The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, has warned Nigerians to always wear nose masks and have sanitisers.
Speaking during a briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Amaechi said he is “dead scared” as he knows people who have died from the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister, who appeared at the regular PTF briefing for the first time, held up a sanitiser during his speech.
According to him, the Federal Government will ensure that travellers using the nation’s railway system must always use their face masks and hold their sanitisers as well.
Amaechi explained that he opened the railway from Abuja to Kaduna because of pressure for the Sallah holiday, stressing no masks, no boarding.
“If anybody has ever seen me in public without this (referring to the Santiser), let the person raise up his hand. The reason is that I have seen people die of COVID-19, so I am dead scared.
“If you ask the last speaker, I refused to agree that we should open the railways. It is the pressure of those who want to participate in the forthcoming spiritual activities that made me accept that we will open the railway from Abuja to Kaduna.
“We don’t want to see how handsome or beautiful you are. Please wear for me a face mask, not a mouth mask. If you wear a mouth mask, the train will stop and you will come down.”
Speaking further, the Minister explained that security has been beefed ahead of the Sallah celebrations in a few days’ time.
He, however, insisted that any traveller that wears a face shield without a face mask will be denied entry into the railway.
The Senate has called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, commence rehabilitation of the Eastern rail line.
This was even as the upper chamber mandated its Committee on Land Transport to interface with the relevant Ministry and agency.
These formed parts of resolutions reached during plenary on Tuesday sequel to the consideration of a motion sponsored by Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC – Abia North).
In his presentation, Senator Kalu noted that one of the greatest challenges facing the nation as an emerging economy is poor infrastructural development, adding that, “the movement of goods and persons from one point to another is becoming very cumbersome, if not hazardous.”
According to him, the Federal Government in recognition of the fact that there is a dire need for transformation of the Nigerian Railway system into a more dynamic and functional one, encouraged the use of rail to reduce road traffic congestion problems and open up the sector to private sector investment.
“The Federal Government in 2017 entered into an agreement with General Electric, a Boston, United States-based company, under the Rehabilitation and the Concessioning of Western and Eastern Railway lines to connect Abia, Rivers, Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Kwara, Kaduna, Katsina, Enugu, Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau, Borno, Yobe and Kano States.
“And while the Western lines of 1,126 km are from Lagos to Kano and to Nguru 230 km, Funtua, and Kaura Namoda 121 km. The Eastern lines are from Port Harcourt to Kaduna 915 km, Maiduguri 706 km, 105 35 km,” he said.
Kalu lamented that “the Federal Executive Council is yet to give approval for the commencement which leaves not just the government as losers but all host communities to the rail line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.”
He also expressed concerns that the non-existence of an airport or inland port in the whole of Abia State, with its high volume of commercial activities, poses a serious hindrance to the export and import of goods.
Reacting to Senator Kalu’s concerns, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, directed the Committee on Legislative Compliance to ensure compliance by the Federal Government and report back in three weeks for further legislative action.
India has opened up its vast railway sector to private companies, allowing firms to operate trains on certain routes, in a bid to boost its stuttering, virus-hit economy.
The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily but is plagued by deadly accidents, rickety infrastructure, lack of modern amenities and poor investment.
In an announcement late Wednesday, the railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes, inviting bids from firms weeks after New Delhi opened up coal mining to the private sector.
“This is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over Indian Railways network,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world class travel experience to passengers,” it added.
The project will require an investment of $4 billion and private players will have to pay the government fixed haul charges and a percentage of profits determined during the bidding process.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to privatise a range of industries that have been under state control for decades, sparking criticism from the opposition Congress party.
“Now the government is in a desperate mood to sell a great chunk of one of our largest national asset #IndianRailways,” Congress politician Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tweeted.
“Privatization cannot be construed as a panacea of railways malady”, he added.
The tottering network is notorious for accidents, with 15,000 passengers killed every year according to a 2012 government report that described the deaths as a “massacre”.
