Desmond Mgboh, Kano
In 2016, the Kano State government signed a contract with a Chinese firm, China Railway Construction Group, for the construction of a light rail transit project, at the cost of $1,850,839,098. Fifteen per cent of the amount, according to the contract, would be sourced locally while the remaining 85 per cent is to be sourced from China Export-Import Bank.
According to the initial map of the mega-project, the track of the rail would run from four routes, namely Janguza to Bata, Jogana to Bata, Dawanau to Bata and from Kwanar Dawaki to Bata, all within the metropolitan area of the state.
For several reasons, including the drag of bureaucracy, the 2019 elections and perhaps, the initial criticisms that trailed the project, it was put on hold.
Many believe that it was this project that pitched the deposed Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusu 11, with Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, when Sanusi vehemently kicked against the project.
However, a few weeks ago, the project was revived.
A statement from the Information Commissioner in the state, Mohammaed Garba, announced the revival of the project, saying that the state executive council had approved an amended external loan of 684, 100,100.00 Euros to finance it.
Garba said that the council revalidated the N1 billion aspect of the design works, earlier approved in 2017, adding that, “while the first phase of the project was billed to take two years, the second phase was billed to take another two years.
According to the immediate past Commissioner of Commerce and Industry in the state, Ahmed Rabiu, the benefits of the rail project were enormous that the state would not afford to miss this golden opportunity.
Rabiu, who is also the Nations Deputy President of NACCIMA told Sunday Sun that “the light rail project is a very important project to any city that is a mega city. Movement by a large number of people at the same time needs facilities that are for mass transit.
“Using buses and taxis and the motor cycles like the tricycles can help carry people, but when the number and economy of the people improve, the number of people moving to different places and directions would go sky high.
“We are a city of almost 15 to 20 million people. You can imagine, on a daily basis, we receive visitors from one, three, five million at different times from around us.
“We have emphasised that whatever that cannot be delivered at the point of use is useless and anybody who cannot get to where it is has lost it. Most people don’t understand that there is no cost that is too much for logistics.”
Way back in 2016, both the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Coalition of Civil Society in Nigeria, Kano State chapter, objected to the project, raising their red flags on the size of the facility and its immediate relevance on the economy.
The Nigeria Labour Congress, through its Chairman, Kabiru Minjibiri had expressed worry over the ability of the state government to meet the obligations of the facility without tampering with the salaries of the workers in the state.
But by far the biggest hammer against the rail project and its loan component came from the Kwankwassiyya Movement in the state, which in the eyes of the public, was actually the voice of the former Governor of the state, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.
They told their audience that the said loan was the equivalent of about 15 years of the states total internally generated revenue and more than two years of its budgetary allocations, while accusing the state government of intending to mortgage the future of the present and incoming generations.
Spokesman of the Movement and PDP’s Deputy Governorship candidate in the state, Aminu Abdulsalam, justified the mortgagor aspect by saying that “the repayment period for the proposed loan could take up to 50 years or more.”
He also accused the government of disregarding the technical and other financial requirements that were encapsulated in the country’s procurement law before conceiving the project.
According to him, the government ignorantly signed an agreement with the financiers of the project against the advice of the technical experts, who had encouraged the government to defer the project, bearing in mind the deficiencies of other complementary inputs such as power and the apparent heavy attraction of compensation from the structures that were likely to be demolished .
He also stated that the project did not have technical and financial appraisal, adding that the loan was only intended to finance the rail track, without taking care of the rolling stocks, dedicated power and the provision of rail stations.”
He expressed disappointment at the State House of Assembly, accusing the lawmakers of failure to act and provide the necessary checks and balances to the executive while warning that if their party, the PDP, comes to power in 2023, they would not honour any loan facility and/or agreements entered for this purpose.
“Furthermore, we wish to state categorically clear that any financiers local and/or international engaged in this unfortunate deal will be viewed as aiding the current state government efforts of enslaving the future of our people and, therefore, will not be honoured,” they stated.
According to him, they have already contacted the Chinese Development Bank via a petition in respect of the illegality and crass procedural violations inherent in the contract, adding that they have also drawn the attention of the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria to the risks involved.
In addition, he said they have reported the same concerns to the President of the Senate, the Minister of Finance and the Director General of the Debt Management Office (DMO) even as they have instructed their lawyers to institute a case in court, challenging both the legitimacy and the procedural violations associated with the proposed loan.
Speaking independent of the contending parties, a professor of political science, Bayero University, Kano, Kamilu Fagge, objected to the loan facility at this moment, saying: “For the simply reason that it is going to put Kano in a debt burden for a very long time.
“I don’t think that this is the best alternative policy, given the fact that if one goes to our industrial areas like Sharada, like Bompai and Challawa, if you go there, you will find out that 80 per cent of the industries there have collapsed, they have closed shops because of so many reasons.
“The priority should have been how do we revive the collapsed industries? How do we address the social problems that are facing Kano? How do we address the problem of insecurity that we are faced with in Kano? How do we revive commerce in the state? How do we address the issue of congestion? How we do we stem the rural-urban drift? How do we provide basic amenities to the populace?
“The state government has less than three years, it can’t start something that may not be completed within this short time and at the end of it, a lot of money would have been sank into the project and the government would not be able to complete it. And the government is not even sure that the succeeding government would continue with the project.
“There is also the issue of corruption. The money that would be borrowed for the project, a greater part of it may be siphoned by some people. So, the people of Kano and the state might be left with a huge debt and abandoned property while some people would be better off.”
Despite the criticisms, the state government has since said that it was not going back on its intention to access the loan for the construction of the Light Rail Transit Project.
It said that no amount of criticisms will deter it from carrying out laudable projects that aim at transforming Kano to a mega city while describing the criticism of the Kwankwassiyya Movement as an attempt to discredit the dynamic initiative of the Kano State government.
The government restated that “all the due processes were being followed in the sourcing of the loan, namely the approval from the State House of Assembly and a clearance from the relevant federal agencies and the National Assembly.”