Opinion

Opinion: Amaechi’s Giant Strides and Revolution in the Rail Sector of Nigeria

By Eze Chukwuemeka Eze
PREAMBLE
Rt. Hon. Dr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi a humanist, administrator par excellence, a visionary and egalitarian personality, radical, a pragmatist, an exemplary and respected leader; an alumnus of the University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. Two time Rivers State Speaker of the State House of Assembly (Eight years) from 1999-2007; Chairman, Conference of speakers of State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria (1999 – 2000), Governor of Rivers State (Eight years 2007 – 2015), two time Chairman of the Governors’ Forum in Nigeria from 2011 to 2015. The first and only African to head a Presidential Campaign Organization on two occasions and on both occasions, won and saw to the unseating of a sitting President (Dr. Jonathan Goodluck of PDP in 2015) and the re-election of a sitting President (President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019).
Amaechi is the only Nigerian to have occupied the office of Minster of Transportation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for two terms and winner of several awards including the Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON.
These feats alone put him ahead of his time.
One thing commonly associated with this man is that, he redefines any office he occupies and makes a mark that will be very hard to be rivaled or equaled by any other occupant of such an office in future. Explaining this attribute of Amaechi in excelling in any venture or office he occupies better, a close associate of his, Dr Dakuku Peterside, the Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) explained, “Amaechi is a reform-minded and visionary leader who approaches his work with the highest degree of passion and commitment and always, brings his wealth of experience to bear and create indelible marks in every national assignment as he has done in all the offices he has held’’.
Examining this truism retrospectively, the fact remains that what Amaechi achieved as the Governor of Rivers State within eight years; both in areas of Education, Health, Agriculture, Security, employment and general infrastructural development will take another administration, about twenty years to replicate such feats again in Rivers State.
Throwing more light on this truism about Amaechi, an elder statesman and one of the most respected elders from Rivers State, Chief (Dr)  Patrick Dele Cole, described Amaechi’s feats thus; “Be that as it may, I will not forget to appreciate the leadership of Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi while he was the Governor of Rivers State.  He is the only Governor that led with the interest of Rivers people.  He was the only Governor that made significant employment, the highest in history; one that can only be compared to the Diete Spiff and Okilo era. So, when you say we owe him gratitude, I reaffirm that we indeed owe him gratitude for being a character that is people oriented. Paving way for the employment of 13,000 persons, can only come with that price of servant leadership…”
Throwing more light on what Amaechi achieved in the past, Mr. Bekee Anyalwechi a respected Media guru from Rivers State stated, “Amaechi! They claim you hate Rivers State, but did not say that you devoted 8 years as governor, working for her development. They say you promote killings but will not say that you formed the Ci4 security architecture that kept the state safer, installed surveillance gadgets that spied on small arms proliferation, reducing it to near-zero influx. Their propaganda is that you levied war against the state prior to the 2019 general elections; that you annexed the state of your birth with soldiers to kill your own people. Yet, they refuse to declare that their militias killed that Army Lieutenant in Abonnema, two others at Obonoma Junction on election eve and wrecked havoc across the state. They allege that you left Rivers State tattered and ravaged with no single project to show for your 8-year tenure as Governor, but fail to say that since after Commodore Alfred Diette-Spiff, no other Governor,  including the incumbent, had ever embarked on ambitious development of Rivers’ state infrastructure, much as you did. They fail to acknowledge that you employed about 13,200 classroom teachers; the most ambitious and record-setting employment exercise ever by a state government since Sir Lord Lugard formed Nigeria in 1914. They use all the superb structures you built in the state for their private and public functions, yet deny you built any. They say your people hate you, a fallacy in itself, yet deny that you remain popular beyond Rivers State…”.
These great opinion leaders’ stands on Amaechi cannot be faulted no matter the political leaning or school of thought one may come from.
