The Rail Line to Maradi by Shaka Momodu

Just when one thought this government has reached the zenith of its failings, misgovernance, lurid melodrama, not-so-hidden agendas – such as the Grazing Bill, Cattle Colony, Ruga, now disguised as the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), the National Water Resources Bill, the government just escalated its tragic follies, buffeting us by another contentious and insane project close to the heart of President Muhammadu Buhari, the rail line from Katsina to Maradi in Niger Republic. In tow are willing accomplices to help him implement his bizarre agendas.

Fellow Nigerians, it is not a coincidence but a testament to his persona that all Nigeria’s ills or the failings of General Buhari’s regime when he was a military head of state between 1983 and 1985 are present today with terrible ferocity. It is noteworthy that in his second coming, Buhari first showed his cards while waiting to be sworn in as president in 2015. His very first and urgent act was to prepare a grazing bill which was to be sent to the National Assembly and has, despite strong opposition from other stakeholders, stubbornly stayed true to that agenda under different guises. Nigerians are paying a huge price for electing a ruthless ethnic marksman as president. His actions beat his own worst record of why he should never have been president of a diverse country as Nigeria and have made even his greatest critics and supporters alike numb with shock and disbelief. Now, some of the political/intellectual colossi that provided him vital bulwark of support in 2015 are regularly criticising him from the rooftops as a failed president.

If this brief walk down memory lane gives you hives, his past should have forewarned you of what was to come. Today, we have become frozen in an endless nightmare as Buhari systematically knocks down the walls, brick by brick of this edifice called Nigeria. There is no retelling here, how perilous the state of affairs has become for our country, brought about by the maniacal passion of one man still romanticizing the ancient history of conquest – where human life counts for less than that of a cow, where arson, killings, destruction of properties and raping of women as booties of war are celebrated and recognised as heroic matador.

Having surrendered to Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the nation has just realised albeit belatedly that Niger Republic is competing with it for the president’s attention.

Buhari’s fascination with Niger Republic started in his first year in office. In November 2015 to be precise, the then Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the late Maikanti Baru, announced with glee that the federal government would build 1,000 kilometres of pipeline from Agadam in Niger Republic, to supply crude oil to Kaduna refinery. This was just barely six months of the government in the saddle.

Baru had said then that high-level contacts had been made with Niger Republic on the possibility of importing crude from the country. This was how he stated it: “President Muhammadu Buhari has made several contacts with the President of Niger Republic. We are talking with the Niger ministry of petroleum. We are also talking with the Chinese Company operating in Agadam.”

Now, this should worry you if Nigeria means anything to you and the honour of the fatherland counts for anything. Niger’s total petroleum refining capacity is 20,000 barrels per day, which exceeds their 6,050 barrel per day domestic consumption. It is instructive that Nigeria continues to throw billions of dollars on endless turnaround maintenance of its obsolete refineries, but poor Niger Republic has built its refinery in less than three years, attracting the attention of “rich” Nigeria which is now spending billions of naira to build 1,000 kilometres pipeline to pipe oil from there to Kaduna refinery. If this was conceived as an escape route from the sabotage of pipelines by the Niger Delta militants, they better have a rethink because the more armed Boko Haram which has turned into a Frankenstein’s monster, is lying in wait for them in that part of the country. So it is futile escapism from the Niger Delta agitation. Anyway, why should you spend billions of naira to build new pipelines to feed crude to a “worthless” refinery in a perpetual state of turnaround maintenance and empower Niger Republic economically in a bid to dodge the Niger Delta issue? Some things are just stranger than fiction in this clime.

Sometimes you don’t know whether to cry for this country or laugh at its stupidity. There is a saying in the land of my fathers that “you never really know what stupidity is until we have experimented on yourself”. With mouth agape, we are experiencing tonnes of stupidity from this government. And according to Oscar Wilde, “The only thing that ever consoles a man for the stupid things he does is the praise he always gives himself for doing them.” I have been struggling to find the economic rationale for this project beyond the nihilist desire of one man; a man whose contempt and disdain for Nigeria’s diversity have become an inordinate obsession to drag the country back to the medieval era.

In continuation of its many actions that defile reason, this government last week through the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, told a bewildered nation that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved $1.95 billion for the construction of Kano-Dutse (Jigawa)-Katsina-Jibia–Maradi (Niger Republic) rail line project.

