Africa: Rising Insecurity, Paucity Of Funds may hamper completion of Kano-Kaduna Rail project in Northern Nigeria

insecurity

The rising spate of insecurity in the northern Nigeria especially in Kaduna which has witnessed series of attackes from bandits, coupled with the paucity of fund may derail the Kano-Kaduna Rail project.

According to a report by ABDULWAHAB ISA and REGINA OTOKPA published newtelegraphng.com, the Nigerian Railway Modernisation Project currently being undertaken by a Chinese company, CCECC Nigeria Ltd. has successfully executed some rail projects in Nigeria. But the ongoing Kano-Kaduna rail construction scheme appears to have been hampered by insecurity and poor availability of funds.

Nigeria, like many developing countries, is confronted with a deficit of modern infrastructure, which helps keep the economy alive. One of such infrastructure is a functional, efficient and convenient railway channel, linking its major commercial cities to further promote socio-economic activities through transportation of passengers and promotion of freight exchange between cities to meet the demands for a rapid sustainable national socio-economic development.

Committed to actualising its 25-year rail development vision aimed at consolidating the huge economic, commercial and cultural ties between the Northern and the Southern parts of the country, the Federal Government and the CCECC Nigeria Ltd., a Chinese company, signed the Kano to Ibadan corridor with an agreement it will be implemented in three addendums.

The first is the 460 kilometers from Ibadan to Minna, 127 kilometers from Minna to Abuja and 203 kilometers from Kano to Kaduna. In all, this segment will traverse Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Niger, Abuja, Kaduna and Kano states. So far, CCECC Nigeria Limited has completed and handed over four major railway projects; the Abuja Metro of about 37km, the 186km Abuja-to Kaduna railway, the Ajaokuta-Itakpe-Warri 326km railway project and the Lagos-Ibadan project of 156km, with an extension of another 7km. However, the yet to be completed Kano to Kaduna segment with six stations, is one of the most important passenger transportation corridors in the Railway Modernisation Project.

It was conceived to connect the main cities with dense populations in Northern Nigeria, especially Kano, the largest city and commercial hub in the North and in due course, connect to the major towns down South. It is on record that the South has a relatively developed economy and high urbanisation rate, while the North on the other hand, is dominated by agriculture and animal husbandry with a weak economic foundation.

However, the passenger and freight transportations between the South and the North are mainly undertaken by road. Sadly, the economic contact between cities in the North and all other parts of the country is restricted by unwanted conditions, which constitutes a barrier to seamless and efficient high-quality traffic necessary to drive the development of traditional industry and domestic industrialisation process needed for the sustainable and rapid development of Nigeria’s economy.

If completed, the Kano to Kaduna standard gauge railway will, as conceived, bridge the existing gaps and strengthen contact and exchange in areas with backward economies, driving the economic development in backward areas. It is expected to also play an extremely important role to make up for the unevenness of economic and social development between regions, strengthen the coordinative development of regional economy in the North, and greatly improve the transportation efficiency of Abuja-Kano railway.

It is equally expected to meet the demand for medium to long-distance as well as large-density transportation service, especially the movement of passenger and freight trains on the Lagos-Kano rail link. According to CCECC’s Kano to Kaduna project coordinator, Mark Xu, the idea of the Lagos to Kano standard gauge railway project with a design speed of 150 km/ was primarily to bridge the gap of infrastructure in Nigeria.

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It will also promote and integrate economic development by linking the seaport in the South to the dry port in the North. He added that the approximately 200.11km Kaduna to Kano segment of the entire project will provide the northward extension of Abuja-Kaduna Railway. Xu, who noted that after completion, there will be a great improvement in transportation efficiency of Abuja to Kano Railway to meet the demand for medium to long-distance and large-density transportation service in Nigeria.

He added that it would further promote the service capability of transportation infrastructure, improve the national railway network, and optimise the regional comprehensive transportation system. He said: “Kano is among one of the most important cities in Nigeria as is Kaduna and Abuja, with many heavy industries lined up.

This will promote and foster integrated economic development, boost the local economy, accelerate the transportation of commodities and bring about industrialisation and urbanisation of Nigeria because once the railway becomes operational; all the economic centres will draw close to the railway.

“This might also boost the economy for mass goods from the angle of transportation cost which equally has a positive impact on economic development. ”This is going to play an important role in strengthening the links between coastal port cities and other inland areas, promoting the export of agricultural and mineral products, and transporting imported materials to the inland areas.

It is the most reliable, most efficient means of transportation. “The operation of this rail line will facilitate mass movement of passengers, particularly the middle-class Nigerians, which is arguably the largest in number. It will reduce the traffic pressure on the road, lower the rate of road accidents and promote safety of travelers.

The project construction will help increase the service level of transportation infrastructure and build a national railway backbone network. “In terms of Cargo, the project will help to build the railway collecting and distributing system at rear areas of Lagos Port, facilitate the development of the port and promote the development of an export-oriented economy along the line. “With regards to states linked by this line, the project will help promote resource development, industrialisation and urbanisation along the line, and facilitate economic development of states along the region.

