NATIONAL JOKE CALLED FEDERAL MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION.
“FG needs $656m to complete Lagos-Ibadan rail line – says Amaechi.”
PUNCH, November 7, 2020, p 7.
“FG plans multiple railway projects – Amaechi.”
VANGUARD, November 7. 2020, p 6.
If there is one Ministry and Minister which should by now constitute a major embarrassment to Nigerians and President Buhari, it has to be Mr Rotimi Amaechi and the Ministry of Transportation which he heads. Since 2017, when the Minister first made an announcement concerning the Lagos-Ibadan rail line, as well as others, the deadline and project cost had shifted at least twice a year. In fact, if there has been one promise consistently broken by the FG, apart from all the ones on budget, it is the Lagos-Ibadan rail line.
“You cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest.”
Louis M Howe, 1871-1936, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS,VBQ p 192.
Granted, the term a honest politician is a contradiction in terms. Lying occasionally is inextricably linked with the profession. The best of them therefore don’t release the same falsehood on the same subject repeatedly – especially after the second exposure. But, on the Lagos-Ibadan rail, Nigerians had been insulted with more of them than any other issue in recent memory. But, before taking readers down memory lane, there is a need to address and analyse the two statements credited to the Minister. I sincerely hope that none of his listeners believed him – because if they wait four or five months, he will have another story to tell about that rail line as well as others.
Depending on the exchange rate being used, $656m would mean anything from N280 to N320 billion more that would be needed to complete the line. Implied in the Minister’s statement is the fact that we don’t have the money. That we must go and borrow it is also a safe inference. Place those two facts against the FG’s plan to borrow, at least, N6tn next year, then the reader is faced with two possibilities. We will borrow more than N6tn next year or the rail line will remain as it is – uncompleted even in 2021. Already, it is certainly, not going to be commissioned this year.
“Liars ought to have good memories.” Algernon Sidney,1622-1683, VBQ p 127.
Nigerians need to return to the beginning of this endless rail project to understand the depth of deliberate deceit associated with it.
“Deliberately, the Federal government of Nigeria under the leaders mentioned has embarked on a project which, when completed, will serve as a lasting legacy to this administration, and one whose benefits will be enjoyed by generations yet unborn. For the first time in almost half a century, the Federal government has returned to the basics of mass transportation and re-discovered that the railway should be the backbone of transport in such a large country especially for long distance cargo and suburban commuter transport.
In early March of this year, Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo, representing Buhari who would have wanted to be present at this historic event, launched the Lagos-Ibadan commuter rail line – with construction to start immediately. Work is expected to be completed in eighteen months. When completed, the Lagos-Ibadan rail line will alter the pattern of life along the Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan route forever.”
From that time till today, the completion date had changed each time Amaechi opens his mouth to talk about it. The first completion date promised was September 2018. We are now in February 2020. Still no rail line. Among those duped by the Minister’s promises was Vice President Osinbajo who was given a “ride” during the campaigns. VP after the ride immediately announced that Buhari will open the line before the elections. Elections came and went a year ago. Still no rail line. Top journalists including the Chairman of the Editorial Board of a National newspaper and a former Managing director of DAILY TIMES were given the same run around in September last year. Then the service was promised for December. The Chair later wrote his usual hyperboles in praise of Amaechi Amaechi. December came and still no rail.
In October 2019, another group of unsuspecting Nigerians were given the Amaechi treatment by being taken round. This time, a curious thing happened. The Minister who had forgotten promises made to others declared that the line will be “ready in the first quarter of next year.”
First in 2017, based on an announcement from the Ministry, I wrote an article titled
The following paragraph from that article speaks for itself. In 2017, I believed Amaechi. But, not for long. Eighteen months from March 2017 meant completion by September 2018. Instead of a completed rail line, the deceptions started tumbling in one after the other.
Early this year, I tried in vain to draw the attention of President Buhari to how his Minister of Transportation has become such a compulsive dissembler and an embarrassment to any government which values its reputation. I might have been talking to a mule. But, given Amaechi’s latest effusions, fellow Nigerians need to be reminded about who is talking. The sanest response is not to believe Amaechi and be fooled like the VP and our media colleague – name withheld.
At any rate, with the request for $656m to finish the project, a figure which was not mentioned this time last year, it is obvious that the rail project will not be completed this year. Furthermore, depending on when the FG can raise the loan to finish it, the project might still be uncompleted by this time next year.
Despite all these broken promises, the Minister still went ahead to tell his listeners that the FG plans multiple rail projects. Those in the audience when he made that claim must be wondering if Amaechi was talking about the Buhari administration or another one. If it has taken almost four years to work on 120 kilometres of railroad – and it is still not finished – how long will be needed for 800 kilometres of rail line?
As it is, the Lagos-Ibadan rail line runs the risk of becoming an abandoned project if the $656m is not forthcoming any time soon. Even finding the funds will still not guarantee that the project will be completed before Buhari leaves office in 2023. The Chinese technical partners working on it left early this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic global lockdown. Information reaching us indicate that few of them are back in Nigeria; and the contractors are having a tough time recruiting replacements. If and when they are found, it will require some time for them to adjust to work in Nigeria. And, if that is not bad news enough, another round of COVID-19 lockdown is imminent globally. The Chinese, like everybody else will rather stay close to home.
Finally, when this particular rail line is completed, it will become the most expensive rail line per kilometre in the world. If it is not completed by the time Buhari leaves office, it will become the most expensive abandoned rail project in the world.
But, rest assured, none of those possibilities will deter Mr Amaechi from making another pronouncement next year on rail lines.