By Mazi Ikechukwu Bismarck Oji, MNSE
On 9th March, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari performed the ground breaking ceremony of the Eastern Railway Corridor rehabilitation in Port Harcourt, Rivers State amidst mixed reactions stemming from the fact that the Eastern Railway corridor was to run on the obsolete narrow gauge track while the Western Railway corridor which had been started much earlier runs on the modern standard gauge track.
To some people from the Eastern flank of the country, that was poor but still commendable. After all, according to them, “half bread is better than nothing”. Invariably, they have accepted their fate as second class Nigerians.
The fact remains that the Eastern Railway Corridor/ Western Railway Corridor dichotomy is an official endorsement of “apartheid”, as being practiced in Nigeria today. Applauding that immoral act is as terrible as the act itself.
According to a Nenwe adage, “Ikwitikwiti nyuru ehu shi umirima ovu kuoru ya eka, ha shi ya odii, la a la-ekwehuru ive odjoo egwu” which can be translated thus: “The owl farted and asked her children to give her a round of applause but they said No, that evil is never to be applauded”.
Evil! That is the only word that can describe this “apartheid”, a situation where one segment of the country is superior and deserves standard gauge railway whereas the other segment is inferior and should make do with the obsolete narrow gauge railway.
The reason adduced by the Ministry of Transport for retaining narrow gauge in the Eastern Railway Corridor is ridiculous. There is no fund for the standardization of the Eastern Railway Corridor but there is fund for standardization of the Western Railway Corridor!
Somehow, the Nigerian Government negotiated with the Chinese Government for the funding of the Lagos-Ibadan railway section of the Western Railway Corridor at $1.5bn and the Ibadan-Kano section at $5.3bn, with Nigeria providing 15% counterpart funding. If what is good for the goose is still goose for the gander, the Nigerian Ministry of Transport ought to likewise negotiate the funding of the standardization of the Eastern Railway Corridor.
Again, there is funding for the Kano-Maradi modern gauge railway whose $2bn cost is being borne by Nigeria alone, not even both countries. This famed railway project terminates at Maradi, a town with the same population as Shagamu, Ogun State. Conversely, the African Regional Transport Infrastructure Network (ARTIN) advocates the joint venture funding model used in the Ethiopia /Djibouti rail project where each country financed its own section up to its border. As the funding was organized by KFW-IPEX Bank, the African Finance Corporation and Credit Suisse, why can’t the same consortium or another one fund the standardization of the Eastern Railway Corridor, a project with huge economic benefits as opposed to the Nigeria-Niger railway project which has doubtful economic value and is just being done on political grounds?
Besides, the Nigeria – Niger rail project is going on despite an African Development Bank (AfDB) Advisory to the contrary due to higher cost per kilometer compared to similar projects across Africa.
Yet again, the billions of dollars being sunk by the Federal Government into oil exploration in the North, in this era when oil is getting out of vogue, could have been used to fund the standardization of the Eastern Railway Corridor.
If sincerely, funding constraint is the reason for the Federal Government’s decision against the standardization of the Eastern Railway Corridor, why has the Government refused to implement the Orosanye Report on the Reduction of Cost of Governance? Its implementation would have cut the cost of governance by at least 40% and freed funds for the much needed infrastructural development.
Economically, there is no justification for the rehabilitation of the Eastern Railway Corridor narrow gauge instead of its standardization. Firstly, with transparency and due process, the fund earmarked for the rehabilitation of the Eastern Railway Corridor narrow gauge is enough for its standardization going by information from the African Development Bank (AfDB), that railway projects in Nigeria cost much more than similar projects in other parts of Africa per kilometer.
Again, the Eastern and Western Railway corridors intersect at Kafanchan. Technically, how will that be coordinated since both corridors are incompatible, one is modern and the other obsolete? As such, rehabilitation of the Eastern Railway Corridor on narrow gauge is a waste of resources and does not make economic sense.
Surprisingly, brother Chibuike is applauding this injustice being done to his people through his Ministry. Charity ought to begin at home. That is why an Nsukka dictum says, “A haaru m onwe m ekiri onye?” which can be translated as “Why should I admire others without first admiring myself?”
Also, in this era of regional integration and trade, Nigeria will not be getting the best from the African Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), if the Eastern flank of its railway architecture still runs on an obsolete technology, considering the fact that such ambitious projects as the Dakar – Djibouti African multimodal Transport Corridor is expected to run through the Eastern Railway Corridor. Most importantly, narrow gauge railway goes against the African Regional Transport Infrastructure Network (ARTIN) which Nigeria belongs to.
It is terribly surprising that the other parts of the country the Eastern Railway Corridor traverses are comfortable with the dichotomy, provided that Ndigbo gets shortchanged. Surely, it is “witchcraft” for a man to enjoy suffering just to ensure his “adversary” partakes in the suffering. If not, how can one explain the silence from the SMBLF with Pa E.K. Clarke, an Ijaw man as the Leader and Dr. Pitrus Pogu, Chairman, Middle Belt Forum and an indigene of Bornu State as one of the pillars?
Again, one may ask, where are the senators and governors from the affected zones and states? Why is the main opposition party, the PDP not spearheading a campaign against this “apartheid” and “man’s inhumanity to man” which is a brazen attempt to entrench the theory of 97% vs 5%?
Furthermore, in the spirit of the Embrace Across the Niger, one looks forward to the Yoruba nation lending their weight to condemning this “apartheid”, in spite of their not being directly affected. After all, “Injury to one is injury to all”
In view of this apartheid, how can one blame the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINAS) for its declaration of a Constitutional Force Majeur regarding the continued corporate existence of the Nigerian state, as presently constituted? Does this not justify the self determination agitation of various sections of Nigeria, especially the advocates of Biafra and Oduduwa republics?
According to an Igbo adage, it is only a tree that hears that it is about to be killed (cut down) and stays rooted.
Finally, mere rejection of this “apartheid” is not enough! Therefore, all men of goodwill in Nigeria must rise to condemn this “apartheid” and prevail on President Buhari and Minister Amaechi to commit to the standardization of the Eastern Railway Corridor.
Mazi Ikechukwu Bismarck Oji, MNSE
Ohanaeze Ndigbo Stakeholder since 2000. Publisher, hoo!haa!! Online Newspapers