Asia’s third-largest economy has been clobbered by the pandemic and a months-long lockdown, growing at its slowest pace in at least two decades last quarter.
The shutdown, which put millions out of work overnight, is widely expected to plunge the country into recession.
Fears for the economy prompted the government to allow many businesses to resume operations starting last month despite an ongoing increase in infections, which have now crossed 600,000.
Even before Modi announced the lockdown in late March, the economy was struggling to gain traction with sluggish growth, record unemployment and a flurry of bad loans making banks reluctant to lend.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, on Monday, said the government will not further increase ticket prices on the Abuja-Kaduna rail route, in order to accommodate the poor.
The Minister, who made the comment during an interview on Sunrise Daily, noted he is aware of calls to increase the ticket prices, to ensure the railway makes enough profit to pay back the loans incurred in its construction and become sustainable.
But Amaechisaid railways don’t make profits (from passenger ticket prices) across the world because they are usually subsidised.
“If we increase the cost of the tickets, what about the poor man that wants to move from Abuja to Kaduna? What about the poor man who works in Abuja and lives in Kaduna to save the cost of accommodation,” he said.
“So, usually, all over the world, you subsidise railway, so that the poor can have an easy means for transportation so that you improve your economy. Don’t forget, the railway is built not for passenger transportation, it is built as a means to grow the economy of a country.
“The economy will pay for it. Take the numbers of businesses that you grow across that line, take the numbers of companies you’ve established, take the taxes they pay to you.”
Solving Ticket Racketeering
Meanwhile, to solve the problem of ticket racketeering on the Abuja-Kaduna rail route, the Minister said the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) is set to roll out new locomotives and coaches.
He explained that the number of coaches and locomotives earlier deployed to the route was for 300 passengers daily.
“Traffic count as at the time we deployed those coaches was 300. So, every day you move 300 passengers,” he said. “And suddenly there is a spike. You have 3,700 passengers per day with the same number of locomotives and coaches for 300 people, so what do you do?
“Don’t forget that the coaches and locomotives are not things you just go to the shop and buy. No, you have to manufacture, you have to fabricate. It took us nearly two years to fabricate the new coaches and locomotives that are just arriving now.”
Lagos-Ibadan Route Delay
On the Lagos-Ibadan railway, the Minister declined to give a deadline for the route’s completion.
“We agreed I should not talk about deadlines anymore,” he said, referring to the Chinese contractors in charge of the project, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation.
“What they told us the first time was April 2020. But they ran into problems. Their goods were yet to be cleared from the seaport. But the Director of Nigeria Ports Authority helped get their goods to berth.
“Now they are clearing. Because of that delay in clearing the cargoes they need to build stations, do the signalling and communications – they’ve completed tracks. I used the tracks to Ibadan and back. But that’s not what the railway is. You have to deal with signalling, terminals and all that. Now that all that has been discharged from the seaports, we hope that they will complete it according to the time they gave me – I won’t tell anybody the time; I will keep it to myself.
“There is an improvement, now, in the pace of work. They’ve cleared the items they need to complete the stations and signalling. The pace of work has improved. Manpower has also increased.”
The Senate President, however, stated that the lawmakers would pressure the Federal Government on the need to pay attention to making the rail system functional.
He also assured the Niger State government that the 9th Assembly would play its role in ensuring that federal roads in the state were fixed.
On security, Senator Lawan said the Senate was united and focused on pursuing common goals irrespective of political party differences.
He added that this was to ensure that issues of insecurity, poverty, unemployment and other social vices bedevilling the growth of the country were tackled collectively.
In his address, Governor Abubakar Bello appealed to the Senate President to consider giving Niger State the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Works.
He gave assurance that his administration would work with all the three senators in the state, as well as both members of the National and State Assemblies to ensure the state develops.
The governor noted that the strategic senatorial action plan of Senator Sani was a demonstration of such synergy.
On his part, Senator Sani informed the gathering that his priority would be to empower his constituents with quality education and ensure the revival of the Child Rights Act, to guarantee the protection of children from molestation.