THE AIM OF THIS TREATISE:
The aim of this treatise is to expose to the world, not necessarily about the great feats recorded by this enigma in the past but, what he has achieved within less than five years as the Minister of the Federal Ministry of Transportation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I am prompted to embark upon this treatise of exposing to the world what this great leader of our time has done and is doing to revive the economy of Nigeria through providing a world class rail system in Nigeria after I received this text from Prince Emmanuel Onotevure, an international Blogger and Publisher, pleading with me to intervene to avoid the positive revolution Amaechi is igniting not to go unnoticed. The words of Prince Onotevure: “Chief Eze, I salute you. Dr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (CRA), in my opinion, is working assiduously to improve the rail sector across the country. However, not many know the extent to which he has gone to deliver. In this regard and, knowing that you are one of the few Nigerians that can, within a short period, write a thesis on any issue pertaining to Amaechi, can I suggest that you draw up narratives that will further help to enlighten Nigerians, of the tremendous developmental strides and achievements of CRA in the transport sector with special focus on rail transportation?”
After given a lot of thought to this plea which has general acceptance by many Nigerians, I decided to present to you, this treatise aimed at exposing to the world, the effort of one man whose patriotic love towards building a new Nigeria in particular, is infectious and, the magic and revolution he has ignited in the rail sector of Nigeria.
THE GENESIS OF THE TRANSPORATION SYSYEM IN NIGERIA AND VISION OF AMAECHI
The Nigerian Railway Corporation traces its history to the year 1898, when the first railroad in Nigeria was constructed by the British government for mainly economic purposes; the movement of commodities and equipments was adequately achieved through this means. In 1988 NRC was declared bankruptcy, and all rail traffic stopped for a long time, ever since the rail system became sick and latter abandoned.
But serious step to reposition the transportation system took place about 62 years ago when Raymond Njoku was appointed as the first Minster of Transportation in 1957 till 1959 with Zanna Bukar Dipcharima appointed in 1960 and other subsequent Ministers till date the commitment and the vision that Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has brought to bear to revolutionize the Transportation sector in Nigeria has never been witnessed. Today, Nigerians from all over the sections of Nigeria for once agreed in unity that Amaechi is a man whose commitment and whose dexterity to his duties is unequal and stands out as the best Minster among his colleagues in the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari.
RAILWAY BEFORE AMAECHI AND WHAT THE ADMINISTRATION OF DR JONATHAN ACHIEVED
A cardinal objective of the Ministry of Transportation is to provide a safe, affordable and efficient transport system and also manage and operate railway infrastructure in a way that will meet the economic aims of government, boost trade and contribute to the growth of the country.
Since it was established, the Ministry of Transport has struggled to meet these obligations particularly in the railway subsector which is about the movement of goods and services as well as people from one part of the country to another in a most acceptable manner.
After the colonial era, the federal government through the ministry of transportation provided an efficient rail system that did not only serve the interest of Nigerians but was also a major source of revenue for government until 1984 when the railway system became comatose due to government inability to manage the system.
Before the coming of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi in 2015 as a Minister of Transportation the Railway system in Nigeria was in a comatose state. Disclosing the state of the Railway system he inherited, Amaechi stated “I met a narrow gauge of a dismal operational capacity speed of about thirty to fourty kilometers per hour with a serious shortage of rolling stocks and dilapidated railway tracks with the entire system bedeviled by wired maintenance. The last Administration of President Goodluck Jonathan awarded contracts for the rehabilitation of the narrow gauge railway but none of the contracts were fully executed as claimed. Jobs were carried out in some sections of the awarded portions without completion, others were poorly executed or out rightly abandoned despite the huge amount of cash expended on the projects by the past government” .
On the Abuja-Kaduna rail modernization project, the Minister opined that although, the Jonathan’s Administration had commenced construction work of the project with about seventy percent completion; the Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari took over the project and completed it.
He said to get commercial operations to commence on the Abuja-Kaduna rail route, government therefore responded to the yearnings of Nigerians by procuring some locomotives and passengers’ coaches to achieve President Muhammadu Buhari Administration’s mandate of a safe and effective transport system for Nigerians.
