The Senate on Wednesday summoned the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to explain the alleged halt in railway development in the eastern part of the country.
The summon was sequel to a point of order raised by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who reminded his colleagues that he raised the issue months ago.
Mr Ekweremadu said less emphasis is being given to the railway development in the eastern axis of the country “which include Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Makurdi all the way to Yola to Maiduguri, passing through Plateau state and some parts of Nasarawa state including Delta.”
According to him, the response he got earlier is that federal government had an agreement with the General Electric (GE) to take over that axis and be able to restore the line and manage it for some time and recover their money.
“It was supposed to be for goods only, there was no arrangement for passengers but the tragedy is that the arrangement has collapsed and GE has withdrawn from the arrangement.
“If you recall, when we granted the permission for government to raise loan from China to develop the western axis running from Lagos to Kano, it was also of the understanding that once that approval is secured that the federal government will engage with the Chinese authorities to also secure loan to deal with the eastern axis running from Port-Harcourt.
“Today, the story has changed. Now what the Chinese authorities are being asked to do is to come and take over that axis and use their money to fix that axis and then recover their money over time.
“I believe is not fair on those of us that live in that part of Nigeria. In order to survive, there must be equity and fairness and any country running against this principle will be heading to disaster. It is believed that we have many of such opportunities in Nigeria but they should be spread across and that is the only way we can ensure the unity, peace and progress of this country.
“The minister of transport should appear before our committees on Land transport and Local and Foreign Debts to explain to us the plan they have for those who live in this part of the country,” he said.
Shehu Sani (PRP, Kaduna Central) stated that the last time the minister of transport appeared before the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt, he gave a firm pledge that the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line will be the next priority after the Lagos-Ibadan- Kano rail line.
“But it is now evidently clear there is no firm commitment in executing that project from Port-Harcourt and I must say this, that the rail line has a lot of social, political and economic advantage in the sense that that every line will open up the areas in terms of business and movement of people.
“There is no reason that there is a firm and definite borrowing plan for rail line from Lagos up to the North and we cannot have that of Port-Harcourt to Maiduguri which is the longest rail line. The withdrawal of GE should be a concern. Some of my colleagues in the committee appended their signatures for the borrowing plan of Lagos rail on the basis and pledge that if that was done, that of Maiduguri will follow next. There is virtually no action and no plan,” he said.
In his comment, James Manager said no part of the country should be excluded.
He called on Mr Amaechi to put politics aside and do the needful.
“Surprisingly the Honorable Minister of Transport is a Port-Harcourt man. Let’s put politics aside, we must be nationalist after he is from there. At the end of his service, he is going to go back to Port-Harcourt whether he likes it or not,” he said.
In his reaction, the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, explained that the eastern line given to GE has not been abandoned.
“We raised the question two days ago somewhere and the minister himself actually explained and also during the launching of the next level,” he said.
“GE will have its subsidiary handling the eastern axis. My concern and the concern of every easterner is that GE is designed to maintain the narrow gauges, it is only rehabilitation and not modernisation. And I believe that what we require is to give us whatever is given to everybody in the country.”
He said President Muhammadu Buhari has also given approval and ordered that every state capital in Nigeria must be linked to the rail way line.
“Mr. President distinguished colleagues, without sounding partisan, this Senate and indeed the National Assembly should work with the other side of government to ensure that eastern line gets the same treatment that the western or the central line will have and also whatever approvals they require for this transformation, movement of our infrastructure with the little funds that we have,” Mr Lawan said.
The Senate, thereafter, resolved to invite Mr Amaechi for further explanation.