Hope At Last For The Railways!

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

The Nigerian Railways is set to bounce back to life if the contract with CCECC as is being renegotiated by the transport minister sees the light of day.

Nigerians like Nathaniel Okoro, former managing director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, and a host of others sad at the fate that befell the railways in recent times, may now have cause to be happy. The reason for this was not obvious at first. It was only last week that Biu Ibrahim, Transport Minister came out openly to tell Nigerians that unless Nigeria continued with the contract that Olusegun Obasanjo, former president signed with the Chinese company, China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC, to the tune of $8.3billion, the nation stood to lose $1.2billion into the bargain. This much was revealed at the investigative public hearing conducted on the ailing railways by the House of Representatives Committee on Land transport.

The minister said that Obasanjo did not follow due process in the award of the contract to CCECC. ‘Our feeling was that the contract should have gone on a transparent tender process, and the normal process followed but he gave it to the Chinese company without any competitive bidding or tender. It was beyond our capacity because Mr. President just told us to go ahead as he was determined to give it to CCECC,” Holzius Monvic, the consultant who handled the transaction said.

The plan was for the CCECC to modernize the NRC. The first phase involved about 1,315 kilometers, km, of the double gauge lines from Kajola, Ogun State, the 181 km from Ilorin to Ibadan, the 270 km from Ilorin to Minna, the 360 km Minna-Abuja-Kaduna and finally the 305km from Kaduna to Kano.

But this plan went awry. The CCECC reneged on the agreement to provide a soft loan of N1billion, probably because of this allegation that CCECC had earmarked about 10 percent of $8.2billion in the construction of a cement plant in Nigeria. The Chinese suspended work thereafter and since then, pressure had been on road and air transport.

Analysts who spoke with the magazine before the House of Representatives Committee on Land transport sat last week said that before the Committee approved another N2.7billion under the 2009 Appropriation Bill for the railways, it should consider whether spending all of that money would impact positively on the economy. From all indications, the move made by the minister to proceed with the contract with the CCECC sends signals that House Committee has already answered that question and is ready to resuscitate the railways.

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