By Joy Odor
The Senate has urged the executive arm of government to prioritise the commencement of the rehabilitation and concession agreement for the Eastern rail line project.
The resolution was sequel to a motion to that effect by the Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC Abia North) and co-sponsored by 102 other lawmakers during plenary.
The upper legislative chamber also mandated its Committee on Land Transport to interface with the relevant ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs of the federal government 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 turn in its report within three weeks for further legislative action.
Presenting the motion, Senator Kalu said it has become 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.
He 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.
The former Abia State governor 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.
Senator Kalu 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.
He 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 Chief 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 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, 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 (APC Ondo North), 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.