Lagos-Calabar Railway Project: A Litmus Test For Loyalty

By Solomon Okocha

"Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved." - Martin Luther

The dream of every true Niger Delta son or daughter is to develop his/her region, all things being equal. For years, the people of South-South Nigeria have suffered under the burden of environmental degradation, pollution, youth restiveness, infrastructural deficiency amongst many other ills, mainly as a result of oil exploration and other related activities.

There are areas in the oil rich coastal region that have been completely decimated by crude oil flowing freely from pipelines laid on the ground or inside streams or rivers. For instance, in Ogoni land, there are farmlands that have been eroded with crude and other dangerous chemicals. Farming, which is the people's mainstay, has been rendered useless on the pedastal of mining 'black gold.

It is not surprising then that the name of the honourable Minister of Transportation, a proud Niger Delta son, an Ikwerre 'ninja, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has been on the news lately because of his patriotic role in the inclusion of the N6 billion Lagos-Calabar Coastal Railway Project that was magically expunged from the 2016 Budget Appropriation Bill by certain anti-Niger Delta forces in the Senate.

The Lagos - Calabar coastal rail line is expected to link Calabar - Uyo - Port Harcourt - Yanegoa - Otueke - Yanagoa - Ughelli - Benin - Sapele - Ore - Lagos, traversing through the creeks of Niger Delta. The economic benefits that will accrue to the people of the Niger Delta region is beyond measures as far as this project is concerned. From ripple infrastructural development, employment opportunities for jobless youths, procurement channels for entrepreneurs, to trading avenues for vendors et al, the list is endless.

According to a report from Thisday Newspaper, the National Assembly approved the Lagos-Kano rail project, which had a proposed budget of N100 billion, and then took about N40 billion from the Lagos-Calabar rail project and added it to the Lagos-Kano rail project to make it N140 billion. The balance was then distributed to projects located in the north, mainly roads – many of which are located in the constituencies of the Appropriation Committee Chairmen in the Senate and House of Representatives, Senator Danjuma Goje and Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin, respectively. While Goje hails from Gombe, Jubrin is from Kano State.

The National Assembly has since denied the above report, insisting that the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Railway Project was never in the original budget that was publicly submitted to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari. The Executive, through the office of the Minister of Budget and National Planning swiftly responded, saying that even though the projected was erroneously left out of the original budget proposal, but that it was included in the amended version which was later submitted during the initial budget brouhaha. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, also corroborated the position of the Executive, proclaiming that indeed the laudable project was captured in the 2016 appropriation bill. Now, what is the way forward?

After three long days of heated debates over the inclusion or non-inclusion of the Lagos-Calabar Railway Project in the budget, the Legislators have shifted grounds on the matter, and are now calling on the Executive to provide them with a supplementary budget that includes the much talked about project, but the Executive through the Ministry of Transportation, still insists that there is no need for that because the project was clearly captured in the amended version of the budget. More trouble?

For me, the conclusion of this matter rests in the states-manly submission of Governor Nyesom Wike's Aide, the Rivers State Commissioner for Housing, Emma Okah, Esq, where he asserted thus: "The Calabar - Lagos rail is of crucial importance to the people of the Southern part of Nigeria. It's economic and socio- political impact is invaluable. We desire it just like the Kano - Lagos rail is desired by others. These two projects should be subjects of appropriation in 2016. That is a practical way out of this quagmire.

It goes beyond whether or not the Minister of Transportation included it in the original version of the Budget. The argument as to any issue of apology by the Minister is simply diversionary. I want a rail and not apology, I also desire a better and completed International Airport in Omagwa, Rivers State and not blame. For me, we must face governance and not trivialities. That's the way progressive minds roll. We must move forward. This is the truth."

~ Solomon Okocha writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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