Kano-Maradi Rail Project: Amazing Piece of Wrong Journalism

by Obiaruko Christie Ndukwe

It’s amazing what partisan reporting can do to a distressed nation. The reports that came out of the request by the Presidency to the senate for the $4.9Bn loans chose to headline it with the rail project to Maradi (Niger Republic) but ignored all other bigger projects in the bouquet or batch.

This may probably be to incite Nigerians against the loan knowing that Nigerians wake in anger each time they hear about loans or rail or Niger Republic.

The amazing aspect is that the hated rail project to Maradi is only $190m (0.19Bn) out of the $4.9Bn. Even the Lagos-Ibadan modernization project in the batch is $200m but it was not chosen to headline the story. They said the project for which President Muhammadu Buhari seeks $4.9Bn is rail line to Niger Republic, and some others. By professional handling, it means it is the signature project in the batch. It is highly unethical to pick a small item to headline a huge amount when bigger amounts are starring at you. The tradition is to choose the highest cost-project, if you want to go by cost, or name the top items (grouping) as major projects for a loan. To single out a project that is not the highest in amount and is not the only one in group of same projects smacks of mischief and an agenda-driven story.

The reporters and their editors did not bother to mention other projects in the headline. They did not let their readers know in the headline that the projects in the bouquet are in all the geo-political zones. They hid such sensitive facts inside the body of the story knowing their readers too well, that they would not bother to click further let alone read the long story.

They would not disclose that the Kano-Niger Republic Rail line was approved during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, and that the funding was stipulated then as loan from China. Each time the present administration attempts to draw them down, the media would deliberately or ignorantly announce it as a fresh project with a fresh loan by Buhari who wants to Islamize Nigeria through a road to Fulani land. The original rail project designed by the Jonathan administration was to get to Niamey, capital of Niger Republic, but the Buhari administration is striving to take it just across the border to Maradi, probably for another regime to continue to the original destination. If care is not taken, it might be a southern president that may conclude what a southerner started. Then, writers would not remember where the story started from.

The rail line is expected to create a trade route between West Africa (with Nigeria as centre) to North Africa through Niger Republic and Central Africa. This comes on the heels of dreams for African Continentals Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) era when Nigeria would seek to push goods across Africa, north and south. It is not strange to reason that North Africa has been desiring for stronger trade ties with West Africa, to the extent of Morocco seeking observation status in ECOWAS. They now have a fertilizer joint project with Nigeria.

To be blind critics is sad, but when political and religious and regional biases add, it becomes a disease. For reporters to join this legion becomes a disaster. And it is!

The biggest misreporting is the fact that every Reporter is terming it a fresh loan and they are attacking the Senate for considering the loan. None of them let alone their editors cared to know and add to the reporting that the loans are already a piece of law having been part of the 2021 Act of the National Assembly during the budget already signed.

The 2021 budget created a deficit of over N5.6 trn and proposed to fund the deficit with loans. The right time to kick against it was when the proposal was before the two houses of the National Assembly by October 2020. The opposition and the later-day critics ought to have rejected the loan suggestion, put forward better ways to fund the deficit, or suggest how to balance the budget without loans, or which projects and salaries to be dropped so as not to have a deficit in the budget. They kept quiet and the budget was approved and signed into law, meaning that the provision for loans was sacrosanct. The same critics join agitators for more salaries, more allowances, strikes, and calls for more war weapons to fight terrorism, more funding for education, health, and more projects in all states.

Now, each time the Presidency seeks approval from the upper chamber as provided for by law (that the loan you approved in principle is about to be taken), the ignorant crowd suddenly remembers they are patriots who want to save Nigerians unborn from liability. Sad!

It is important to note that projects that hinge on loans are always running concurrent and the FG can only draw down in tranches. When a new tranche is to be drawn, they call it fresh loan. Even if that project is new but it had been provided for in the budget, asking for it is no more new.

Reporters should please get these basics right so they can get some respect because foreigners and partners are also reading these reports. Of course, a critic can attack the president but build your foundation well, cover the gaps, then launch the attack. Don’t do it in the most ignominious way and attract insults to an intellectual profession.

Nigeria now has three prominent citizens as global players (Amina Mohammed in the UN, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in WTO, and Akinwunmi Adesina in AFDB). They have colleagues and international aides who read and may be spiking their ribs by saying, see what your brothers are writing.

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