Federal lawmakers came under fire yesterday for delaying the $1.5billion Chinese loan for the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan standard rail gauge.
The National Assembly slashed N21billion off the N31billion estimate in the 2017 budget for the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
All conditions for the loan were met over six months ago. Only the lawmakers’ approval is yet to be obtained.
Last month, the presidential request for the loan’s approval was read by Senate President Bukola Saraki and referred to the Committee on Foreign Loans headed by Senator Shehu Sani. Since then, it has been kept in abeyance.
Stakeholders faulted the lawmakers, wondering why such an important rail project which connects the nation’s economic hub to other parts of the country was left unattended to.
Former Senate Minority Leader Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora said the issue deserved expedited action given the importance of the Lagos-Ibadan rail project. “Whatever the reason the lawmakers have for not according it the priority it deserves, they should have a re-think”.
According to him, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is the busiest road in the country and there is an absolute necessity to have an alternative. “That’s why the rail project is not only desirable, but inevitable. The earlier we did it, the better. It would take off a lot of load, as far as the transportation of heavy goods is concerned. This way, it would reduce haulage on the roads.”
Mamora added: “It should be a priority thing for us to do. My appeal is to the National Assembly to have a re-think and approve the loan in the interest of the nation.
”We have many ports in Lagos and we need to use the train to evacuate goods to all parts of the country. Too much pressure on the roads is responsible for the state of disrepair of our roads nationwide. The plan of the present government is to connect all state capitals with rail.”
Lawyer and human rights activist Monday Ubani said if it was true that the National Assembly is dilly-dallying on the matter, then it amount to “the worst decision taken by the National Assembly, because 90 per cent of Nigerians will want an efficient railway system in Lagos, which would connect other parts of the country”.
The Second National Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said having an efficient railway system would reduce pressure exerted on roads by trucks.
He said: “What baffles me is that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is in the majority in the National Assembly; must the lawmakers sabotage the programme of their party? Whose interest are they representing?”
Afenifere Publicity Secretary Yinka Odumakin said the issue had been on for quite sometime, adding that it appeared there were forces bent on sabotaging the Southwest.
Odumakin said: “What they are doing cannot be an accident; they want to deny the Southwest projects that are very dear to it. I want to say doing that would be very daring and unacceptable.
“We are waiting for them and will definitely rise up against this abnormally. The Southwest has a lot to offer in terms of ensuring the advancement of the country. What they do not understand is that the project does not stand to benefit the Southwest alone, but the entire country through mutual interaction, facilitated by communication.”
Fromer Transport Minister Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said it would be a bad omen, if the National Assembly worked against the project.
He said: “The issue of railways again? When I was minister, we did everything within our powers to give the necessary support to the project. We ensured that the railways from Lagos to Calabar functioned well. Again, we have not got full rail development in Nigeria.
“Whoever offers us any assistance we should embrace it. I want to appeal to the National Assembly to reconsider its stand and support what will bring progress to the Southwest and the entire country.”