“The government of former President Goodluck Jonathan had awarded some contracts to rehabilitate the narrow gauge. They claimed that the contracts were implemented but they were not visible because by the time we took over, narrow gauge was about eighty kilometers per hour but the actual capacities of those tracks were seventy kilometers per hour. The Administration of Good- Luck Jonathan had commenced construction work on the Abuja-Kaduna railway and if measured it will be between eighty percent completion. So, what we did was to add twenty percent construction work to complete the entire project. And to commence commercial activities on the track, we had to order for rolling stocks”
AMAECHI AND HIS VISION FOR THE RAIL SYSTEM IN NIGERIA
One can proudly stated that Amaechi has been one of the defining success beacons of the Buhari administration. He has not only introduced transparency into the ministry’s activities, he has been one of the few restless cabinet members with visible landmark projects. His passion for railway development has made him to embark on risky shuttles to see most projects through.
His plans for railway modernization in Nigeria could be classified into three namely completed, ongoing and upcoming projects.
1.      COMPLETED:
The completed Standard Gauge Railway Projects are the Abuja (Idu) to Kaduna and Segment 1 of Lagos to Kano standard gauge railway modernization project). The total length of the Abuja to Kaduna is 186.50KM.
2.      THE ONGOING PROJECTS:
The Ongoing Standard Gauge Railway Projects include the 156.5kilometre Lagos to Ibadan Double Track Standard Gauge Railway project with extension to Apapa Port Complex (Segment 1 of Lagos to Kano Standard Gauge Railway Modernization Project). The Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Railway Project and Lagos-Calabar is ongoing.
According to Amaechi,”We started the implementation of the Lagos-Kano railway and commenced the construction of Ebute-Metta to Ibadan railway by change the entire policy. Those who designed the rail tracks designed it only for passenger purposes because none of these initial designs terminate at the seaports so, it was President Muhammadu Buhari that directed that all rail line must be connected to the seaport. We had to take the Lagos-Calabar rail to go through the seaports in Warri, Calabar and the one in Port Harcourt and Onne. And then the Lagos-Kano rail had to end up at the Apapa Seaport”.
Amaechi further disclosed that plans are under way to also construct a new seaport in the Bonny Island of Rivers State.
3.      FUTURE EFFORTS TO REVOLUTIONISE THE RAILWAY SYSTEM:
The prioritized upcoming railway projects include Lagos to Calabar Coastal Railway Line with branch line from Benin City to Onitsha (1431.5Km); Kano to Dayi to Kastina to Maradi (354km), and Railway Industrial Park in Port Harcourt D. Port Harcourt to Maiduguri Standard Gauge Railway Line (2,058.838Km).
The main features for the Port Harcourt- Maiduguri  are -Port Harcourt – Enugu -Akwanga – Gombe – Maiduguri (1305.638Km), Bonny -Port Harcourt (67.0Km); Port Harcourt to Owerri to Awka to Enugu (266.0Km); Enugu to Abakaliki (61.4Km); Akwanga to Abuja (142.0Km); Gombe to Yola and Gombe to Jalingo (216.8Km).
The government explained that the reasons for prioritizing the Coastal, Port Harcourt to Maiduguri and Kano to Maradi Rail Line was because the proposed three rail lines are amongst the key railway corridors in the 25 Year Strategic Vision Plan of the Nigerian Railway development.
The proposed railway project when completed will connect 11 states – Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Anambra, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Abia, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River) in the southern region of the country from western flank to eastern flank of Nigeria.
It will also connect 17 states which include: Rivers, Abia, Enugu, Benue, Nassarawa, Kaduna, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe and Borno from the Southern to the Northern hemisphere of eastern flank of Nigeria. The branch lines will connect all the nearby states to the main line and traverse the following states: Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Adamawa, Taraba and FCT, Abuja while it will also connect the Kano to Jibiya in Maradi (another commercial hub of Niger Republic).
To reduce the hardship of travelers who use the train service from Kaduna to Abuja, the minister ordered that two additional coaches be deployed to the corridor from Warri-Itakpe route. In addition to this, the minister during his recent visit to China hinted that the country took delivery of 10 coaches by June. Under his watch also, the Kaduna Inland Dry Port has commenced the cargo delivery service from the port to Lagos.
