The exclusion of the South-East zone of Nigeria from the implementation of the railway modernisation project was not by omission, Bounce News investigation has revealed.

According to a document on the 25-year railway strategic plan seen by Bounce News, the South-East and South-South parts of Nigeria were all captured but only deliberately excluded in the ongoing implementation.

According to the document, the federal government had unveiled a plan to modernise Nigerian railway through a 25-year period.

Nigerian railway, as you know, was built by the British in 1898 on a narrow-gauge line. But after about 119 years, the world has moved on to faster standard gauge lines and the country needed to catch-up.

Nigeria had been left behind and still runs its trains on narrow-gauge lines which is not suitable for speed or to run modern trains.

So, the federal government, under former President Goodluck Jonathan unveiled this strategic plan to first rehabilitate some of the existing narrow-gauge lines and then build other new standard gauge lines across Nigeria over a 25-year period and through a loan to be obtained through a Chinese bank and some public private partnership.

In the document detailing the modernisation plan and unveiled by the then Minister of Transportation, under former President Jonathan, Senator Idris Umar, phase one of the modernisation project would see the completion of the construction and rehabilitation of a 274km standard gauge line from Itakpe to Ajaokuta to Warri.

The phase one would also see the construction of the 187km Abuja – Kaduna section of the Lagos to Kano railway modernisation programme – this was started by former President Jonathan but was completed and commissioned in July 2016 by President Muhammad Buhari.

Still under the phase one, the Lagos – Ibadan 180km double track gauge line would be constructed. The construction of this line was flagged off by the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo in March this year.

However, the document showed that the South-East routes and railway corridors were also captured under the modernisation progamme but when it came to implementation, the zone was left out.

For instance, under the modernization programme, a 500km standard gauge line had been proposed to be constructed through Benin-Agbo-Onitsha-Nnewi-Owerri-Aba with additional lines from Onitsha-Enugu-Abakaliki.

There was also a  proposed major standard gauge line to run through South-South, South-East, North-Central to the North East. The rail line run from Port Harcourt-Aba-Umuahia-Enugu-Markurdi-Lafia-Kuru-Bauchi-Gombe-Biu-Maiduguri.

The document also showed a proposed coastal line in the Niger Delta region to run through Benin-Sapele-Warri-Yenegoa-PH-Aba-Uyo-Calabar-Akangba-Ogoja-Obudu Cattle ranch.

But under the railway plan being implemented by Rotimi Amaechi’s transportation ministry, these routes linking South-East to other zones were not captured.

The $5.8 billion dollars the federal government plans to borrow from China would be utilised in the execution of the rail project to link Lagos-Calabar under the coastal rail line, the Kano-Kaduna rail line, and the Lagos-Ibadan rail line and nothing for the South East.

The Federal Ministry of Transportation has denied vehemently that the South-East zone had been excluded from the project.

On Friday, the ministry issued a statement through the Ministry’s Director of Public Relations, Yetunde Sonaike, saying that the South-East was not excluded from the project since Onitsha in Anambra and Aba in Abia state were among some towns that the Lagos-Calabar rail will pass through.

But in his reaction to the statement, the lawmaker representing Abia-South Senatorial District, who pointed out this anomaly at the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe argued that his motion on the matter was not only about the South-East but “about the second major railway corridor in Nigeria, built by the British, which covers the South-South, South-East, North-Central and the North-East.”

“The corridor is from Port Harcourt (Rivers State) to Maiduguri (Borno State). It covers over 100 towns and major cities, not about Aba or Onitsha; far from it. It industrialised many cities and gave jobs directly and indirectly to thousands,” Abaribe said.

He added: “In addition, the letter from Mr. President seeking for expedited action on approval of the loan did not specify when the eastern corridor would be modernised.

“It said that negotiations were on to get a concessionaire for the eastern line. In other words, while we borrow for the western line, we must wait to get some entity interested to concession it (eastern line).”

When asked why the eastern corridor could not wait for the next phase as proposed by Senator Gbenga Ashafa during the debate on his motion, Abaribe said, “If it is our collective money saved out of our earnings, we can wait for the next season. But since it is a collective debt, why don’t we endeavour to borrow enough and stimulate the growth of every region at the same period?”