Nigerian Railways: Buhari Breaks Rare Records

*CCECC Worked even at Night – Leo Yin

Nigerian President,Muhammadu Buhari is heading to next week election with a major accomplishment of conceiving and delivering a major railways project within the life cycle of his administration. The most successful of Buhari rail projects is the Lagos-Ibadan SGR, a section of which was recently commissioned.

Nigeria has a history of abandoned rail projects after billions of dollars have been expended. A rail project, Itakpe-Warri rail was abandoned for almost 25 years until the Buhari administration completed it last year. The President had also completed the Abuja-Kaduna SGR as well as the Abuja urban light rail project. The administration also embarks on the first transnational railway project that is to link Nigeria Jibia border town with Maradi in Niger Republic.

Even when opposition party criticized the early commissioning of parts of Ibadan –Lagos rail, reports showed that friends and foes of the President marveled at the successful handling of the Lagos-Ibadan rail project. What interest many who spoke with Railway Business is that neither Buhari nor Rotimi Amaechi, the railway minister, are from South Western Nigeria.

Lagos is the Commercial capital of Nigeria and Ibadan is one of the biggest cities in Africa. Ibadan also serves as an exit route from Lagos to other parts of the country. Both Lagos and Ibadan are located in the South Western part of Nigeria.

Buhari had come under increasing attacks from the opposition for not initiating any major infrastructural projects in the railway sector. The completion of the Lagos-Ibadan rail project is therefore very significant for leaders and members of the ruling party.

For the Railway minister, Rotimi Amaechi, the project was a personal vindication. Known to be a close ally of the president, Amaechi had in the last eight months being keeping vigil at the various construction sites, conducting unannounced inspections and personally overseeing the execution process. Rather than staying in the office receiving reports, Amaechi at a point almost become a partner construction engineer along the various sections of the rail line.

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who was a known critic of the administration even commended President Muhammadu Buhari over the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge rail project.

The literary icon said that the Abeokuta station, located around Ori village, was not far from his house and that the place used to be part of his hunting ground, commending the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration for the transformation brought to the Ori village and its environs.

Soyinka noted that the development would open up the area with attendant opportunities for small traders, artisans and other residents of Ogun. This is a creative work and “I believe one of these days, on this particular platform, a rocket will go to the next planet”, he said.

Nigerian media were not left out in the frenzy. Nation newspapers have the the following report on the commissioning:

“It was a mere 50-minute ride, yet it was historic in many ways.The first standard guage rail line between Lagos, Nigeria’s business headquarters, and Ibadan in the heart of the Southwest was test run.The 36-kilometre journey was the result of a project that began in June 2017.

Leading the group of select passengers was Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi. The 150km per hour speed will be realised early next year when the job is completed. It is comfortable inside the rail car.The minister had, during his routine visit on December 4, insisted he must ride a rail car on the tracks by December 18.

With him on the 36-kilometre journey were members of the House Committee on Land Transportation, led by its chairman Abdulmumin Jibrin, officials of the ministries of Transportation and Works, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and representatives of the China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), as well as a consortium of engineers and consultants.

Amaechi said Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) would ride on the track in the first week of January, next year. He dedicated the success of the project to the media, who according to him, kept a tab on the project since it started in June 2017.

The minister commended the contractor for bringing the project to fruition within 18 months. He challenged local engineers to rise to  salvage the nation from  foreign domination.

Amaechi said: “While praising the Chinese for their engineering prowess which has turned a rain forest into an emerging city, our engineers must see this as a challenge and save Nigeria from the clutches of foreign domination in the area of construction.

“This project is nearing completion. Right now, work has advanced and we are six kilometres away from Abeokuta. The contractors have assured me that we would be able to ride from Iju in Lagos, to Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital by the first week of January, 2019. The idea is to bring the vice president and some ministers to join in the ride.”

He said that once the track is flagged off, the route would be opened for passenger traffic, while efforts would be doubled to ensure that the standard gauge be taken to Ibadan.He said work would begin on the construction of stations immediately the project gets to Ibadan.

The minister said: “I directed that they should stop work on the stations and concentrate on the tracks. They should thereafter return to the project once the tracks have been laid to Ibadan.

“If the train gets to Ibadan by January, the government would continue to run free train ride from Iju to Ibadan, whether or not election is on, in line with presidential directive.

“We will start putting passengers as we test the tracks and they can stop anywhere they want to stop on the corridor up to Ibadan.”

He disclosed that the NRC would mobilise locomotives and coaches from the Abuja-Kaduna line, while the government awaits the delivery of the coaches from China.

Amaechi said the government already anticipates heavy traffic on the Lagos-Ibadan Standard gauge, a fact he said was responsible for requests by his ministry for the purchase of more locomotives and coaches to service the corridor.

Jibrin told reporters that the Transportation minister deserve commendation from the Federal Government on behalf of Nigerians for the extent of work achieved within the short period of time.

The lawmaker, who expressed excitement at the speed and pace of the project, wondered why the project has been under-reported, promising to personally make his impression known to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Jibrin said his committee was happy to have acceded to the minister’s invitation to witness the test run of the tracks.

“We want to assure the ministry and Nigerians that we would continue to support this project and do everything within our powers to ensure it comes to fruition,” Jibrin said.

Project coordinator Leo Yin said the CCECC had been working round the clock on the track.

“Since November, we have been working more at night, to ensure we meet the demands of the government,” Yin said.

He disclosed that the Chinese firm already employed over 9,000 workers among whom are engineers, and artisans on the project.

The minister stopped the tour at Odeda, Section III, Ogun State, where he went into a closed door session with the technical committee that went far into the evening.

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