By Olugbenga Salami
Senate, yesterday, directed its Committees on Land Transport, Local and Foreign Debts to summon the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi over alleged neglect of the South East zone in the ongoing rail lines projects across the country.
This was sequel to a motion moved by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu through a point of order anchored on Orders 42 and 52 of the senate standing rules.
Leading debate on the motion, Ekweremadu though commended the ongoing rehabilitation and modernisation of rail lines in some parts of the country by the federal government, he described as worrisome the alleged neglect of the South Eastern zone in the project.
According to him, for a country to survive, there must be equity and fairness which is glaringly lacking in the ongoing rail lines projects with exclusion of the south eastern zone.
Ekweremadu specifically informed the Senate that unlike the Lagos/Kano and Ibadan to Lagos rail lines that are being executed,:the Port-Harcourt to Maiduguri rail lines covering the Eastern axis of both the south and the North are being neglected.
He said: “Some months back, I did mention that less emphasis is being given to railway development in the eastern axis of this country which includes Port-Harcourt/Enugu/Markudi all the way to Yola and Maiduguri passing through Delta, Plateau and some parts of Nasarawa State.
“The response we got was that the federal government had an understanding or probably an agreement with General Electric to take over that axis and be able to restore the line in the gauge.
“You will recall that when we granted permission for the federal government to raise loan from China to develop the western axis running from Lagos to Kano, it was also the understanding that approval be secured for government to engage with the Chinese authorities to also secure loan to deal with the eastern axis running from Port-Harcourt to Maiduguri. Now the story has changed.
“The tragedy now is that that arrangement has collapsed, and GE has withdrawn from the arrangement.
“This is disturbing because this senate and by extension, the National Assembly approved loans raised for the projects from China.
“My simple prayer is that the minister of transport do appear before our committees on land transport and local and foreign loans to explain to us what plan we have for those of us who live in the eastern part of Nigeria”.
Supporting the motion, Senator Shehu Sani, PRP-Kaduna Central, said based on realities on ground as regards execution of rail lines projects across the country that it is evidently clear that there is no firm commitment on Port-Harcourt/Maiduguri rail lines.
“The minister need to be summoned to explain why the longest rail lines in the country is being neglected in the entire project execution plans in spite of huge economic advantages inherent in it.
“Virtually no commitment from the federal government on the Port-Harcourt/Maiduguri lines and should not be allowed to be so”, he said.
However, the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, APC-Yobe North in his contribution, said the Eastern lines have not been abandoned based on recent disclosures made by the Minister of Transportation himself.
According to him, as a way of ensuring equity and fairness in railway project execution, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed that every state capital in the country should be linked with the railway lines.
“As the DSP has said, let there be justice and fairness in this. But let me also inform this senate, and Nigerians that Mr. President also gave the express approval and order that every state capital in Nigeria must be linked with a railway.
“Mr. President and distinguished colleagues, without sounding partisan, let me say that this Senate and in fact the National Assembly should work with the other side of government to ensure that one, the eastern line gets the same treatment that the western or central line will have, and also, whatever approval they require for this transformational movement of our infrastructure up there with the little funds available is achieved”, he said.
In his remarks, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki mandated the Committees on Land Transport, Local and Foreign Debts to summon the Minister of Transportation on the matter and report back in two weeks.