He also promised to support legislation that would promote family welfare, and whatever efforts the state government would make in the areas of health, road rehabilitation, construction, and security.
The event had in attendance the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo Agege; Deputy Senate Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi, and Senator Bamidele Opeyemi among others.
At least 11 people were killed and nearly 80 injured when two trains collided in central Pakistan early Thursday, officials said.
The incident took place in Rahim Yar Khan district in Punjab province when a passenger train coming from the eastern city of Lahore rammed into a goods train that had stopped at a crossing, a senior government official said.
A senior Pakistan Railways official gave AFP the toll, adding: “We fear the death toll will rise as rescue teams are still cutting (through) the wreckage.”
Earlier, local police officer Omar Salamat told TV channel Geo News that dozens had been taken to nearby hospitals.
“The condition of three to four passengers is critical,” he said.
Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
TV footage from the site showed the heavily damaged train engine and carriages, as emergency workers and local people used metal-cutting tools and heavy cranes.
Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, the country’s minister for railways told TV channel Aaj that an investigation had been launched to determine the causes of the incident.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted his condolences, adding: “Have asked Railways Minister to take emergency steps to counter decades of neglect of railway infrastructure & ensure safety standards.”
Also on Thursday at least nine passengers were killed and 22 injured when a speeding bus overturned near the capital Islamabad, a police official said, while a landslide in the northwestern Swat valley killed six people, all from one family.
The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has assured commuters patronizing the Nigeria Railway Corporation of maximum security at all times with the deployment of Police Dogs to railway stations across the country.
At the official deployment ceremony in Abuja on Tuesday, the IGP said men of the K-9 Squad have been properly trained to specifically, checkmate the activities of illicit drug dealers and other criminals exploring the option of rail transportation.
He explained that the initiative is within the context of ‘Operation Puff Adder’ and is expected to complement the existing security measures across the country.
Read the full address below.
ADDRESS BY THE IGP MOHAMMED A. ADAMU NPM mni, THE INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE ON THE OCCASSION OF DEPLOYMENT OF THE K9 COMPONENT OF OPERATION PUFF ADDER TO NIGERIA RAILWAY STATIONS ACROSS THE COUNTRY ON 25TH JUNE, 2019 AT THE FORCE HEADQUARTERS, ABUJA
It is with a deep sense of professional commitment that I address you all on this occasion which marks the formal deployment of the K9 assets of the Nigeria Police to all our railway stations across the country.
This initiative is within the context of Operation Puff Adder and it is planned to compliment the existing security measures emplaced for the security and safety of passengers and critical infrastructure of the Nigeria Railway Corporation across the country.
The deployment of special breed and exceptionally-trained police dogs for security duties is as old as human civilization. Hence, their utilization in combating crimes and sundry internal security threats in the 21st century cannot be over emphasized.
Indeed, K9 are known to possess extra-ordinary capacity for detection of Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs), narcotics and other illicit drugs, firearms and other prohibited items which criminals usually engage for the perfection of their criminal activities.
The deployment of Police dogs is, therefore, meant for detection or prevention crimes along the railway corridors. Their brief shall be for patrols, surveillance, detection and apprehension of felons in and around railway facilities.
Indeed, it is on record that the Nigeria Police Force Animal Branch has been instrumental to the training and development of similar branches for other security agencies in the country.
By this event today, our plan is to maximize our unique K9 strength to complement other sections that have been deployed as part of the broad policing architecture which we recently emplaced towards addressing our internal security challenges.
It will be recalled that prior to this time, about one thousand additional police personnel were deployed to the Nigeria Police railway Command. This unprecedented deployment was designed to address the manpower gap of the Command and reposition them to address vulnerabilities, projected threats, and security challenges which the increasing human traffic and expanding assets of the Nigeria Railway Corporation may present.
