From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, virtually inaugurated the construction of the $1.96 billion rail line project linking neighbouring Niger Republic.
Buhari, who defended the project known as Kano-Katsina-Jibiya-Maradi (Niger Republic) rail line with branch line from Kano, expressed hope it would boost trans-Sahara trade and contribute to the expected gains in the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).
The 248-kilometre standard gauge rail line first approved by Federal Executive Council last September, is seen as a crucial transportation infrastructure to link the Nigeria’s different regions and parts of West Africa.
The country had, in 2019, signed unto the AfCFTA with a target to lead to around a 60 percent boost in intra-African trade by 2022.
President Buhari has also directed the ministries of Transportation and Finance to conclude financial arrangements with appropriate co-financiers that will partner with the Federal Government for construction of West-East Coastal rail line from Lagos to Calabar, linking some major cities in South East and South South.
Describing the Kano-Katsina-Jibiya-Maradi rail line as “another vital transportation infrastructure,” the president noted that it traverses the major commercial and administrative centre of Kano and passes through other economic hubs of the country, including Kazaure, Daura, Katsina and up to the border town of Jibiya and the Niger Republic city of Maradi.
He said the cities of Jibiya and Maradi constitute a significant trading core between Nigeria and Niger Republic, which dates back many centuries.
Buhari said: “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, Jigawa State capital to open up this corridor which is endowed with vast resources.
“The Kano-Maradi rail has been identified as a viable line that will significantly enhance the movement of passengers and freight to the hinterland, especially raw materials from both agricultural and mineral resources for our industries.
“The project, when completed, will serve import and export of goods for Niger Republic and other countries in the sub-region through Nigerian ports. The country will earn revenue through expansion of trade and commerce, while the people of Niger Republic will benefit from ease of transportation logistics at affordable cost in their import and export business.
“The connection to Niger Republic through rail will also foster trans-Sahara trade and contribute to the expected gains in the AfCFTA.”
President Buhari also described as commendable, that the construction company handling the project, Messrs Mota-Engil Nigeria Limited, is supporting knowledge and technology transfer by investing in the establishment of a learning Institution for Transportation and Railway Science.
He said his administration, in recognition of the challenges posed to the nation’s economic growth by absence of strong and effective infrastructure, has remained committed to closing the gap.
Reeling out his administration’s achievements in rail construction, the president said: “We have in the rail sector embarked on the completion of the 1,424 Kilometre Lagos-Kano line to join the one being flagged-off (sic) today for the country’s western axis.
“On the eastern corridor of the country, the Port Harcourt-Enugu-Makurdi-Maiduguri rail line with branches to Owerri, Imo State and Damaturu, Yobe State have been awarded for reconstruction to include a deep-sea port in Bonny Island and a Railway Industrial Park in Port Harcourt with the objectives of achieving a vibrant and functional railway infrastructure in the eastern part of the country.
“The Federal Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Finance have been directed to act on engagement and concluding financial arrangement with appropriate co-financiers to partner the Federal Government for the development of the West-East Coastal rail line from Lagos to Calabar and linking Onitsha, Benin, Warri, Yenagoa, Port Harcourt, Aba and Uyo.
“Furthermore, the contract for the important Central Railway traversing Itakpe-Baro-Abuja with connection to Lokoja and a new seaport in Warri has been signed and is expected to achieve appreciable level of completion during the tenure of this administration.”
According to him, when all the initiatives of his administration are realised, the country would have overcome the infrastructural deficiency in the transportation sector.
In doing so, he said businesses would be able to take full advantage of availability of an affordable and effective transportation backbone that can transform industrial and economic activity to a higher level.
Buhari, therefore, urged the organised private sector to invest and participate in the realisation of what he called “very promising economic opportunities.”
In his remarks, Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, thanked the president for bringing the life-long dream of the state to reality with inclusion on the Kano-Maradi rail line.
Governor Masari, accompanied by Kano and Jigawa governors, Abdullahi Ganduje and Badaru Abubakar, urged the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to work towards completion and commissioning of the project by 2023.
Amaechi said the feasibility study for the Kano-Maradi railway started in 2012, and was concluded by 2015, thanking the president for support and regular intervention.