ADEKUNLE ADESUJI, ABUJA
Senate on Tuesday summoned the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi to appear before the Senate’s standing Committee to give reasons for the exclusion of the Eastern Corridor of Nigeria’s Rail Lines from the proposed loan of $5,851 billion from China Exim Bank.
The projects to be executed with the loan the are modernization of Lagos-Kano, Kano-Kaduna, Lagos-Ibadan, and Lagos-Calabar rail segment.
Senate decision was sequel to a motion, titled “Outright Omission of Eastern Corridor Rail Line in the request for approval of Federal Government 2016-2015 External Borrowing (Rolling Plan)”, sponsored by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South) during plenary.
Abaribe, while leading debate on the motion, recalled that the federal government had on April 26, 2017 laid before the National Assembly a request seeking an approval for a loan of $5,851 billion from China Exim Bank to execute the rail project.
He, however, observed with dismay that the above sections of the rail line that the loan was being sought for covers only a section of the country, that is, the western corridor or sections.
“The Eastern section of the rail segment, which has a link between the South Eastern to North Eastern parts of the rail line, is completely excluded from the request”, he said.
Abaribe further noted that “the loan being a federal government borrowing would be paid for by all sections of the country; therefore every section of the country should be taken into consideration”.
According to him, there is a Railway Master Plan developed by the Ministry of Transport and of which such plan has not being referred to in the current borrowing plan;
The lawmaker therefore affirmed that for the railway projects to have a meaningful impact on the development of the country; it should cover all parts of the country.
He maintained that the complete exclusion of the Eastern section that links the four zones of South-South, South-East, North-Central and North East and the key cities such as Port Harcourt, Aba, Enugu, Makurdi, Lafia, Gudi, Jos, Bauchi and Maiduguri is inexplicable.
In his contribution, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu said though he knew the federal government was committed to rehabilitating and upgrading the railway infrastructure in Nigeria since Obasanjo administration, he lamented the alleged exclusion of the South East.
“In 2011, the federal government awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of the Eastern line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri to three contractors in three segments in a total of N64 billion which is about N150 million, up till now no work is going on in that axis. Simply reason being that after they generated the initial certificate to be paid, the government deliberately refused to pay them so that the project will be stalled.
“The truth is that the contract the government has with General Electric is only in relation to the coaches for goods and not for passengers and GE is only interested in supplying the coaches and not to fix the lines”, Ekweremadu stressed.
But chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transportation, Senator Olugbenga Ashafa (APC Lagos East) countered the motion, saying the information therein was inadequate and inaccurate.
He explained that the Muhammadu Buhari administration initially approved the Lagos to Calabar and Lagos to Kano taking into cognizance the Aba and Onitsha rail project.
According to him, “the Lagos to Kano and Calabar to Lagos railway project covers all the geo-political zones and I will show you how. On the Lagos-Calabar coastal you will find the rail cutting across Obudu Cattle Ranch, Calabar-Uyo, Aba-Port Harcourt, Yenagoa-Otuoke, Yenagoa-Ughelli, Sapele-Benin-Agbor, Asaba-Onitsha connecting Benin is Ijebu Ode, Ore, Shagamu, Lagos seaports.
“Until it (the project) is finished you can deduce all the parts of the country it passes and from this, you can see that two major states were from the South East, including where Senator Abaribe comes from have been covered. Uñtil this is finished you can’t see it on ground.
“On the concessioning the General Electric have been summoned by the appropriate committee here in the senate to come and explain the content of that particular concessioning if it has already been given”, Ashafa said.
In his ruling, the senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki said the National Assembly leadership was already discussing with the Executive on the matter, informing that that was what led to the amendment of letter from President Buhari on the project.
“The first letter that came from the President did not specify that the South East, North East axis must also be standard gauge and in that one that was not the case. We insisted at the leadership level that every part of the country must benefit with standard gauge and that has been done.
“The second thing is that we have referred it to the Committee on Foreign and Local Debts, and I think today or yesterday the minister was before them. I think the point we just need here is to follow the spirit of the President’s letter.
“There should be standard gauge everywhere. In processing the loan, there must sincerity and there is commitment in the spirit of the president’s letter”, Saraki stated.
He called on Governor Willie Obiano to provide assistance to the INEC to enable the electoral body do the voter registration at the ward levels in the state.
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