26 October 2015, Abuja – Eighteen years after construction work commenced on the 276-kilometre standard gauge rail line linking Warri in Delta State to Ajaokuta, Kogi State, the project has not been delivered to the Federal Government.
The project, otherwise called the central railway line, was initially planned to be delivered in five years, but it was gathered on Sunday that the government would need about N40bn to fully get the line ready.
This indication emerged just as railway workers have written President Muhammadu Buhari opposing the plan by the government to privatise the nation’s railway services.
The rail line from Warri, passing through Itakpe, Ajaokuta, Agbor and Ore, with six stations along the route, was conceived to carry steel products and raw materials from the Delta Steel Company, Aladja, but was later abandoned after about 254 kilometres had been done due to lack of funds.
The project was reactivated in 2009 with the Federal Government agreeing to pay N33bn for the design and completion of the remaining 22 kilometres.
The contract was awarded to Team Nigeria and Julius Berger, and was meant to be delivered in March 2013. The contract sum also covered the sidings of the Ajaokuta-Warri rail line up to Delta Steel Aladja, and construction of six stations with the rehabilitation of the completed portion of the line.
No money was made available for the execution of the project even though about N45bn was budgeted for the Nigerian Railway Corporation for capital projects that year.
Curiously, the following year, the then Minister of Transport, Alhaji Suleiman Yusuf, had said after the review of the project that the contract had been revalued at N36bn.
The former minister, who had taken a ride on the completed section of the rail line, had said, “I’m satisfied and impressed today that with this four-hour train ride from Warri to Ajaokuta, we are sure to commence passenger services early next year.”
But that did not materialise.
The immediate past Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, had also in January this year promised that the project would be completed before the end of the former President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration. But the government failed to fulfil the promise after it lost the 2015 presidential election to the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress.
The Senator Musa Adede-led Transport Committee at the recently held National Conference had recommended the completion of the abandoned rail project before the terminal date of the Jonathan administration.
It could not be ascertained as of the time of filing this report the total cost of the entire project. Calls put through to the Managing Director of the NRC, Mr. Adeseyi Sijuwade, on Sunday were not answered.
The Assistant Director, Public Relations, NRC, Mr. Abdulmaroof Akinwoye, said the project was under the Federal Ministry of Transport, adding that he could not comment on it.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Union of Railway Workers has written to the Presidency to oppose the planned privatisation of the NRC.
In the letter, which was signed by its President, Mr. Raphael Okoro, the union urged the government to rescind its decision to privatise the railway sector, insisting that the decision would be counterproductive.
The union said the government should continue to fund the railway and allow credible professionals to manage the industry as currently being done in the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Spain.
Privatisation, it said, would lead to corruption and joblessness, adding that politicians would sell the railway property to themselves and make the train services out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians.
The Federal Government had recently directed the Bureau of Public Enterprises to commence the privatisation of the NRC and other railway facilities across the country.
The National Council on Privatisation gave the directive to the BPE and the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility after its council meeting in Abuja.
It said the decision to reform the railway was borne out of the government’s desire to avoid its collapse and eventual shutdown.
A new railway bill, which is one of the eight reform bills recently approved by the NCP and the Federal Executive Council, is currently before the National Assembly for passage into law.