivity that will usher in economic transformation in those cities.”
He added that the second advantage of the project is that it would bring relief to Niger Republic, which is a landlocked country that has challenges with moving its cargoes from the coastal countries.
“Right now, the transit cargoes that normally should have passed through Nigeria to Niger Republic are being transported by road from Togo and Republic of Benin. If they have the opportunity of using Nigerian ports, it will be easier for them to move these cargoes on the railway. These cargoes will increase businesses in our maritime sector,” Yusuf said.
He said the rail project would be a critical infrastructure in facilitating the objectives of African economic integration as espoused under the AfCFTA.
“Connectivity is very critical to trade at continental and regional levels. Trade under the AfCFTA will flourish between countries that have connectivity either by roads, airports but more significantly by railways. It is going to facilitate the objective of African economic integration.
“If you look at all the cities that railway have major stations, you will notice that it occasioned significant transformation in those places. Places like Ibadan, Osogbo, Jebba, Kaura Namoda, which ordinarily would have been small settlements are today big cities. The fact that railway passed through these cities brought significant economic transformation for them,” Yusuf said.