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(Special Report) Buhari’s 2023 budget has nothing for eastern rail redevelopment

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Since mid of December 2022 when the Federal Government averred that delivering the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri eastern rail line by the current administration’s tenure is no longer feasible, further investigations have revealed that not a dime was even allocated to the project in the 2023 budget.
Rather votes on railway were mainly for the advancement of West to North railway operations.
Business Hilights recalls that Mr. Mu’azu Sambo, minister of transportation, had while fielding questions December last year on what is hindering the administration from delivering the project before May 29, 2023 as earlier promised, claimed that the delay is due to the federal government’s inability to secure foreign loans that will make 85 percent of the funds needed to execute for the project. However, checks showed that securing foreign loans for West to North railway operations never suffered any form of delay after all.
He said “The question relating to the promise to deliver the eastern line narrow gauge before the end of this administration. Now, the eastern line is the line from Port Harcourt-Maiduguri, it has been segmented in such a way that the first part of the works covers from Port Harcourt to Enugu,” he said.
According to Sambo, “Now, the truth of the matter is that if there was a promise to deliver this line before the end of this administration, this promise is no longer feasible because, when the contract was approved, it was approved on the premise that 85 percent will be funded through foreign loan, while 15 percent will be the counterpart funding for the national budget.
“Since that approval, we have not been able to obtain that 85 percent foreign loan for this project. We have been funding it through the national budget on the bases of the 15 percent counterpart funding of the federal government. And therefore, funding has been a major challenge for this project.”
Recall that in March 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari performed the groundbreaking of the $1.96 billion rail line project contracted to CCECC, saying it would stimulate economic activities in 14 states where it traverses.
But, the Federal Government, through former resigned Minister, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, said in early July 2021, that the Federal Government cancelled the contract for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail tracks and never re-awarded due to insecurity and attacks on CCECC.
Cross-checking facts, the current minister has abandoned the insecurity claims by Amaechi and posited lack of borrowing opportunity for the project from anywhere in the world.
The benefiting states of the cancelled rail scheme included the south-east states of Abia, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi and Enugu. Others are Rivers, Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, and Gombe.
In another logic in September, 2022, Sambo said work on the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line was suspended due to insecurity and vandalism of railway properties along the corridor.
He said the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC), the contractor handling the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the project, had complained of attacks on its workers along the Abia state axis.
However, facts gathered from the passed 2023 budget, the Federal Government has earmarked the sum of N21.09bn for railway modernisation, rehabilitation and maintenance of ongoing railway projects nationwide.
Rehabilitation of the narrow-gauge track from Minna to Barrow with extension to the Baro River Port would gulp N1.186bn and the maintenance of roads into stations, restrooms, workshops, chalets and operational residential quarters would cost N200m.
The sum of N500m was allocated to the maintenance of the track including emergency recovery, recovery bridge and culvert repair; rehabilitation of the station and other railway buildings would be done at the cost of N500m.
Likewise, the building of the station platform and canopy at km31 at Itakpe-Aladja was allocated the sum of N575m.
Other railway projects include procurement/rehabilitation of rolling stock narrow gauge at the cost of N3.734bn; insurance of locomotive and rolling stock at N500m; procurement of diesel (AGO) for the power cars and locomotive at the cost of N710m while rehabilitation of stations and other railway buildings was allocated the sum N500m.
Further breakdown of the budget showed that the sum of N500m was allocated for the procurement of track materials; procurement of rail inspection vehicles to cost N500m; rehabilitation/ repairs of railways under the line item with code 23030114 at the cost of N2.186bn while rehabilitation/repairs of office buildings under line item with code 23030121 were allocated the sum of N1bn.
The President, while presenting the 2023 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly last year, said that appreciable progress had been made in the rehabilitation and completion of key projects like the 156km Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Rail (and its 8.72km extension to Lagos Port); the 186km Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge Rail; and 327km Itakpe-Warri Standard Gauge Rail, adding that significant investment was made to finance these projects.

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