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S/East loses out in new railway projects as FG insists on completion of contracts before 2019

Leaders of though and youths in South East have vowed to push endlessly for the approval of a railway contract in the zone. They had long proposed the Onitsha-Aba railway scheme to grow economic and social activities considering the sole reason given by the federal government for the recent wake of approvals and funding given for other regional railway projects that are ongoing.

According to statistics, for the South South, there is the Lagos-Calabar railway which was controversially smuggled into the 2017 budget; in the north, there is the Kano-Kaduna railway; in the west, there is the latest in the order of approvals, the Lagos-Ibadan railway, but nothing for the South East.

Some of the South East opinion leaders and mainly industrialists who spoke to Business Hilights decried the silence of the federal government in awarding a contract for the development of a new railway line that will drive economic activities between major commercial hubs in the zone like is done in other federating zones of the country.

The concern of the zone seems not on the old railways but new ones approved by the current government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Even though they have proposed Onitsha-Aba scheme, government and the mainly the Minister of Transportation who fought for the inclusion of the Lagos-Calabar railway into the 2017 budget and his counterpart in Power, Works and Housing have all maintained sealed lips the proposal.

However, since Tuesday when the news broke that the federal government is set to secure a $6.1bn facility from the World Bank, South East concerns and pressure to get a railway project has gone viral.

An economist, Dr. Ken Igboanugo who spoke to our correspondent on the implications of the loan to fund all the new rail schemes, he said “For the fact the federal government is set to access a loan for the completion of all ongoing rail scheme and the South East is not in the picture, the only time the region will come into the picture will be during the loan repayment”.

“Now, it will be the height of inhumanity to the region for states in the region to only become part of repaying the loan that never benefited the region.

“Recall that for the fact that the loan is facilitated by the federal government, the repayment by the same government will impact sharing of federal allocations which will equally affect South East state who did not partake in the juice of the loan.

According to him, “the best option for the federal government now is to accede to the request of the region by approving the Onitsha-Aba railway project so that it will form part users of the expected loan”.

To him, “Only this can apart from demonstrating aggregate development of all regions of the country, give Igbos a clear sense of belonging as far as commercial-hub driven railway schemes in Nigeria.

Only yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari vowed that all rail projects across the country awarded by previous administrations and current government must be resuscitated and completed before the end of 2019.

Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi told lawmakers that the President has made it clear that all the affected rail projects must be completed by December 2019 as a result of the economic significance of railways and the “benefits to be derived from them by the generality of Nigerians.”

Amaechi stated this during the Ministry of Transportation’s 2017 budget defence before the joint House of Representatives Committees on Aviation, Land Transport, Maritime, Safety and Administration/Ports, Harbours and Waterways at the National Assembly.

In a statement by the ministry, Amaechi was quoted as saying that “Our plan is to complete the rail projects in 2019. Once our borrowing plan of $6.1bn from the Chinese EXIM Bank is approved by the National Assembly, we will be able to access the loan from the Chinese government and work will commence in earnest on these projects.”

Amaechi made it clear that the Federal Government’s construction target in the 2017 budget included the Segment 2 of the Lagos-Ibadan rail line and Segment 3 of the Kano-Kaduna rail project, as well as the first phase of the Coastal rail line from Lagos to Calabar, with extension to the Onne Deep Seaport.

The South East was clearly missing in his statement at the budget defence which translates to the fact that there is no plan for railway development in the region, a scenario that has started raising series of questions and apprehensions in the zone.