Just this morning, I watched the ‘Sunrise Daily’ Programme of Channels Television which focused on security of railway passengers and I was delighted to hear most of those interviewed confirming that indeed police security deployment has been significantly enhanced both around the railway facilities and in-coach. With today’s initiative, passengers, staff, and indeed, all the citizens of this country can further be re-assured of their security as they patronize the services of the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
I can also assure that all the assets of the Police shall continually be mobilized and deployed towards denying criminal elements of any space to operate in any location in the country.
We, however, continually solicit the cooperation of all. We encourage all citizens to embrace the concept of ‘if you see something, say something’. Indeed, our appeal now is ‘if you suspect something, say something’.
This is a civil obligation of all citizens and this is the most potent weapon towards collectively winning the war against elements bent on threatening our security.
Always be assured that your welfare and that of your dogs will always be of priority to myself and the entire management team as you join this operation today.
As you have always been, I expect you to be of good conduct and operate within strict professional ethics as you proceed to the respective Railways stations across the country in service of your Fatherland.
I also wish to utilize this opportunity to commend all NPF personnel currently on the Operatn Puff Adder duty for their sacrifice, loyalty, dedicatn to duty & professionalism which have so far aided the Operation in achieving its goals of stabilizing the internal security order.
I am very proud of your achievements. I, however, charge you all to sustain the tempo, noting that crime is a dynamic occurrence and even though we have recorded tremendous successes, we cannot afford to lower our guards. I pray that Allah (SWT) continues to protect you all as you commit to the sacred duty of securing the citizens of our beloved nation. I thank you all for your attention.
The former Minister of transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi says he considers himself a huge success in the first term of President Muhammadu Buharis administration.
During an interview on Channels Television in Abuja, Amaechi said his re-appointment as a minister for another term is at the discretion of the President.
I have to be the President, I am not the President. The President will decide those who will come back. So its between God and the President. I dont know.
I am not in a position to access my performance. (I consider myself) a huge success. What are the promises the President made? He promised security. At that time, the problem was Boko Haram. To a great extent, Boko Haram has been decimated, he stated.
Ameachi explained that the Lagos-Ibadan railway will solve the constant gridlock on the Apapa road in Lagos.
According to him, before the traffic would be addressed, the Ibadan-Kano should be handled with goods cleared first before the decongestion can take place.
My fear is that if we dont continue from Ibadan to Kano, then we are leaving the problem at Ibadan.
We have applied for a loan facility from China. Once we get that, we will continue with the construction from Ibadan to Kano. And once we do that, you will see that the goods will be dissipating.
We transport nearly about 30 million tonnes of cargo per year from that Apapa to Kano. As we are transporting it, only 200 tonnes go by rail, he stated.
Italy’s railway chief announced his resignation Thursday accusing the government of implementing a “spoils system” after new Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli dismissed the company’s entire board.
Mazzoncini was made the head of state-owned Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiano (FS) in 2015 by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s centre-left government, fierce rivals of Toninelli’s party Five Star Movement, which has governed alongside the far-right League since last month.
“After just less than three years, following the decision of the new government to apply the spoils system (in which a government replaces a state company’s hierarchy with party loyalists), I’m stepping down from the role of CEO of FS,” said Renato Mazzoncini in a statement to employees.
Toninelli signed off on dismissing the FS board on Wednesday, saying in a Facebook post that there needed to be a “break with the past” and that it was a matter of ethics. The board will be replaced in a shareholder’s meeting set to be held before the end of the month.
Last month Mazzoncini was ordered alongside three others to face charges of fraud relating to the falsification of data involving a transport company in order to gain six million euros ($7 million) of public funds.
Italian media reported that the ministry forced the FS board to step down due to its non-observation of an “ethical clause” that meant they should have launched proceedings for Mazzoncini’s justified dismissal.
Toninelli is also a critic of the merger between FS and the Italian highways agency ANAS completed in January, calling it a ” definite mistake”.