Concluding this segment let me bring in Okey Amadi a young politician from Rivers State to help me out. According to him, “Hechi, like I fondly call you is a development accolade, you have proved and is still proving to all including your detractors that focus, courage and vision for great Nigeria is achievable, your connectivity of the Nigerian States through railways, the marine industrial revolution, the face lift of major airports and the Nigeria Ports Authority shows that you are a development expert with the burning desire to take Nigeria to the next level, you are what Nigeria needs now, thank you Mr Connect9ja,thank you Hechi”
THE BENEFITS OF THE RAILWAY REVOLUTION:.
Amaechi however lamented the politicization of Railway projects by politicians in the Country, saying that the basic purpose of Railway project in any Country is for economic purposes.
Hear him, “Nigerians believe that we should be able to finish the rail projects today, but you see, the money is just not there, and they are politicising the railway. Railway is not built for political purposes, they are built purely for economic reasons and it doesn’t have the capacity to pay back whoever that invests in it. That is why government is the only institution that constructs rail. It is capital intensive and the turnover is not as rapid as what any businessman would want it to be”, he stressed.
The importance of railway infrastructure to economic development cannot be overemphasized. It is considered an essential feature of all modern economies. Railway has an important role in increasing production, reducing travel times, most especially for cargoes, increasing employment and accessibility.
The Nigerian Government has to do everything within her power to make our rail system work again. As the Giant of Africa we have serious economic activities going on in the country, moving goods and services from one point to another, this has put so much pressure on our roads, resulting to bad roads. If the amount of pressure on the Nigerian roads is been mounted on the American roads, their roads will be dilapidated within a short time.
                 ADVANTAGES
* Helps internal trade, by connecting various areas of the country railway will make internal trade convenient. They carry goods and passengers to various places easily.
* Railway commercialises agriculture, farmers will no longer produce for self consumption only, but also for sale in the market.
* Railway will increase the size of markets; bulky goods can easily be transported by railway.
* The connectivity of railways, to various tourist spots gives encouragements to tourism.
SETTING FRESH TARGETS FOR THE MINISTER
“In this regard, let me urge you to as a matter of urgency to give life to the following six key projects, which if implemented to the letter will mark you as the hero of this dispensation. These are projects already sanctioned and approved for execution by the Federal Executive Council during the last cabinet of President Buhari:
(1). The Kano-Katsina-Jibiya to Maradi in Niger Republic.
(2). The new standard gauge rail from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri passing through Enugu, Lafia, Makurdi, Gombe, with branches to Owerri, Onitsha, Awka, Abakaliki, Yola, Jalingo and Damaturu.
(3). The rest are extension of the Itapke-Aladja (Warri) to Abuja and Warri Port.
(4). The Development of Railway Industrial Park in Port Harcourt.
(5). And a Proposal for Railway connection to Bonny Island Deep Sea port from Port Harcourt.
(6). Revival the Calabar, Port Harcourt, Onne, Abonema, Onitsha and Warri Ports.
(7). The forwarded Bills of National Transport Commission and Nigerian Railway Corporation to the National Assembly to enhance regulation and further opening opportunities for private sector investment into critical transport infrastructure must be followed up accordingly.
POSTIVE COMMENTS ON AMAECHI AND HIS FEATS:
           1. DR DAKUKU PETERSIDE
According to Dr Dakuku Peterside, the Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), “Amaechi is noted for his hard work, commitment, and doggedness to the success of President Muhamnadu Buhari’s administration. Specifically, his inputs and achievements in the railway, maritime reforms and port sector cannot be rivalled. He has proved his mettle as an administrator of men, materials, and resources which led to his re-nomination by the president as a vote of confidence and honour. Under Amaechi’s watch, Nigeria witnessed tremendous leaps in the reforms carried out in NIMASA, Nigerian Ports Authority other maritime agencies and railway sectors, which have produced outstanding results to the benefit of Nigerians. Amaechi is a reform-minded and visionary leader who approaches his work with the highest degree of passion and commitment and always bring his wealth of experience to bear and create indelible marks in every national assignment as he has done in all the offices he has held,’’
2. SPECIAL RECOGNITION BY UNIVERSITY OF PORT HARCOURT
The Management, Staff and Students of the University of Port Harcourt have commended the former Governor of Rivers State and Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for his  contributions to nation building. The school also thanked the Minister for his donations and the impact made during his tenure as Governor of the State.
