The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was on Wednesday invited by the Senate to appear before its joint committee on Land Transport and Local and Foreign Debts over alleged exclusion of eastern rail lines.
Amaechi is summoned to tell the upper chamber why the eastern rail corridor, Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, was allegedly excluded in the scheme of rail expansion and modernization.
The minister’s invitation followed the adoption of a motion by Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, on alleged exclusion of the eastern rail corridor in the ongoing modernization of rails in the country.
Last year, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe raised a similar motion when he prayed the Senate to put on hold a foreign loan for rail lines in the country due exclusion of eastern rail corridor in the rail expansion plan.
Amaechi told the Senate that there was no plan to exclude the South East area in the rail modernization scheme, assuring that the area will be included in the 2018 borrowing plans of the Federal Government.
Ekweremadu said yesterday that the exclusion of the eastern corridor in the rail modernization scheme is not good for the country.
He called on the Senate to intervene and prevail on the Federal Government to take steps to include in the rail line expansion project.
He noted that there must be fairness and equity in the distribution of projects for people to feel a sense belonging.
Ekweremadu said: “I want to bring to the notice of the Senate, the deliberate exclusion of the Eastern rail line in the ongoing construction/modernisation nationwide. This is not good for our country. It shows that some parts of the country are deliberately ignored.
“I must commend the efforts of the Federal Government in ensuring that rail lines are developed, but it is also unfair to exclude the Eastern part of the country. Our people will suffer as a result of this.”
Supporting the motion, Chairman, Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, Senator Shehu Sani, said that it appears there is no commitment on the part of the Federal Government to pay attention to eastern part in the rail development programme.
Sani said: “The motion raised by Ekweremadu is apt and right. The last time we had an interaction with the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, he promised to include the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail line in the ongoing borrowing plans.
“It is now clear to us that there is no commitment to do that. That axis has a lot economic benefits to Nigeria. The withdrawal of General Electric is worrisome. Some of my colleagues in the committee appended their signature to the plan to construct Lagos to Kano rail line. But with this development, I am sure that they are regretting.”
Also Delta South senator, James Manager, wondered why the minister, who hails from the area, has chosen to exclude his place because of political differences.
Manager said, “We are talking of railway and you are excluding the business communities in Nigeria. When you talk about business in Nigeria, the East is key. The government has decided to exclude that part. This is one issue every Nigerian is interested in. I am from Delta State and I am sure that my state too will be excluded.
“Ironically, the Minister of Transport is from Port Harcourt. Local politics aside, he will return home after leaving office. We need to invite the Minister to explain to the relevant committees why he has decided to exclude some parts,” he said.
Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, who also supported the motion, noted that General Electric, which ought to have handled the project, has not abandoned it.
“I am supporting this motion. But let me clarify that the axis given to General Electric has not been abandoned. General Electric will have its subsidiary handling that axis. My concern is that, General Electric is designed to renovate the narrow gauge and not to modernise. Let there be justice and fairness in this issue.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has given an express order that every state capital in Nigeria must have a rail line. Let the Senate work with the other side to ensure that the Eastern Line gets this project done,” he argued.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said that the issue of equity should be considered in the distribution of railway projects in the country.