Under his guidance, Mazzoncini continued in his statement, FS produced an average profit of 645 million euros over the last three years, “a 60 percent increase on the three years before”. Net profit last year was 554 million euros.
“Today FS is worth two percent of Italy’s gross domestic product, directly employing 81,000 people and creating work for a further 240,000 people,” he added.
Mazzoncini’s predecessor Graziano Delrio, a leading member of the Democratic Party formerly headed by Renzi, blasted the move as being carried out “only to satisfy the appetites of the parties”.
In this exclusive interview on Channels Television’s Question Time, the Minister of Transportation, Mr Chibuike Amaechi, speaks on some of the issues in the ministry, including the causes of the derailment of trains and the gridlock around Apapa Wharf among others.
Is there the political will to back the transport policy to address the infrastructural gap and move the country out of recession?
Basically, I suspect that when they deal with the issue of inter-modal transport system, how to provide leverages for the nation to provide infrastructure for transportation — so you talk about railway, aviation; you talk about shipping (maritime management). We are looking at affordable and accessible transportation system. We are looking at the possibility of providing the necessary infrastructure, especially in the area of the railway; like the emphasis this time is more on railways than all other sectors. It is quite expensive and heavily dependent on government funding than the private sector. We believe that other reports will engage all these sectors that I have just mentioned to you, including rail transportation.
But people are worried that might to this administration’s tenure, that might be a project that will outlive or even span beyond in terms of completion and delivery. People are worried that will this administration be able to deliver the projects?
I thought the question was on the transport policy. The transport policy will outlive us. It is not fashioned after the current administration; it is fashioned to last beyond the current administration and that is why it is from June 2017 to 2028.
And you are not worried that the other incoming administrations that might possibly not be this government or political party might not buy into this dream? Are you not worried about the problem of continuity?
I am not. See, what I will do? I will wake up, carry a machete and chase them for not continuing from where we stop? Our job is to serve to the best of our ability. Like I said at the inauguration, we should be talking about smart transportation, we shouldn’t be looking at the common one everybody is used to. The point I made yesterday is that we need to leapfrog from where we met others. We do not need to first find how to drive a bus or a taxi and then move from there to train.
I gave an example of what I saw in Singapore where the airport had a smart terminal — very few human beings, they are not there to assist you. The technology is there for you to get used to and get yourself on the plane. Now, for us, the approach is both in terms of policy and in terms of infrastructural development. And you can give it to this government and the Buhari administration. President Buhari also insisted that we must ensure that we provide the necessary infrastructure in railways because it will grow the economy, it will create jobs and ensure that people are able to move from one point to the other in the best and most convenient form.
You talked about growing the economy, that is where we are at this point. We are just at the marginal point of leapfrogging beyond recession now; what are the immediate term strategy for the national transport policy that would aid this country in terms of economic growth?
I was quoted out of context when I received the report. I think This Day and one other paper, Leadership, in the social media. They reported that I said that the current government should stop blaming the past government. I am a student of history.
Yeah, I was about taking you up on that.
I am a student of History, I did not say that. I just said that our critics say we are blaming the last government, we should focus on our own development. And that is what we are focusing on. We are not interested in what the past governments must have done, but we cannot ignore the fact that they failed in critical parts.
We need to clear the air on that. Does that suggest in any way that this administration has disappointed Nigerians in terms of delivery?
I didn’t say that; you did not get what I said. I said that there are critics, there are those who criticise us and say that we should focus on our own developments and stop criticising the last government. So I just quoted them that despite the fact that they said so, we are focusing on our developments. That is what I said there. But instead of completing what I said there, they just took the context that suits them and put it on the pieces of newspaper. I did not say exactly what they said, I did not put it that way.
Maybe by default but that seems to be throwing the question back to this administration. Do you think this administration has performed creditably well, looking at your own (transport) sector?
I was coming to that, not only in the transport sector, when I took on the issue that I was misquoted. Let us look at the economy; everybody knew that by 2014, the economy has started going down. Whether we like it or not, it was going into recession. what we were praying is that our government should manage it in such a way that we do not go into depression. While congratulating the President, I also congratulate the Economic Team and the entire cabinet that not only did we come out of recession, the economy is growing.
