Eastern rail line: Amaechi appears before Senate Committee

Assures FG won’t exclude region from rail project

Abiodun Oba

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, on Tuesday appeared before the Senate’s joint committees on Land Transport and Local and Foreign Debts saying the Federal Government needed $12.8bn, about N9trn, to construct standard gauge rail lines from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.

He also blamed the National Assembly for stalling the project with its failure to approve the $30bn foreign loan requested for that purpose.

The committees are investigating the alleged abandonment of the Eastern rail lines in the rail revitalisation projects across the country.

The Senate had last week, mandated the  joint committees to summon the minister to clarify the alleged exclusion of Eastern rail line in the nationwide railway projects across the country, captured in the foreign loan obtained by President Muhammadu Buhari for that purpose.

Amaechi, however, assured the federal lawmakers that the Federal Government had no plan to exclude the region from the rail project.

He explained that the project had already been captured in the 2018 borrowing plans of the Federal Government, part of which was the $30bn foreign loan from China Exim Bank.

The minister said, “Let me make it clear that the country does not have the resources to do railway in every village. It is not possible. $2.7bn is N1trn.

“So, the railway you want to do from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri is about $12.8bn which is about N9trn, equivalent to one year budget of Nigeria.

“Therefore, everything is done systematically; we can’t do all the projects at the same time. What we are doing is as we get the loan approved, we execute the project. Currently, we are following due process for the one of South East.

“Currently we have placed an advertisement on the Eastern Rail lines. Sometime in 2017, we placed an advertisement for rail from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri and that is what the law expects us to do. We can’t skip the law on construction of standard gauge.

“Again, even the narrow gauge construction does not only concern the South East. The same narrow gauge transverses Port Harcourt to Maiduguri. I don’t know what other thing the Senate expects from me on this project except to say that it is work in progress.

“We are not magicians and the current law we have insists on the number of times we shall advertise a project, we completed the project we pass it to Bureau for Public Procurement, which in turn will be referred to us before we go to the cabinet for presentation and I think we are set to go to the cabinet for approval.”

Amaechi explained that although the required design for the project has been done, approval for both the design and costing were being delayed by bureaucratic bottleneck caused by the Public Procurement Act.

He added, “The Public Procurement Act is very tedious and it takes a long time to conclude the process which must be followed because President Buhari had always insisted that the rule of law be followed to the letter.

“The President insists on rule of law and the law passed by the National Assembly in terms of public procurement is very tedious and not easy to conclude; it takes a very long time.”

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