Well, was it not Elbert Hubbard who warned mankind that genius may have limitations but stupidity is not so handicapped? At a time of severe economic downturn when there are all kinds of restrictions on forex use or transfers, when revenue is at 60 per cent reduction, when the government just removed subsidy on petrol consumption, when electricity tariffs have just been increased by over 100 per cent, when foreign and local debts have reached unprecedented levels never before seen in our history, this insensitive government announced it had approved nearly $2 billion to construct rail line to Maradi.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was on point when he stated that “nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”. What is the economic benefit of this multi-billion naira investment? What is the trade volume between Nigeria and the Republic of Niger? Something is certainly wrong with the people in power in Nigeria.

Contrast the zeal exhibited by this government to build the rail line to Maradi with the lacklustre attitude to the Lagos-Ibadan expressway that has been under construction for the past six years with no end in sight. Take a drive through the economically strategic Lagos-Badagry Expressway and feel the horror of Nigeria, like everyday Nigerians who have to commute that road every day and imagine the nightmarish experience they endure. This road connects the Seme Border and is of great economic importance to Nigeria. In terms of revenue, more than 55 per cent of Nigeria’s intra West African trade passes through that border, compared to less than 5 per cent through the border with Niger Republic. So, it is curious, very curious, that Buhari is so focused on Niger Republic.

Sani Bala, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Establishments, who led the House Committee on oversight visit to the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), recently lamented the five-hour trauma his delegation experienced on the Lagos-Badagry road thus: “We have passed through the road and discovered that the expressway is not even from one state to another state but an international road which needs federal government’s attention.

“We will try and see other members of the committees on Appropriation and Works to see what they can do to actualise the Lagos-Badagry Expressway project.

“There is no way ASCON and other establishments will function well when the road that should take just 45 minutes now takes between four and five hours.

“Not to talk of the trauma and fatigue one passes through while plying the road. The stress is too much.”

The federal government on October 24, 2018 awarded the reconstruction of the 46km Agbara–Seme section of Badagry expressway to CGC Nigeria Limited at a sum of N63.2 billion. But a paltry N280 million was allocated to the construction in this year’s budget; an amount Bala described as “a mere joke which cannot go anywhere”.

Instead of fixing the all-important economic artery which will fetch more money for the country, Buhari would rather borrow $2 billion to build a rail line through vast barren uninhabited lands to Maradi with little or no economic benefits to Nigeria. What about the East-West road which has remained a caustic shame?

Buhari unlike Bala is not bothered, it is the rail line to Maradi in Niger Republic, with dubious economic value he is more interested in.

Who would forget in a hurry that during the 2019 presidential campaigns, Buhari welcomed the open endorsement of two governors from Niger Republic, Issa Moussa of Zinder and Maradi State Governor, Zakiri Umar? They participated in Buhari’s Kano campaign rally. If that was not interference in our electoral process, someone should tell me what it was. Yet the nation shrugged off the violations. I leave you to connect the dots. It was the Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who once described Buhari as a man the nation cannot call to order. Yes, despite all his transgressions against this country that has given him so much, he continues to act in a manner that leaves no one in doubt that he does not believe in this country. Or that the country only exists to satisfy his medieval interests.

Rotimi Amaechi’s Defence

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, on ARISE NEWS yesterday, after some days of silence following the outcry and outrage that greeted his announcement, finally found his voice to defend the Maradi rail line. As usual, he came short on specifics, but long on monologue. According to him, the motivation behind the $2 billion rail line to Maradi was purely driven by economic reasons, not politics and defended its viability.

“We last week awarded the contract for Kano to Maradi and people were complaining. It’s important we take it to Niger Republic because of economic reasons. Most coastal countries in Africa are competing better than us in terms of cargoes coming from the land locked countries around us.

“We decided to join the market and compete so that we can make the Lagos seaport very viable. Since they cannot use our roads due to crime as well as customs and police checkpoints, we decided to introduce the Kano-Maradi rail line. So it is about economics and development and not politics,” Amaechi said.

Now we all know these people are not so foresighted in their development plans as the minister suddenly wants Nigerians to believe. As convenient as his illogical economic reasons may sound, they are mere smokescreen to deceive Nigerians. The Lagos seaports, Apapa Port and Tincan Island that will become “very viable” from the rail line because of added volume of trade traffic from Niger Republic as the minister claims, are in a deplorable state. Apapa seaport was built in 1921, while Tin Can Island Port was constructed in 1981 and opened in 1997. The roads to both ports are a mess. Reconstruction works going on on some of the roads have lasted an interminable amount of time. The state of infrastructure around the ports is a tragic referendum on the bad leadership of this country. The attendant massive economic losses suffered by both the government and the private sector are incalculable. The losses to massive traffic congestion, massive environmental rot and decaying infrastructure that cannot support a rising economic power in the near future run into billions of Naira daily. Yet the Minister of Transportation under whose purview the ports fall, is more interested in a rail line to a land locked poor country with near zero economic value to Nigeria, just to satisfy his boss’ unexplained motives.

