…But said would only be sure if work commences, completes
Ben Eguzozie, in Port Harcourt
The Umuahia Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (UCCIMA), one of the city chambers in Nigeria’s South-East region, has lauded the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari for awarding the contract for the reconstruction of the Eastern rail corridor, a 1,443-km rail line, running from Port Harcourt southern port city (Rivers State) to Maiduguri in north-east (Borno State).
The rail line reconstruction would come with spurs in Awka (Anambra State), Owerri (Imo State) and Abakaliki (Ebonyi State).
Chidi Aruoma, president of UCCIMA, said, the federal government having at last decided to include the Eastern corridor of the railway line, and awarding its contract for commencement of its rehabilitation was commendable.
However, the Umuahia Chamber of Commerce boss said they would wait until work commences and eventually completed on the 1,443 km narrow gauge rail line. His uncertainty draws strength from the South-East region’s feeling of exclusion by the Buhari administration since assuming office in May 2015.
The $3 billion project to be handled by the China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) would cover a contract duration of 36 months, covering total route length of 2,044.1 km. The rail project would have 61 stations and loops. The track gauge is 1,067 mm narrow gauge. The design speed is 80 km/h single tract rail line.
The entire project involves reconstruction of the existing Port Harcourt – Maiduguri rail line, with building of Bonny Deep seaport in Bonny Island with rail connection, as well as building spurs at Awka, Owerri, and Abakaliki.
However, Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transportation, said, the federal government was beginning with the reconstruction phase; while the Enugu–Abakaliki and Port Harcourt–Owerri connecting spurs were still undergoing feasibility studies; and would be included later. He did not inform when that would be.
Amaechi’s caveat further strengthens South-East’s stakeholders’ fears of their exclusion refrain in the Buhari administration’s development programs since 2015. Many of them said they are quite unsure of the central government’s sincerity in actually including the region in the rail expansion program.
Aruoma said the move by President Buhari, if actually realized, would go a long way to boost the economy of the entire South East and South-South regions in particular, and Nigeria, in general.
He noted that the move would also reduce pressure on the roads in the two regions by haulage companies as many would prefer to use the rail transport to haul their goods. He said federal owned roads in the two regions were the worst, due to long neglect by mainly federal authorities.
However, UCCIMA advised the minister of transportation, Amaechi to ensure the eventual inclusion and completion of the Enugu—Umuahia—Aba and Port Harcourt—Owerri sections of the Eastern corridor rail system.
“When the rail system is working, business will thrive and boost the economy,” said Aruoma.
Onitsha inland port
Aruoma also appealed to the federal government to consider the final completion and operation of the Onitsha Seaport, which according to him, was strategic for South-East people who are predominantly business operators and entrepreneurs.
“The Onitsha Seaport would go a long way to serve Onitsha, Nnewi, Owerri, Aba and other parts of the South-East. They would heave a sigh of relief in transporting their goods, instead of going through the roads that are often in bad shapes,” the UCCIMA boss said.
He recalled that last year, he had condemned the federal government’s decision to run a rail line from Abuja to Benin Republic; and Kano to Maradi, Niger Republic querying the economic importance of such policy decision. He had also berated the central government for abandoning the Eastern rail corridor all these years, which had the potential of turnaround of the country economy.