At the recent aviation conference, the President did mention that this administration has failed in meeting up with critical infrastructure in the aviation sector.
Yeah, we are two years. Okay, two years maximum but not even three years. Do you think we could have created all the infrastructure that you needed to grow the aviation or the transport sector? We could not have. So when you asked the question, I wanted to address that question whether we have succeeded in the area of transportation. It depends on how you measure it. When we came, the former government said they had done a lot on the narrow-gauge. Check the narrow-gauge, how many things can move there?
General Electric (GE) promised us 100 locomotives. When they came down to Nigeria to access the tracks, the last exercise they did was to rehabilitate the tracks from Lagos to Kano and the GE did a survey of the tracks so that they can bring in the 100 locomotives they promised. They discovered that the two tracks we have – Lagos to Kano and Port Harcourt to Maiduguri – could not have taken more than 17 locomotives. So they did not bring the 100. Meanwhile, the past government said, “oh, we have fixed the railways, we have fixed the narrow-gauge.” If you run from here (Abuja) to Abeokuta, you have derailments. The last derailment I heard of is not Oshodi, it is after Oshodi that we had derailments.
So is this administration taking responsibility for these derailments?
How can we take responsibility for derailments that came out of the fact that most of those contractors were not railway contractors? Contracts were given to civil engineers, a company that builds houses had a contract.
And two years into this administration, you have not been able to rectify that?
No, how can you say a thing like that? We have brought it to the notice of the country that we are negotiating with GE instead of putting in our own money because we do not have money; the scarce resources we have cannot be spent when there are private sector investments.
Now you hinted earlier that the central focus of the National Transport Policy is going to be based on the rail transport. You did mention that a huge investment is going to the railway. When you look at the railway plan, which is also to a large extent centered on the concessioning plan, the plan looks incohesive.
Have you read it?
People believe that this administration has been piling up debts rather than exploring the possibilities of Public-Private Partnership.
Tell me one place in the world where Public-Private Partnership does rail. You know, I read The Punch editorial that took me on on that, that if you go to London or UK, you will see Public-Private Partnership. Two things first — you begin to see that Public-Private Partnership, the government has started withdrawing from it. Secondly, when you hear Public-Private Partnership in railway, it is operational and not construction. Is there anybody to show me that there was construction by any private investor? What they do is to lure you into a loan and they go back to pay for the loan. Do you know much it will cost? How many private investors will bring in $11billion to fix Lagos to Calabar? Name the company anywhere in the world and I will be glad to bring them in. Okay, take up till now, even though we have not advertised, why nobody has approached us in the management of the Kaduna-Abuja railway is because it is not profitable.
The only that will be profitable will be if we have completed the Lagos-Kano. There are people waiting for us to complete that and they will ask for you to concession it to them. So when you concession it to them, that is what The Punch was referring to as Public-Private Partnership, construction wise they should show me an example and I will copy that example. However, to rehabilitate the entire 3,500km of narrow-gauge that we had before, we are in conversation with GE, the concession led by GE that has promised to invest $2.7bn. So when they bring that $2.7 and they invest it in the project, then you can be sure that we have a Public-Private Partnership. Out of that amount, $700m is to rehabilitate the tracks.
When you talk of the narrow-gauge network which is being concessioned to the General Electric, there are fears over the future of the staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
No, it does not mean that at all. We first received all the staff that belongs to the Nigerian Railway Corporation. When the Corporation did not go moribund, but the standard gauge between Lagos and Ibadan will be working, the standard gauge between Itakpe and Warri will be working, the standard gauge from Abuja to Kaduna will be working. First is that they are suggesting that we lay them off and pay them off the way that the Federal Government paid the staff of NEPA. That is what we need to do. Then GE can inherit or employ those that are qualified to work with them. The remainder that we can also hire, we will hire.
