Ensuring Railway Modernisation for Economic Sustainability

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The country’s ongoing railway modernisation project has the potential to catalyse the economy and requires the federal government to fast-track its completion with safety guarantees, James Emejo writes 

There is no doubt that the railway system remains the fulcrum of economic development and prosperity of any economy. Its ability to stimulate intra-trade and commerce, promote industrialisation and other economic activities cannot be downplayed.

According to Proshare, Nigerian renowned financial information service hub, the country’s huge rail infrastructural deficit over the past 30 years had been of concern, as “over-reliance on road haulage has also led to faster dilapidation of roads, while the truck movement of cargoes is a major factor behind the very high cost of cargo clearance from Nigeria’s ports.”

It added that the “topography of the country supports an efficient and sustainable rail infrastructure; yet since the decline and obsolescence of the rail infrastructure built during the colonial era, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has been largely moribund and ineffective, existing mainly as a property leasing agency in respect of the landed property owned by the corporation”.

However, railway transportation has the capacity to contribute to solving the country’s growing unemployment challenges, empower the vulnerable population and address the country’s myriads of economic problems especially in the areas of logistics in the movement of perishable farm produce, cattle, and others as well as help resolve the incessant farmers-herders clashes in the country.

 Repositioning Rail Transport

It is in realisation of the opportunities in the railway system that the federal government had continued to show its commitment to the implementation of the 25-year strategic plan for the railway transport subsector as a key component of the socio-economic transformation agenda.

If anything, the ongoing railway rehabilitation programme will boost government revenues and enhance human capacity development, aid poverty reduction, empower vulnerable Nigerians, support current efforts towards the recovery and growth of the economy as well as help in resolving the knotty security challenges confronting the country.

 Improving Government’s Revenue

Amidst the current fiscal challenges facing the government, rail transportation could augment the federal government’s revenue profile when fully operational.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the NRC generated N2.1 billion as revenue from passengers and cargo between trains in the first and second quarters of 2021.

Notably, revenues from passenger traffic stood at N1.08 billion in Q2 2021 compared to N892.47 million in Q1.

Also, Goods and cargo generated N71.56 million in Q2 compared to N26.19 million in Q1, while income from other receipts stood at N41 million in six months.

Kaduna-Kano Rail Axis

Specifically, the Kaduna – Kano railway project still under construction is part of the Nigerian Railway modernisation programme, being undertaken by the renowned Chinese construction firm, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) Nigeria Limited as the major contractor.

With a total distance of about 200.11 kilometers from Kaduna to Kano, the railway will provide a maximum speed of 150Km/per hour and is adapted to Chinese standards.

The project constitutes the second phase of the Abuja -Kaduna railway programme, which had now been completed and already under operation.

 Project’s significance

According to the CCECC Project Coordinator, Kaduna-Kano Rail, Madobi/Makarfi Segment, Mr. Mark Xu, the railway programme will boost the local economy of residents along the railway corridors as well as enhance the transportation network from the Northern region to the Central region including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

He said given the logistics challenges encountered by farmers in the movement of their perishable produce from the North to South and other parts of the country, the rail system will help convey commodities seamlessly to preferred destinations without risks of wastage.

This is particularly positive for the country’s agriculture given that farmers often incur about 60 per cent of post-harvest losses annually.

In addition, Xu said, the Kaduna-Kano rail project will hasten the country’s industrilisation drive as the completion would enable integrated economic development and offer facility for mass movement of goods and passengers.

He told THISDAY during a recent inspection tour of the sections of the rail project that the benefits from the modernisation programme would largely be felt by local citizens who hitherto lacked access to economic opportunities.

Already, the railway programme has created enormous opportunities and served as tangible sources of livelihood to the vulnerable population as attested to beneficiaries and community leaders.

Just mid-way into the project has provided over 2,800 locals with direct and indirect employment.

Local Content Compliance

In line with the letters of the contract signed between the federal government and the CCECC, the latter had ensured that all reinforcement materials except for the rails and engines that cannot be accessed in the country are sourced locally- a development that further boosts economic activities in the regions as well as impact the countries Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The District Head of Madobi Community in Madobi Local Government Area, Kano State, Alhaji Musa Saleh Kwankwaso, said the impact of the railway construction to the community had been unprecedented, describing it as a good development.

He pointed out that the ongoing project had improved both the economic and security concerns of the people adding that as most farmers and cattle rearers, the community would feel a lot of impact from the project.

He added that even though the construction was yet to be completed, it had provided several employment opportunities for the locals.

