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Nigeria Says It Can No Longer Deliver $1.96bn Eastern Railway Corridor By May 2023

The federal government said the 2nd Niger Bridge will be ready in six months.

The federal government has disclosed that Its initial promise to complete the narrow guage Eastern railway corridor before the end of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration on May, 2023 is no longer realistic citing insufficient funds as reason.

President Buhari had two years ago performed the groundbreaking of the $1.96 billion railine project saying it would stimulate economic activities in 14 states it covers.

The benefiting states included the five South-east states of Abia, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi and Enugu as well as nine others – Rivers, Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi and Gombe.

Then Minister of Transport, Hon Rotimi Amaechi, had said the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line would be delivered before the end of the tenure of the present administration.

But speaking on the issue yesterday after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja, Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Jaji Sambo, disclosed that financing the project has become an issue.

According to him, the federal government has not been able to obtain the foreign counterpart funding embedded in the project, making it impossible to fund it as envisaged.

His words: “Now, the Eastern line is the line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, it has been segmented in such a way that the first part of the works covers from Port Harcourt to Enugu. 

“The truth of the matter is that if there was a promise to deliver this line before the end of this administration, this promise is no longer feasible because, when the contract was approved, it was approved on the premise that 85 percent will be funded through foreign loan, while 15 percent will be the counterpart funding from the national budget. 

“Since that approval, we have not been able to obtain that 85 percent foreign loans for this project. We have been funding it through the national budget on the basis of the 15 percent counterpart funding of the federal government. And therefore, funding has been a major challenge for this project.”

On the status of the dredging of the Calabar Channel, Sambo said the project, which had suffered series of setbacks, as a result of litigations, will soon be resumed as President Buhari had directed his ministry, in collaboration with that of Justice, to ensure that the issues are resolved amicably.

He said: “You are aware that of the three ports (Warri, Port Harcourt and Lagos), the NPA had encountered difficulties with the JV partnership in respect to the Calabar channel dredging. This has been as a result of several litigations from both sides that the Nigerian Ports Authority had made with the joint venture partner Niger Global”.

The Minister noted that the issues are now being resolved, saying “following Presidential intervention, the Ministry of Transportation and the Federal Ministry of Justice have been directed to put in everything they can to resolve all outstanding court cases with a view to having a full resumption of this very, very laudable project. This we are in the process and should be concluding very, very soon.”

While it is one of the oldest ports in the country, the Calabar Port has been operating below its potential due to draft issues which has made it impossible for large vessels to navigate through the channel. As a result, the Lagos, Onne and Port Harcourt ports have continued to receive more cargo traffic that ordinarily would have berthed in Calabar.

Also speaking, Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fasola, reiterated the resolve of the present administration to complete the 2nd Niger Bridge before leaving office on May 29, 2023.

According to him, job on the multi-billion naira new bridge is almost complete, but for the disruption of work occasioned by the sit-at-home order being observed by the people in the South East end of the bridge. 

He explained that the sit-at-home being observed on Mondays have  delayed the speed of work as the contractors have lost many man hours just as he stated that those lost days are responsible for the delay in the completion of the project. Fashola, however, said the remaining work in both the Obosi and Asaba sides of the bridge are progressing well, pointing out that the project despite the delay will be completed and commissioned before the end of the present administration on May 29, 2023.

According to him, “I am certain that the 2nd Niger Bridge will be completed and commissioned before the end of this administration. The work remaining to be done on the main bridge are just road markings, fixing of signs and fittings. It is completed if I may say hence it is being put to temporary use now. 

 “From the Obosi side in the Eastern part, work is on-going on the adjoining roads and would have been completed if not the sit-at-home order on Mondays which have slowed the pace of the work.

“Also, from the Asaba end of the bridge, you can see the stockpiling of sand and because it’s a marshy area, after sand-filling, you allow the land to dry up. So we are doing the pre-fabricated stockpiling and soon the works will be completed”.

On his part, Minister of Environment, Mohammed Abdullahi, has blamed some Civil Society Organisations as well as some individuals in Rivers State for stalling Ogoni clean up through litigations.

He said this while reacting to allegations by the Movement for Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) against the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) charged with implementing problematic Ogoni Cleanup in Rivers state of slow pace of work as well as embezzlement.

His words: “On the agitation by MOSOP that accuses HYPREP of slow implementation projects. The federal government is as concerned as MOSOP in terms of the seeming slow pace of the project execution. But however, these are sometimes in most cases, the federal government is not the direct cause. Sometimes you find that individuals and CSOs within Ogoni Land, go to court to obtain one sort of order or another against HYPREP from proceeding with some processes.

“So it has hampered the process as captured in PPP. As we speak now, there’s a group called the Good Conscience that has gone to court to restrain the federal government from continuing with that water projects. Now we’re installed, we can’t move in, we can’t proceed, we can’t make any headway.

“So, sometimes most of these slow processes are caused by individuals who have interests in specific areas or projects within the Ogoni land. But we’re as concerned as them and with the funding guarantees that we have now, we have in place very strong supervisory and monitoring evaluation team that ensures that it must achieve, and of course, eventually for payments. 

“So, we assure that going forward with the funding that we have in place, with the strong supervisory that we have now in place. And then, of course the assurances we’re having from the stakeholders, there should be a reinvigorated peace in terms of project execution in Ogoni land.”

On the allegation of embezzlement against HYPREP, the Minister said, “To the best of my knowledge, some of these accusations, sometimes are not very objective. In most cases, they are propelled by very ulterior motives to distract HYPREP. 

“However, we’re open to look into any allegation that has been made against any of our partners in the ministry. So if there are concrete evidence that shows that indeed there are embezzlement, of course, you and I know that this President will never take lightly to that kind of allegations and we will be able to handle it decisively”.

Commenting on the funding arrangement to finance the remediation projects and whether or not the IOCs are involved in the contributions, Abdullahi said: “Yes, they are. There is dedicated fund being superintended by the Ogoni Trust Fund, which essentially has been pooled together by the IOCs to actually finance the remediation projects under this principle of the polluter pays. 

“So yes, there is a dedicated fund, is available. Recently the President approved what we call the Crash Calls to finance this projects in line with the budget as approved by the Governing Council of HYPREP”, the Minister further said.

Deji Elumoye in Abuja