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MR. PRESIDENT, WHERE IS KANO-KADUNA RAIL?

In July last year, this Column commended this Administration’s foresight in reviving two major standard rail infrastructure projects; the Lagos-Kano Railway and the Coastal Railways. The Column went further to advocate that, at least for the Lagos-Kano, the project should start from BOTH ENDS, i.e. Lagos-Ibadan and Kano-Kaduna, so that when the next phases of the project commence, the lines could meet somewhere in the centre, perhaps around Jebba. That way, we argued, there would be economics of scale in the jobs that will be created.

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Many things have happened since that advocacy, but I did not bother readers with the details because I believed the assurances I got. But let me tell a bit of what transpired; first, a minister from these parts (said to be very close to the Villa) was reported by a mutual friend to have said that President is very aware of the Kano-Kaduna part, and something is being – will be – done about it. Then I also personally shared that advocacy with another top official who has the The Excellent Ear. This second person also assured me that something is being – will be – done about it. It is fifteen months since that advocacy and, actually, I am afraid “nothing” is being done about anything.

Then yesterday, Friday, this newspaper carried a front page story titled “FG Needs $16bn for Railway Projects – Amaechi”. Illustrated with copious infographics, the story goes: “President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday summoned the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, over the $16 billion rail projects in the country.

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Addressing State House correspondents after the meeting, Amaechi admitted that there were ‘issues around the transport [sector]’ that he had to discuss with the president. According to the minister, President Buhari’s blood pressure will rise if he does not brief him about the progress in the railway subsector.

“[The Minister] recalled that an approval had been given for the eastern flank of the railway modernisation ‘which has to do with from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri cutting across Aba, Owerri, Enugu, Umuahia to Makurdi, to Abakiliki, and to Awka, Lafia down to Bauchi, Gombe, Yola and to Damaturu and ends at Borno. That is why I was summoned. Don’t forget that the president sleeps and wakes up thinking about railway and if his BP will not rise, I must see him and tell him how far we’ve progressed. Once he hears that progress is being made he feels a bit happy…’” 

The story continued for a reasonable length, but it meandered, like the Old Gauge Amalgamation Locomotive Rail Line, around the new standard Lagos-Ibadan and Coastal Line projects and the concessioning of the almost moribund century old narrow gauge. Any reference to the advocated Kano-Kaduna standard gauge was not specific, as it was only in passing, and only in relation to a new, trumpeted line to “Daura”.

Mr. President, I am sorry about your blood pressure, but “young” that I am, I also suffer from it. Therefore, Sir, hold tight and keep calm and listen to this lament – my own briefing of your good self – which may have been unintentionally omitted by the Honourable Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi, on the Kano-Kaduna axis, as the Minister had said in that story that he briefed you on the Kano-Maradi in Niger Republic line…and about the current activities on the Lagos-Ibadan axis…

Mr. President, Kano-Maradi cannot happen BEFORE Kano-Kaduna.

The Minister has been running from pillar to post to kick-start the Lagos-Ibadan axis of this gigantic, commendable project. The Chinese money is in place. The Nigerian counterpart funding is also in place. A certain engineering hiccup is what is said to be holding things up. But this Column restates: we are happy Lagos-Ibadan will get standard gauge soon, and Calabar-Uyo-Aba-Port Harcourt soon thereafter. But the Northern end should also begin at the same time.

I don’t blame the minister; it is very likely Mr. Amaechi may settle down in Lagos in the long run, with a second address in Abuja. However, the President may very likely retire to Kaduna, with frequent trips up North to Daura, mostly via Kano. And neither do I blame super-Minister Fashola on concentrating his attention on the Lagos-Ibadan road as priority project; it deserves such attention. Both their geographical compasses points southwards, for not fault of theirs. But the Lagos-Ibadan rail and road axis has a twin; the Kano-Kaduna rail and road.

This latter (the Kano-Kaduna road), is begging, nay screaming, for attention. Wallahi only a few days ago I was driving the family to Zaria from Kano to visit an ill niece when a pothole around Kofa put paid to my car. It has now taken (‘eaten’ is more like it) more than One Hundred Thousand Naira (N100,000) to put right, and it’s still not right, as the mechanic has warned I should not drive far off. Meaning, Kano-rooted.

Still on geography, for example, Amaechi seems not to understand the difference between the Kano-Daura and Kano-Katsina roads, as he continues to confuse himself, and me, and all others, about his newly-announced Presidential Palliative of the Kano-Daura and Kano-Jibia and Kano-Katsina and Daura-Maradi train. Mightily confusing. But before the train reaches Daura, Sir, it has to be brought from Kaduna to Kano. And we so love Daura wallahi, our Hausa Bakwai Mother. 

And the Minister should not ‘over-wayo’ himself and us by throwing up the Abuja-Kaduna train as counter-balance for the Lagos-Ibadan line. Because it is not. The counter-balance is the Kano-Kaduna line, which the minister is not talking about except in the breach.

Where are the Governors of the two directly-affected states on this matter? Where are their influential Emirs? Where are the Senators and House of Representatives Members? Is it that they are all mis-briefed as well? Or intimidated to silence? This column will not keep silent on this matter – I have been hammering on it since 2007 when former President Obasanjo flagged it off.

And where are the other Northern Governors and Traditional Rulers and Senators and Reps: ignore this matter at our collective peril – if they don’t start the Kano-Kaduna line, when do you think the standard rail will reach Sokoto and Jalingo and Damaturu and Lokoja? When? It was planned to be a 25-year project from 2007, but we have now lost 10 precious years, courtesy of late President Yar’adua. And we are set to lose more.

So please Mr. President, when they come with such briefing, don’t listen to any Kano-Daura or Kano-Jibia to Maradi – that is supposed to be a spur of the Kaduna-Kano line. Let them talk about that. What is happening to it? 

And Mr. Fashola, the Kano-Kaduna-Abuja highway is not only bad, it is dead. You have just got N100 billion from that Sukuk Offering. Congratulations. So we are waiting. And I suggest they close Abuja Airport again, for any reason. In fact, even for no reason. Some noise has been made that repairs would soon start on the Kano-Kaduna highway, but its extension, the Kaduna-Abuja end, is now afflicted not only by Post-Airport-Closure potholes but by kidnappers and so-called urchins and potential rail robbers who throw stones at the Abuja-Kaduna train, and on to the tracks. Kai!

To sum up, let us all scream – the new Kano-Lagos rail project MUST BEGIN FROM BOTH ENDS, Lagos-Ibadan and Kano-Kaduna! On these matters, silence could only be at our peril, wallahi! And if this project is “dividends of democracy”, it will help to check number of votes given to form this government. 

We don’t want to ‘push the vehicle and end up with a wave of dust’ or, more bluntly, with kuturun bawa! Or no bawa at all!

 

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