By Ignatius Okorocha
The Senate on Tuesday, at plenary, urged the Executive arm of government to prioritize the commencement of the rehabilitation and concessioning agreement for the Eastern Corridor of railway line.
This is as the upper chamber has discovered that the neglect of the Eastern Corridor has robbed the country a whooping N10.4 billion annually from the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) Abia State alone.
The apex legislative also mandated its Committee on Land Transport to interface with the relevant Ministry and agencies of the Executive to facilitate the commencement of the Eastern Corridor.
It further mandated its Committee on Compliance to ensure that the resolutions taken by the lawmakers were complied with by the relevant MDAs, and to forward its report to the Senate in three weeks for further legislative action.
The Senate made this resolution while considering a motion on “urgent need to resuscitate and reactivate the rehabilitation and concession of the Eastern Rail line Project”, sponsored by the Chief Whip of the Senate and Senator representing Abia North Senatorial District, Orji Uzor Kalu, and co-sponsored by 102 other senators.
Presenting the motion, Kalu pointed out that it became imperative to propel the Executive to take the action in view of its huge revenue potentials to the national economy and for movement of people to reduce the burden on dilapidated roads within the Eastern axis of the country.
He lamented that the Eastern rail line had been denied similar attention given to Lagos-Kano (Western) rail line in spite of the fact that investigations revealed that the Eastern rail line remained the most lucrative route in Nigeria.
The politician also observed with dismay that in spite of being the most lucrative route in Nigeria and a distance of about 1402 km, having passed through Aba in Abia State, the commercial nerve center of the South East, the rail project was still left comatose.
Kalu pointed out that this negligence had resulted in Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) losing at least N10.4 billion each year since 2014, totaling N63.2 billion in the past six years.
He also expressed concerns that this colossal loss of revenue in this corridor and the attendant economic benefits that would be accrued notwithstanding, the commencement of the rehabilitation and concession of the Eastern Rail lines as entered by the Executive had not taken off.
The lawmaker further frowned that the Federal Executive Council was yet to give approval for the commencement of the project, saying that the situation left not just the government as losers but also all the host communities to the rail line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.
He noted that one of the greatest challenges facing the nation as an emerging economy was poor infrastructural development, pointing out that the movement of goods and persons from one point to another was becoming very cumbersome and hazardous in the region.
The politician observed that the Federal Government in recognition of the fact that there was dire need for transformation of the Nigerian railway system into a more dynamic and functional one, encouraged the use of rail to reduce road traffic congestion problems and open up the sector to private sector investment.
Kalu also noted that the Federal Government, in 2017, entered into an agreement with General Electric, a Boston, United States based company, under the Rehabilitation and Concessioning of Western and Eastern Railway lines to connect Abia, Rivers, Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Kwara, Kaduna, Katsina, Enugu, Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau, Borno, Yobe and Kano States.
He stated that while the Western lines of 1,126 km are from Lagos to Kano and to Nguru 230 km, Funtua I00km and Kaura Namoda 121 km, the Eastern lines are from Port Harcourt to Kaduna 915km, Maiduguri 706 km, and Jos 35 km.
The Whip further lamented that in spite of the fact that the railways are more efficient in haulage of bulk loads over long distances in environmental and economic ease including cargoes and petroleum products, the sector had suffered neglect.
He said that this neglect was worse on the Eastern rail line, which commences in Port Harcourt in Rivers State, passing through Abia State, Enugu, Benue, Kogi, Kaduna, Kano to Gombe and terminates in Maiduguri, Borno State capital.
Contributing in support of the motion, Senator Rochas Okorocha (APC, Imo West), said that Nigerian government should not go about governance in such a way that some sections of the country would be having a sense of being left out or marginalised.
He stated that prioritizing the Easter rail line would give the people from the region a sense of belonging, just as he said that the project, if completed, would help revolutionize the economy to the benefit of all the sections of the country.
Similarly, the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, while supporting the motion, said that constructing the Eastern rail Corridor would make movement of persons, goods and services from the East to other parts of the country and vice versa easier.