By Shu Lee
Thinking big is a smart path to national development. China has proved that in several sectors. For Nigeria, there are big ideas leaders are failing to advance or propagate. The two biggest Nigerian cities are Lagos and Kano. A high-speed rail connecting the two cities will change the trajectory of Nigerian development.
Kano has a rich heritage on the Trans –Sahara trade route with existing bustling industrial and commercial activities. Lagos is the commercial nerve centre of the country and a major trade hub for the whole of West Africa. Each city has nine million plus population. While Kano is gateway to the Sahel and the Sahara region, Lagos is a launching pad to greater West Africa sub-region. Linking the two cities with high-speed rail will immediately open up Kano and greater northern region for fast tracked development while expanding the role of Lagos as Nigeria’s magnet to commercially dominate the West African region.
By existing old narrow gauge railway, it takes 17 hours to reach Kano covering a total of 1,143 km.That service was down for larger part of the last two decades and its revival is still ongoing. The Nigeria Railway Corporation is running a Lagos –Kano service. The service is however too minimal and slow to ignite any serious economic miracle. The infrastructures are old and the stations along the line are rickety and ramshackle. The existing old narrow gauge has attracted the attention of the government, which has awarded a concession to a consortium now led by South Africa Transnet.
An SGR upgrade from existing cape gauge is the goal. The route is segmented into Lagos–Ibadan segment (156 km), Ibadan-Ilorin (200 km), Ilorin- Minna (270 km),Minna–Abuja and Kaduna-Kano (305 km). An incoming administration can take the initiative to a higher level. Why not renegotiate and convert the project to a high-speed one? As Nigeria is borrowing to fund the existing concession, why cannot the nation review contract with a PPP arrangement included to source for investors to foot the bill.
Astrategic engagement with the partners in the concession for Lagos Kano projectcan yield new results. When national leaders think big, your development partners will surely adjust. The Nigerian railway master plan is a good start.The problem is that it appears to be moderately ambitious. What of a mind,blowing improvement that is inclusive of high-speed rail plus rail connectivity to Benin republic, Cameroon from Adamawa state? Why cannot Nigeria promote a Trans –Sahara railway running from Lagos to Kano-Niger and ending at the Mediterranean Sea?
The designer of the master plan acted from the prism of state financing for the railway sector. Their thoughts are constrained by the reasoning that earnings from hydrocarbon is becoming challenged and that excessive borrowing can harm the economy. As true as those fears are, the nation can explore other options. A Nigeria styled road and belt master plan is sure to attract the attention and interest of Russia and China, two nations angling to invest in Africa.
Alongside the Eastern Railway corridor, a high-speed rail connection between Lagos and keno is a worthy agenda. The same argument can be advanced for the coastal rail from Lagos down to Akwa Ibom. Northern political elite are sure to be in power for the next four or so years. If they can achieve this infrastructural feat, they would have removed the developmental siege torturing the region since independence.
All technical details can be looked into. All factors can be assessed. Nigeria cannot take giant leap without equally exponential developmental thoughts.
*Lee is the Lagos based Managing Editor of Railway Business Magazine