The ports have largely remained in the same state since their inauguration with minimal upgrade. No major expansion or modernization has been carried out to match the growing size of the economy over the years and bring them at parity with international competition even though vast revenues are daily generated by the government from the ports.

The handling capacity of the ports in Nigeria is put at 60 million metric tonnes, while demand and usage is about 100 million metric tonnes. These are expected to rise with the increasing population, urban expansion and attendant demand for more markets.

The cargo throughput handled in the ports increased from 66,908,322 metric tonnes in 2009 to 74,910,282 metric tonnes in 2010, indicating a 12 per cent jump. Is Mr Amaechi preparing for the challenges of an expanding economy where the role of the ports is inevitably bound to be more crucial than ever? Nothing he has done by way of anticipatory policy formulation shows that he understands the changing economy dynamics.

Apapa Port, which is the largest in the country, is a river port with a very low draft of about 10 metres. Tincan Island port, which is close to Apapa in size, is also a river port with the same draft level.

Large vessels cannot call at the ports because of this situation. Benin Republic and Ivory Coast have better sea ports than Nigeria with 18 metres draft hence the reason larger vessels call at those ports and then do transshipment to Nigeria. Many of the cargo ships heading to these two countries actually carry goods meant for Nigeria. This should make every patriotic Nigerian feel ashamed..

Mr Minister of Transportation, am I making sense here? Why not dredge our ports to a depth of 20 metres draft or more so that larger vessels that currently prefer to go to Benin Republic and Ivory Coast because of the low draft of our ports, can begin to come to Nigeria? Don’t you know how much revenue Nigeria is losing to Benin Republic and Ivory Coast because of the low draft of our ports?

Mr Minister, why leave the big pile to chase peanuts? If you modernise our ports to international standards and transform them to ports of reckon, Nigeria will surely experience big economic benefits far more than your ridiculous coastal benefits from your nebulous rail line to Maradi. I am sure $2 billion will go a long way to transforming these strategic seaports rather than waste it on a rail line to nowhere. Your defence of Buhari’s rail line to Maradi smacks not only of willful complicity, but of deliberate misinformation about the accruing benefits. This is possibly the worst kind of misinformation dished out to the public on what clear will end up a white elephant.

The question still floating in the air is: What is the volume of trade between Nigeria and Niger Republic that Nigeria is looking to tap into with a $2 billion rail line? That is the million dollar question everyone is asking you and your government. We need answers not posturing. In the absence of any good economic reason, the balance of probability weighs heavily on politics in furtherance of unexplained affinity to that country.

‘Building Nigeria of Our Dreams’: North 535, South 93

Buhari is building the Nigeria of our dreams so said former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the early days when Buhari had clearly begun to unfold his ethnic agenda. Now, all pretences are off in his quest for northern dominance.

The latest news in town ticks the box of the ethno-religious agenda of this government. It is about secret recruitments into the Department of State Services (DSS) by the Director General, Mr Yusuf Magaji Bichi.

Where 535 persons from the North were recruited, only 93 from the entire South were recruited. Even more ridiculous is the fact that Bichi recruited 71 of the 535 from his own local government. Take another look at the numbers, and ask yourself who these people are and what their intentions for Nigeria really are. When is enough really enough for these people?

Unfortunately as stated earlier, this follows the Buhari template of ethnic dominance – that has been the hallmark of his entire life and public career. Unfortunately, the danger signals were all too visible from the get-go. Many gullible young Southerners were too naive to see beyond the surface of the very bad product sold to them by Bola Ahmed Tinubu and co. They championed the Change agenda and sloganeered Sai Baba all the way. A change so rotten that it is choking Nigeria to death.

Well, everything has exploded in their faces. All we are hearing from them now are quiet murmurs of lamentation. Unmoved, Buhari is tightening the screws on Nigeria.

Let me leave you with the timeless wise words of Avijeet Das: “We face many storms in life. And every storm that we face changes us!” for good or bad, this storm will surely end someday.

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