“It is of great significance to strengthen the links between the states along the line, enhance the radiation effect of the central city Lagos on the northern region, and promote the harmonious development of the regional economy.” An on-site visit to some of the stations under the Kano to Kaduna standard gauge railway project showed the scope of work to include subgrade construction, bridges and culverts, track laying, beam plant, station building, power supply, communication signal-ling system among others.

The project manager, Earth moving team, Jiao Xing Jun, noted that the production of rail, beam and sleeper as well as the installation of the tracks, machine and traction in the six stations under the Kano to Kaduna project, was 30 per cent completed.

Offering an explanation on the quantity of essential materials used for rail construction, the Project Manager Track team, Site 4, Zhang Jian Hang, disclosed that after conveying the raw materials from Lagos seaport to the plant yard by road, at least two pieces of beam are produced daily, about 60,000 sleepers are produced in a month and covers 37 kilometers however, 1.5 kilo of rail is produced in a day.

This is possible with a 24 hour active work, achieved through morning and night shifts. However, given the poor voltage and erratic power supply in the country, CCECC is forced to use generators to power the plant in order to meet up with the allotted time for the project. Unfortunately, the project is beginning to attract extra costs due to the rise in diesel price in the country.

What is most important however is that CCECC has kept to the terms of agreement in engaging a higher percentage of local content in terms of resources sourced locally in Nigeria, as well as the utilisation of local manpower to create opportunities for technology transfer. According to Xu, due to the huge infrastructural demand of the project, the locals stand a better chance to benefit more from the project during and after its completion.

“The project also has a direct impact on the locals. It has provided jobs for thousands of people in remote areas, someone in Yako Village for example, won’t have to come to the city to seek a job; job meets them at their door steps. Some of the people are already enjoying the benefits or maybe, have already improved their livelihood.

“Due to the nature of sophisticated equipment used, the project hits the nail on skill acquisition, which entails teaching more youth machine operation. Currently, we have employed over 3000 local staff and, according to the work progress, the number of direct local employees may reach 23,000.

On the other hand, the local inhabitants along the railway involved in the project may reach the same amount for business and services in kinds. “Even though the global chain supply is greatly impacted by both COVID-19 and global energy shortage, we make great endeavour to mobilise the equipment, personnel as well as material storage for our project with the great support by Our Employer (FMoT). Currently we have already dispatched over 1700 equipment and machineries to the site and employed over 3000 local staff from skilled labor to senior staff.

Furthermore, we purchased a great portion of local content from the local community and market including cement, sand, gravel, reinforcement bar, etc.

“The gain of working with this establishment does not only circle around the individual, but has a significant influence on the family too. When people are employed they will be able to provide for their children and themselves. Creating jobs is a keystone of any economic recovery programme.

“Economically, the employment that CCECC provides, yields income to poor families, revives domestic demand for goods and services, and stimulates overall growth. This employment brings steady earnings, thereby increasing spending. And this will cause a positive multiplier effect, which helps to increase economic growth.

“Socially, employment can also promote social healing and wellbeing, and improve social welfare in the long run. The Railway Modernisation Project currently handled by CCECC Nigeria Limited has brought unemployment reduction and lowers poverty rate.”

To aid in the transfer of technology and groom indigenous experts to run the operations in future, CCECC‘s social responsibility programme currently focuses on railway sustainability such as the construction of Transport University and Wagon Assembling Plant in Katsina and Ogun states respectively.

In addition, 295 students have been sponsored to study Railway and Civil Engineering in China, over 1000 local employees have so far been trained at different levels to ensure the operation and maintenance work in the future, and 45 students with Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, were sponsored to complete their bachelor’s degree in China. “Those 45 students came back in 2020 with respective degrees in Civil Engineering, Traffic and Transport Engineering, and Traffic, Equipment and Control Engineering.

They were exposed to first hand technology to curb the operation and maintenance lapses in the railway sector. “This is typically a technology transfer covering civil engineering, mechanical and electrical. These students are expected to come back and take over lecturing in the Transport University,” Xu explained.

One of the 45 beneficiaries, Abba Adamu Lawal, a graduate of Track Irregularity Analysis, is currently attached to the company since he came back in 2020. “It was actually the first joint degree programme in Nigeria. We were selected from ABU after we completed our 300 level to move to China and study railway engineering.

This made it five years because we completed two years in China. “For the company, they have already acquired their knowledge from where they got it from and now they are transferring it to us; it means they can finish their construction and move to China. They will leave us here with the project and that means we can maintain it.

Railway has come to stay and with time we will get so many experts in railway.”

Excited with the socio-economic benefits and empowerment opportunities the project has thrown at the locals, traditional custodians of Madobi and Gimi in Kano and Kaduna states respectively, stated that unlike the past where the indigenes depended solely on subsistence farming following the difficulty of easy transportation of agricultural and livestock products, the railway once completed would avail communities an opportunity of engaging in economic and commercial activities to boost their standards of living.

