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Nigerian rail projects are a test of political will

By Eromo Egbejule, in Lagos
Posted on Wednesday, 20 March 2019 17:44

The Abuja light rail system has improved the lives of commuters in the traffic-choked city. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigeria’s new governors are no doubt busy hatching up new plans for legacy projects. Sadly, all too often this means cancelling or mothballing projects that came before them.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in the railway sector.

  • As Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi spent at least $400m on the 12km Port Harcourt monorail that began construction in 2012. The monorail was abandoned after his exit from office in 2015 and now stands as a gap-tooth in the city’s face. As minister of transport he is in charge of several yet-to-be-completed rail projects nationwide.
  • Lagos, the nation’s economic capital, is another culprit. Last year, the government announced that its light rail will finally commence operations in 2022, exactly 13 years after construction on the seven-line rail system began.

The Muhammadu Buhari administration has broken the mould. While ignoring most of the recommendations by the transition committee, it has nonetheless shown some commitment to the infrastructure sector by completing rail projects it inherited.

  • In July 2016, Buhari commissioned the $876m Abuja-Kaduna standard-gauge railway line that he had inherited from the Goodluck Jonathan administration, almost complete. The train route has since become a safer alternative for travellers going from the capital to Kaduna, 209km away, than the road, which is notorious for kidnappers.
  • The Abuja city metro, which runs from the airport to the city centre and also links to the Abuja-Kaduna railway, was commissioned in July 2018.
  • Work also resumed on other rail projects including Lagos-Ibadan (test run in December 2018 and due to open for commercial operations in May 2019) and Itakpe-Warri railways.

In April 2018, General Electric signed a concession to maintain and operate two rail lines in the country in a deal worth $2.2bn. The American conglomerate has since pulled out of the agreement after suddenly deciding to end its transport arm.

Why this is important:

Nigeria has no organised mass transit system nationwide and its rail infrastructure is mostly dilapidated, having been built by British colonialists more than a century ago.

  • Given the dire state of many of the interstate roads, auto crashes have been happening more frequently. Bandits also harry travellers.
  • Traffic in the big port cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt is on the increase in Africa’s most populous country. Businessman Aliko Dangote says he loses N2bn a month to poor traffic around Apapa Port.
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