When you look at the railway reforms, you look at the obsolete laws in terms of the Railways Act being governed by the 1965 Act. Is it not the time for an amendment?
There is, it is before the National Assembly. We are waiting for them. There are about three to five transportation bills before the National Assembly — there is the National Transport Commission Bill (NTC), there is the Railway Amendment Act, there is the Port and Harbour Amendment Act, there is the NIMASA Amendment Act; there are quite a lot of bills.
And you do not feel some portions of these laws could affect part of your concessioning plans?
No, instead they expand a lot and allow for concessioning. There was no concessioning franchise in the other law. It allows the government the total monopoly of railways. Now the new law is trying to liberalise that and allow private investors to come into railway activities.
When you look at the procurement system now, do you feel overwhelmed sometimes?
Well, the current Director-General of the Bureau for Public Procurement (Mr Mamman Ahmadu) has been kind to all of us. He has been able to increase the pace of the speed which these things are delivered. If before it took you one year, this time will take you two months. I think it is the sense of change.
There have been issues over adherence to local contents in all these concessioning plans. So how do you intend to ensure that the whole plan keeps to the local content?
As much as possible, we are driving to ensure that Nigerians are involved because at the end of the day, Chinese or Europeans will go. And we are starting from design. These new contracts that we are going to award, that the President has approved, will deal with the issue of design. We will include our people, we will not exclude them at all. Then we are also ensuring that these foreigners are able to establish universities that will teach and improve the technology.
Now in the whole issue of railway construction, there have been complaints about massive demolition, especially along the Ijora-Badiya axis; how is your administration tackling these?
That is our land, those are illegal squatters. Will it not be a tautology to say they are illegal squatter? A squatter is a squatter. Well, we can have a legal squatter — a legal squatter can be somebody allowed permission to stay in a place for some time.
So you are not looking at compensation?
On my land? So I will pay a compensation for staying on my land free of charge? You should pay me rent. But anybody whose land we tamper with, that we acquire and we will pay compensation. There is an amount of money set aside for compensation, we pay compensation.
You did promise that the Lagos-Ibadan railway should be ready by December 2018. So taking a periodic assessment now, what are the plans?
Well, I am not the contractors, you cannot ask me for the plans.
But you take the responsibilities?
And the whole thing is on your shoulder?
I do (take responsibilities). Let me tell you why I said I am not the contractor. No matter what we do, it is the contractor that will do the construction. His contract is for three years, but for Christ’s sake, I need to deliver. Nigerians will ask me questions like you asked me now. What has the President Buhari administration done to improve the lives of Nigerians? For the Lagos-Ibadan, yes the contract is for three years, but we have insisted that they must complete by December 2018. They are working hard, they will soon start laying the tracks. The problem we have is that they should have started from Lagos but we are having problems with gas pipes, water pipes and all that. Once we sort out these problems, they will start laying tracks.
Let us move to the area of ports. There have been issues of ports congestion, especially around the Apapa axis.
That is not the making of the Nigerian Ports Authority.
When you consider the fact that Nigerians are looking up to you. In fact, people are saying that what is Chibuike Amaechi, the Transport Minister, going to do to fix this gridlock and port congestion on this axis?
Let us deal with the issue of gridlock before we go to port congestion. Okay, let us start with port congestion. First, the port congestion would not be the fault of the Nigerian Ports Authority that works under the Ministry of Transportation. Our responsibility is to provide the ports. The Nigeria Customs Service will give you the necessary bills to pay and clear your goods and take away. So if it is congested, it means that you are not taking away your goods. Okay that will be too simplistic but if you go further, the roads to the ports are bad. If you want to be more simplistic, you will say the road construction is not with the Ministry of Transportation.
But is this not an escapist way?
If you listen to me, I said that is being simplistic. The truth is that my colleague is facing that reality of focusing on the rehabilitation of the roads. Construction is in sight, but you must realise that it took several years to destroy that road, that cannot be done in one day. So if you agree that we are not miracle workers, it means that whatever plans we have will take time to mature.