The District Head of Madobi community, Musa Saleh Kwankwaso, in Madobi Local Government Area of Kano State, noted that “The railway project is a good development that will improve the livelihood, security and economy of our people because many are farmers, and cattle rearers.

“Besides employing most of our people as drivers, labourers and as other staff, they are buying laterite from our people. Our people are benefiting because they are also purchasing the lands at a very good price.

We are very grateful for the economic and social impact on our economy. “There is good cooperation between us and they are very accommodating and peaceful. They have 24 hours access to me and we are always ready to assist them because they are our guests. We have to provide them with an atmosphere that will allow them to do their work diligently and peacefully.”

In like manner, the traditional leader of Gimi-Gari community under Makarfi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Abdullahi Ibrahim, noted that besides employing the many idle youths in the community, the project has further assisted locals from other communities who do not reside close to the track sites, through the fast growing business of ” buying and selling. They are not only helping my community and my people, but the entire region.

Imagine when they are through and trains begin to pass through here. We are sure our lives will be better for it.” However, the monarchs raised concerns that it was evident the poor availability of funds, and the heightened cases of insecurity were already posing a threat to the completion and execution of the project.

They expressed worry that the locals were beginning to draw back from working on the project for fear of losing their lives, following recent attacks on some train stations and communities nearby in recent weeks.

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Kwankwaso said: “In spite of the insecurity challenge in the country, they still go ahead with their work; they are taking their work without any fear. We try our best to make sure they are safe but there is little we can do. Government should give them more security to protect them from any harm so that the work can go very smoothly.

“The Federal Government should also make available the needed funds to make sure this project is completed under the stipulated time period in the contract because any delay attracts some additional cost variation and a lot of losses add damages.

“So, I’m appealing to the Federal Government to make sure they attend to all their bills or all their certificates so that they can get their parts on time in order to complete this project in time so that we the community will benefit from this project.

“Even now that it’s still under construction we have started benefitting more when it is completed so the Federal Government and anybody concerned should put heads together and make available the needed funds on time.” A local, who works at the site but declined mention in print for security reasons, noted that there have been recurrent attacks close to the construction site.

He said: “Insecurity is on the rise around our construction site, especially in the Kaduna area. However, we still mobilise and coordinate every resource to focus on construction day and night by double shift.

“When we see the courage of our employers, the Chinese, how they are committed to the project even though the attacks are getting closer by the day; only a few days ago there was an attack about 20 kilometers away from here. There are days when they ask us not to come to work or pass certain security messages to us. On such days nobody argues because we all know the security situation in the country right now is frightening.

“Even though we have some security personnel here to protect us, we are appealing to the government to better secure this place if not we may have to forget the money we are getting because we are scared, this place is becoming very dangerous and most of us are beginning to think twice except government do something and fast.”

Xu, humbled by the perception the people and their leaders have of the CCECC, said although the security challenges in the country, especially the North was worsening by the day and funding was beginning to be a bit of a challenge due to governments struggle to attend to too many national issues.

The company was committed to finish what they have started believing that the end product of their sacrifices would make life more meaningful for the people and also further develop the region and the country at large.

According to him, the government, security operatives including the military, and police as well as the communities in Kano and Kaduna have been very helpful in ensuring the safety of not just the CCECC direct staff comprising both Chinese and some of the indigenes. But also the safety of the locals and every other group engaged indirectly in making the project a reality.

“The government is struggling with lack of money for the payment of machinery but we still try to mobilise our personnel, labour payment, machinery and every other thing we need to meet the project’s demand and we’ve continued to follow security conditions. We are not resting on oars; we will double our efforts and continue to work harder on this project despite the challenges.

“We are doing our best to ensure the insecurity and funding or impact of the COVID-19 pandemic does not delay the projects. We are working even outside our capacity to see what we can do to complete the project and we will do our best to accomplish this project with the support of the government, the local community and our employees.”

Considering the recent bomb attack on an Abuja to Kaduna bound train, which led to the death, kidnap and hospitalisation of some passengers, security experts have advised the government to be proactive in better securing the train by adjusting the contract provision to include installation of track and monitor surveillance systems such as sensors to avert a repeat of such tragedy while.

This, according to them, should be incorporated if the project was still ongoing to save cost, rather than issuing a fresh contract for surveillance installation after the project has been completed.

They also harped on the need of blasting all visible rocks close to the train tracks to enable early detection of threats, as they have been found to serve as hideouts and veritable tool for bandits and terrorists to stage an ambush against unsuspecting travelers.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, is confident the project would be completed and ready for commercial operation before May 23, 2023, recently expressed satisfaction with the quality of work done thus far on the Kano to Kaduna railway standard gauge line despite the dearth of funds owing to the global economic downturn.

He said: “The government had earlier announced that the planned loan to fund the project was being delayed. So, we are funding this project from the budget that was why I was skeptical on the completion date and I said, if we fund them.

“I used that word if, because of the situation of things however, we are putting pressure on the necessary institutions that need to give us loans. Hopefully before May, we should be able to get enough money to complete this project.

But currently, I will approach the minister of finance again to fund us between now and May, hoping that by May, we should be able to get the loan.”

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