Why Is Nigeria Training Engineers In China To Manage Rail Infrastructure

Graduating class of Nigerian engineers in China
Credit: Twitter @elshaks1

Nigeria’s Federal government has sent 150 engineers to be trained in China to operate the Lagos-Ibadan railway, Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, said. 

According to the statement released on Twitter, the Minister said “We have over 150 Nigerians being trained as Engineers in China. The Chinese are also building two training institutions for us, one at Idu (Abuja) and the other one is the Transportation University in Daura, Katsina state. Earlier this month, the Federal Government revealed that Nigeria’s Railway Corporation (NRC) will begin skeletal operations on the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Rail line from the middle of September with 16 trips every day.  

The railway project whose operation has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic is expected to be completed by January of next year. Mr. Amaechi said that “We have to deliver our promises to the people because that is why we are elected, so, let us hope that by January next year, the project will be ready.”

Nigeria And China’s Belt And Road Initiative 

The Lagos-Ibadan railway is part of China’s Belt and Road projects and is the second leg of the much more ambitious Lagos-Kano Railway Modernization Project in Nigeria. The first phase is the 186 km Abuja to Kaduna railway, which has been in operation since 2016. Constructed by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) an affiliate of China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC), the $1.5 billion 312km long double-track standard gauge Lagos-Ibadan railway line project is touted as the first double-track standard gauge modern railway in West Africa. Apart from the Lagos-Kano rail project, the Lagos-Calabar railway is part of China’s key BRI projects in Nigeria. 

Localising China’s Railway Technology In Nigeria 

To ensure the maintenance and sustainability of trains, Nigeria has made it a necessity to train its people in China. This isn’t the first time the federal government has sent Nigerians to China for such a purpose. In 2019, Minister Amaechi announced at the National Assembly that “we have sent over 150 persons to two universities in China, funded by the Chinese government to go and read railway engineering. We hope that in four years they will graduate. Those who will do masters and Ph.D. will do that. We are establishing a transportation university in Daura. We are making sure that we have the manpower to take over from the Chinese.” 

Speaking to some members of the National Assembly last year, Mr. Amaechi also stated that on maintenance and sustainability, “if you check the picture of my trip to China, you will see some black men with the Chinese. I told them they learned from America and you copied the Americans in producing your coaches because when I went there, they were teaching them leadership and managing resources…I told them, let’s not manage, tell us how you built these trains so that when it breaks down, we don’t have to make a telephone call for you to come down and fix it. So we have agreed to design a curriculum and train all these people out there.”

Indeed, like Nigeria, African countries who have welcomed China’s railway technology should also put measures in place to ensure the maintenance and sustainability of those railway projects, to prevent overreliance on China. African countries should therefore make sure that they have the railway technology manpower to take over from the Chinese, to localize railway technology.

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