Kwankwaso, therefore, made a plea to the federal government to make available all resources needed to ensure the project is completed within the stipulated contract period, adding that further delays could attract some additional costs variation and result in lots of wastage and damage.

He said, “So I am appealing to the government to help complete the projects on time so we the community will continue to benefit from the project. Even now we have started benefitting talk more of when it is completed. “

In the same vein, the traditional ruler of Gimi-Gari Community under Makarfi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Abdullahi Ibrahim, expressed gratitude to the federal government, the state government as well as the company for the project that has continued to positively impact the economic fortunes of the community.

He said, “We are very grateful, at least for now this project is benefitting us greatly because as of now, some of our youths are positively engaged in the construction activities. And I have seen a lot of people at my domain selling and buying. This big project will not only help my community but also the region.”

Ibrahim similarly appealed to the federal government to provide more security to the company as well as ensure that all the resources that may be required to complete the laudable rail projects are made available on time.

Striving Amidst Insecurity

Instructively, the pleas by the communities to the federal government for the provision of additional security, THISDAY gathered, came against the backdrop of incessant attacks on some of the host and neighbouring communities where the railway projects currently transverse.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the current security challenges have slowed the progress of the rail project.

According to the Project Manager for Track Team at Site 4, Mr. Zhang Jian Hang, whenever there are security issues or attacks by bandits in nearby communities, some local employees refused to turn up for work for fear of their safety, a situation, which often affected the progress of the construction work.

CCECC Public Relations Officer (PRO), Kaduna –Kano Railway Project, Muhmamed Aliyu, said the challenges of insecurity remained a source of worry for the company.

He called on the federal government to pay maximum attention to the project so as to ensure that it is completed without further delay, adding that the completion would further reduce insecurity, as it would provide livelihood to idle youths in the region.

 Also, in view of the recent attacks on the railways, Aliyu further made a recommendation to the government to ab initio consider making provisions for the installation of integrated security surveillance systems into the contract to make the railways safer for transporters.

Aliyu said, “Whenever you give a contractor a job and you want that job to be done fast you, need to give attention to security and how to keep the infrastructure out of danger.”

Progress Despite Challenges

However, in the face of daunting security challenges, the CCECC said it has continued to mobilize personnel; equipment and financing to ensure the work progressed.

According to Xu,  “We are not resting on our oars; we even tried to continue to work harder despite the security and funding challenges. Though there are funding gaps as contractors, we do our best to mobilise resources to make sure the work doesn’t stall.

“We still have enough capacity and strong confidence to complete this project in due course with the support of the local communities and our employer (federal government).”

He said the project remained the future of transportation in Nigeria as the railway is not only for passenger transportation but also for cargo among others. 

He stated that, “Based on the land compensation progress, we start the work from Markafi to Kano section including subgrade construction, track laying base and beam plant since last year.

Even though the global chain supply is greatly impacted by both COVID-19 and global energy shortage, we make great endeavuor to mobilise the equipment, personnel as well as material storage for our project with the great support by our employer (FMoT).

“Currently we have already dispatched over 1,700 equipment and machineries to the site and employed over 3000 local staff from skilled labuor to senior staff. Furthermore, we purchased a great portion of local content from local community and market including cement, sand, gravel, reinforcement bar, etc.

“In addition, insecurity is on the rise around our construction site, especially Kaduna area. However, we still mobilize and coordinate every resource to focus on construction day and night by double shift.

“We highlight that we continue to focus on the construction itself and find extra resources to improve our production at our utmost capacity even insecurity, COVID-19 impact, loose global supply chain, and insufficient funding.”

Economy Benefits and Technology Transfer

Also, one of the inherent advantages of the railway modernisation programme has been the transfer of technical know-how from the Chinese to the locals in keeping to the letters of the contract. Through formidable partnerships with the federal government, the company has sent hundreds of Nigerian students abroad for capacity building in the railway system administration.

A civil engineer in the company, Abba Adamu Lawan, told THISDAY he was part of the 45 students sent to China from ABU Zaria under a joint degree programme in Railway Engineering. Another set of over 150 students was also sponsored to China to study Railway and Engineering.

He said, “We went in 2018 and came back in 2020 and ever since I came back, I was directly attached to the company. And since 2020, I have been with the company.

“Apart from our own programme, the company also sponsored over 150 students to start from 100-level and those students are to study Railway and Engineering also.

“When they finish, they are expected to come and take over the Transportation University currently being constructed in Daura right now and the one that would be constructed in Rivers State.”

Lawan added, “As it is, the company can finish their work and move to China and leave us here with the project. We are good to go when it comes to maintenance.”

“I think railway has come to stay and with time we will get experts in railway management.”