Acting Vice Chancellor of Uniport, Prof.Hakeem Fawhemi, while welcoming Amaechi to the University stated that his contributions to the school were remarkable. “For us this is another home coming because we know the formidable role you played as a student and as a Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and then later as the Governor of Rivers State. Your name must be mentioned towards the growth and development of this University. We are happy to have you as our guest and a formidable Alumnus, one of the major benefactors of the University. The University community is indeed elated to have you in our midst. We are proud that you have a deep sense of commitment to the University of Port Harcourt. It’s common knowledge that you have made so many donations to the University of Port Harcourt, and we are still tapping from your milk of kindness. We are aware that the English House, the faculty building and many others were donated by you,”.
3.      DR SOKONTE DAVIES
Another trusted associate of Amaechi is DR SOKONTE DAVIES and to him, “It is a fact undeniable that Amaechi’s unprecedented developmental strides which have benefited countless people stem from your political prowess and innate passion for humanity. Your resoluteness and sagacity against all odds, your towering bravery and political heroism, only attest to God’s Abundant grace upon your life”.
4.      CHIEF DUMO LULU –BRIGGS
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs noted for his astounding philanthropic gestures and to him Amaechi, “There are still people in politics who are inspired by honest convictions and not by private gains or the consolidation of personal Political power. There are politicians who still stand their grounds against the undercurrents associated with the political realities of the time.  Those who maintained a moral position and stood against the political status quo. One of such persons is Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Amaechi is a man whose political life is synonymous with challenges, trials and betrayals. Whose story is plaqued with instances of hard times and blistering experience.  He took all the risks, not for self-advancement but the good of society – Rivers State and Nigeria.”
5.      SENATOR ANDREW UCHENDU
Senator Uchendu is more like a father figure in the current political dispensation in Rivers State and his words means a lot to all those who has ears. Listen to his stand on the Lion of Niger Delta Politics, “Now and in the future, we must do everything possible to protect the person called Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, because in him, we have our own Azikiwe; in him, we have our own Awolowo; in him, we have our own Sardauna of Sokoto; and in him, we have our own Aminu Kano.”
CONCLUSION
As Minister of Transportation, Amaechi’s first major feat was demonstrating his sagacity and prudence in management of public finance by saving a whopping N134.4 billion for the nation (using N168 to $1 as it was in 2014, when the contract was first signed), by negotiating downwards the planned 1,402km coastal rail-line project already approved by the administration of Dr Jonathan at a huge cost.
Amaechi has not only revolutionised but turned around the fortunes of the Railway system in Nigeria to the extent  that today Nigerians in unity have named him ‘MR. RAILWAY’
I am proud to state that Amaechi is a resourceful leader, an enigma, a dogged fighter, a political enigma, a change agent, people’s defender, transformer, catalyst, trail-blazer, a phenomenon of our time, whose word you can take to the bank. A trusted friend, an ally, a man who stands by his friends and confidants both in good, difficult and challenging times.
If Nigeria actually wants to move forward then Amaechi is the key.
Let me conclude this treatise by exposing how transparent Amaechi can go in handling public office when he sent out this text to the public, “What strategies do you think we can implement to deliver on our projects better and faster from the Railways to Maritime, Ports, Transportation Institutes and others. We are open to suggestions to enable us serve you better. Kindly send your opinions to this email – ‘chibuikeamaechi377@gmail.com‘ and we will be glad to read and act on your suggestions accordingly”
God bless you for your time.
EZE CHUKWUEMEKA EZE is a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt and can be reached through ezemediaconcept2020@gmail.com, 08022049770

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