Nigeria Launches Major Rail Line After Three Decades Of Delay

railway in nigeria
Credit: Railway Pro

Nigeria’s President, Mohammed Buhari, has on Tuesday 30th September 2020, commissioned a railway that was conceived 30 years ago, precisely in 1987 by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s military administration. The 326 kilometre-Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line was undertaken by a Chinese construction firm as the major contractor. 

President Buhari also launched the ancillary facilities yard at the recently-named Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex in Agbor (Owa-Oyibu), Delta State. According to China.org.cn, the 326-km single track, constructed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), is the country’s first standard gauge railway, connecting the north-central Kogi state and Delta state in the south. 

At the virtual inauguration ceremony, the President informed the Federal Ministry of Transportation to link all the nation’s ports of origin and destination – Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Onne, Calabar Ports – to the rail network to enhance overall transportation and economic capacities, Thisdaylive reported. The rail line “will link people across the cultural divides and expand the frontier of trade and commerce, which will lead to better standards of living for our citizens,” President Buhari commented at the virtual meeting. 

According to VanguardngrNews, “President Buhari said projections indicate that the commencement of operation of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail line will account for close to one million passengers annually and also unleash approximately 3.5 million tonnes capacity of freight annually that will service all off-takers on the corridor and beyond.”

The project is expected to increase the volume of trade and kick-start and resuscitate the iron and steel complexes in the country, help improve Nigeria’s industrial potentials and capacities as well as boost employment. The line will play a critical role in transporting iron ore from the central Itakpe to Warri port, and promote the development in the agricultural and mining sectors along the route, TheAsset reported. 

Further remarking on the new feat in the country’s transportation sector,  President Buhari also said “The Railway Infrastructure that I have the honor to commission today is the rail line from Itakpe via the steel town complex of Ajaokuta to Warri, and is an important link for the country’s economy as the central rail line…this government has also approved to link this line further from Itakpe to Abuja, thereby, connecting the Northern zone of the country and also extending southwards to link the Warri Ports.”

On the need to uphold maintenance culture, the President commented that “I implore those who work on this line to uphold maintenance and safety culture necessary for long-lasting service in this difficult terrain…By the same token, I urge other sectors who will be primary beneficiaries of this transportation backbone, including, the iron and steel sector, stakeholders in agricultural and mining sectors on this corridor, as well as the host communities to protect and sustain this infrastructure and maximize the benefits that could be derived from it and which is readily available at their doorsteps.”

“It is our hope to continue to partner with the government in the massive work going on in the railway sector …We will continue to offer our best services and cooperate with the government in its efforts to link all parts of the country to the national railway grid,” said Jiang Yigao, managing director of the CCECC

Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, remarked that “there is no loan on this project, it was funded from the budget and I had the directive of the President to revive and complete it as soon as possible.”

According to TheAsset, CCECC, a subsidiary of China Railway Construction Corporation, is heavily involved in Nigeria’s rail network plans. In May 2018, the government signed a US$6.68 billion contract with CCECC for work on various segments of the old Lagos-Kano line. And in October 2019, CCECC signed another US$3.9 billion contract. The Export-Import Bank of China has been providing debt finance.

The Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri project had been delayed for many years, with initial plans dating back to the 1980s. CCECC began work on the project in 2017, restoring existing tracks as well as building ten stations and a railway ancillary facility yard. Itakpe is an important iron ore producing region and is the headquarters of the National Iron Ore Mining Company. 

One thing worth noting about this railway project in Nigeria is that, unlike the usual ‘China-funded, China-constructed’ narrative of most China-related infrastructural projects in Africa, the new 326 kilometre-Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line gives another perspective on how African countries can partner with China for the continent’s infrastructure development.

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