But the public wants to know your plans for addressing this.
You have repeated this question since and I am not dodging the question if there is a word like dodging. I am saying that whatever plans that we have, it will take time for it to bear fruits. What is the first plan? For us in the transportation sector, since my colleague, Babatunde Fashola is already constructing the road with the contribution of NPA, do not forget that NPA made some financial contributions to that road. We are going to provide a permanent solution. We are in conversation with GE to provide locomotives that will begin to convey cargoes out of the seaports to different locations to decongest the seaports. That is what we are trying to do. Take another drive to the seaport and see what is going on.
So when are the trucks leaving Apapa axis?
Before February, we would have decongested the seaports. February will be too far.
Now let us move over to the aviation sector. We have a situation where flights are arbitrarily delayed and we also have the issue of multiple taxations which the operators are complaining about.
Well since we came, we have not increased or introduced new taxes.
It is as if the entire airline business is crippling, the operators are groaning.
How? By the time we came, a lot of airlines were owing the Federal Government. Nigerians should rise against such persons because government provided money to grow the aviation sector and gave them as loans. This person collected it and went out of the country and set up banks.
So what are you doing to those defaulters?
What can we do than take them to court? AMCON has moved in but for that very man, what are you going to take over?
Are you happy with the state of our airports?
Not completely; if I tell Nigerians I am happy with the state of the airports, do not forget that we are improving. Abuja airport was not the way it is now.
How will you feel when you hear the scorching that Port Harcourt airport is the worst airport in the world?
We have heard it as soon as we came but we are fixing it. But again, if you look at the end of the Port Harcourt airport, you will see the new terminal that we are building.
Again, the bulk of the reforms that are in the aviation sector is centred on concessioning and stakeholders in the aviation sector have taken to the streets; they are protesting
That we should not concession it?
They said against court cases
Okay, why don’t you want us to concession?
They are saying that the Federal Government is not following due process
What due process? We advertised meaning that anybody in the world should participate. If you put in your document, we will review the document according to the laws filed by the National Assembly. If you qualify, we will forward your name to the Bureau for Public Procurement.
Now 2019 is getting closer and I wonder if you would like to comment on Rivers State politics.
I thought you said you are here to deal with the Ministry of Transportation issues? Well, just wait.
Because you are a key player in Rivers State
Former governor of Rivers State, ex-politician
Ex-politician? But you are still the leader of APC in your state.
Did you ever hear me say that?
People are perceiving a big crack within the APC
Why don’t you wait until the election, that is when you will know whether there is a crack or not.
When you look at the Rivers State that you left behind and the Rivers State of today, how do you feel?
You are a journalist, why don’t you go and see for yourself. You are bringing me into Rivers State politics. The first thing the governor did is that the governor has just one agenda — if he is in his toilet, Amechi; if he is outside his toilet, Amechi; if he is going to see his mother, Amaechi. What baffles me is not the governor, it is the people.
You said something that the governor has only one agenda, which is Chibuike Amaechi. Do you feel, in the interest of the people of Rivers State, that you need to respond to some of these agenda levelled against you?
No, there is no need to respond. Why should I engage him? He was local government chairman when I was the speaker. He was my staff, it is like one of my sons.
He is alleging that you left an empty treasury in Rivers State.
The Senate has begun the process of re-enacting the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act, to remove the bottlenecks that hindered the development of an efficient rail transport system in the country.
The Senate Committee on Land Transport held a public hearing in Abuja aimed at developing a practical and well-crafted legal framework for the Nigerian Railway Corporation to enable it meet with international best practices.
The Chairman Senate Committee on Land Transport, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, at the public hearing said that the exercise when completed would set the Nigerian railway sector on the path of positive development.
At the hearing, Senate President Bukola Saraki said that the Senate has no choice but to speedily and comprehensively review and pass the bill which would aid the development of the railway sector.