By Salim Umar Ibrahim
The Federal Government has failed to meet up with its June 30th 2023 deadline on the completion of the Kano-Kaduna rail line project, which is expected to expand the North West extension of Abuja-Kaduna railway.
Flagged off by the immediate past administration of Muhammadu Buhari in July 2021 and commenced on April 14, 2022, the project has faced delays with sources saying it may linger till 2024.
Daily Trust Saturday findings reveal that the progress of the Kano-Kaduna rail line project has been stalled by challenges including insecurity along the axis, as well as the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy which, in May, forced the contractor to withdraw its vehicles from the project site.
While sources say the project is at less than 45 per cent completion, the contractor – China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation Limited (CCECC), recently clarified to the Minister of Transport Saidu Alkali that the project had reached 22.6 per cent completion but lamented the security challenges along the construction area.
With a length of 200.11 kilometres and an expected speed limit of 150 kilometres per hour, according to the Project Profile, the modern railway project is being constructed at the cost of $1.2 billion.
The project is being executed purposely to facilitate the expansion of the North West extension of Abuja-Kaduna railway and strengthen the link between the cities and other areas. It is also expected that the rail line will promote the export of agricultural products and other mineral resources as well as facilitate the mass movement of passengers, particularly middle-class income earners.
From Zawaciki, passing through Kanwa town in Madobi Local Government Area of Kano State, to neighbouring towns and villages along the Kano-Kaduna axis and passing through Ikara Local Government Area of Kaduna State, the rail line will link the Kano-Zaria Road and then proceeds to the Tashar Yari axis which is expected to host the biggest stations. The rail line will further link to the Zaria train station and then proceed to Rigasa train station in Kaduna.
However, on-the-spot assessment by Daily Trust Saturday revealed that the bulk of work in order to actualize this giant project is yet to be done.
Workers at the site of the project said the work has been ongoing but at a slow pace. They claimed insecurity and presently, the rainy season were two major factors delaying its actualization.
“This work might take at least a year before completion as there is still a lot to be done,” said a security operative guarding expatriates and workers at the site of construction.
His statement was corroborated by a staff of the company who told this reporter that the work was moving at a slow pace.
“Work is still ongoing, there is no problem but it is not moving fast. One of the reasons being that it’s rainy season and most of the time, some things cannot be done when rain comes.
“Secondly, most of the places are bushy and cannot be accessible at times. You know, security challenges were part of what delayed us but we have continued despite the challenges,” he said.
While a single contractor handles the entire project, it is segmented into eight different sections. There are five sections starting from the Kano main station, situated at Zawaciki through Madobi, Kiru, Yako and Makarfi. The other three; section two, one and seven are expected to start from the train’s current end, Makarfi to Rigasa in Kaduna State. Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the construction work has reached the Makarfi to Kaduna axis.
The project has two main camps, seven sub camps, two beam plants with capacity of 200 beams and 196 beams respectively. It also has a single-track laying base and three quarries with a right of way covering a total of 105 meters, according to the project profile.
Section one of the rail project covers 40km, two covers 27km, section three has 24km, four 38km, five has 27km, six has 30km, seven covers 9.10km and section eight has 8.73km.
Dividing the work into two halves from a track laying base situated at the middle, Kaduna to Kano covers 114.10km with a beam plant, a camp, four sub camps and two quarries while the other half; Kano section covers 89.73km with a camp, three sub camps, a quarry and a beam camp.
“It might take us some months to complete these drainages for the Madobi section alone,” labourers at work anonymously told our reporter. Our correspondent reports that while work on the drainages have commenced, no work has been done on several other sections of the rail line.
This reporter observed that workers along Kwanar Dangora; a large section of the site, were in the process of moving sand to the site and clearing the route. In most places, while the site had been cleared, much work is needed.
It was also observed that there were no signs of construction of stations or sub-stations where the train will be expected to take a break to lift or alight passengers, except for the main stations at Zawaciki in Kano and Rigasa in Kaduna which will serve as its starting and terminal point.
Earlier in April, Nigeria’s Senate announced a new financier for the Kano-Kaduna railway modernization project. The former, China Exim Bank, backed off the project, making way for China Development Bank (CDB) to take over while it harmonized the terms of the 2016-2018 federal government external borrowing plan for the project.
A loan of $22.8bn was approved for the railway modernization project in 2020 under the 2016-2018 Medium Plan External Borrowing Plan and the project contractor, Chinese Construction Engineering Company (CCEC) and the Federal Ministry of Transportation had engaged the CDB as the new financier for $973.5m.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation has failed to give any clarification on this as the National Public Relations Officer, Yakub Mahmoud, directed our reporter to the Federal Ministry of Transport in Abuja.
On his part, the PRO for the Ministry, Henshaw Ogubike, asked that this newspaper make its request in written form. However, more than two weeks after a Freedom of Information Request (FOI), the ministry was yet to provide answers on the railway project.
However, on a recent visit to the project site by the Minister of Transport, Senator Sa’idu Ahmad Alkali raised concerns over the use of substandard materials and directed the contractor to review the metal clips used to hold the rail tracks.
Alkali had, while at the construction site in Makarfi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, said this was necessary to prevent vandals from damaging the project.
Speaking on its importance, Musa Abdullahi Sufi, a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) advocate, said when completed, the project will boost the importation and exportation of goods and services at a cheaper cost.
Workers worry over hike in fuel price
Following the Federal Government’s decision to remove fuel subsidy, the construction company had in May withdrawn most of its vehicles used for the project.
A staff of the company had said, “the contractor had withdrawn most of the vehicles. You can see them assembled outside. The continuation will take more time because they have to re-strategize and see how best to go about it. If not, it will affect the entire project’s delivery because the money to put here will no longer be enough.”
However, in August, sources from the area told this reporter that the situation had changed as the vehicles had been deployed back to site.
Residents express high expectation
Residents of communities on the corridor of the ongoing Kano-Kaduna rail line project have expressed satisfaction with the progress of the work, saying it will ease business relations between the two states.
According to residents of Kuya town in Ikara Local Government Area of Kaduna State, apart from playing a key role in moving their goods, the train will provide more business opportunities and increase visitors, especially if one of the stations is established in their town.
Another resident of Kanwa town in Madobi Local Government Area of Kano State, Malam Harisu Iliyasu, said they doubted the prospects of the project until it reached its present stage.
“Even though they brought their equipment long ago, we never thought they could make it to this level. We thought it was the usual promises from politicians. But with what we have seen now, we believe that the project is a reality. We will have a train passing through our town. That, alone, is a big development,” he said.
Experts, stakeholders want Tinubu to fast-track project
Speaking on the development, a renowned businessman in Kano, Kabiru Sufi, expressed optimism but said the fate of such a project may hang in the balance due to the change in government.
“But that will all depend on the level of commitment financially and other issues that have been completed by the past administration. If a large part of the funds has been paid to the contractors, and all legal issues tied, then there is the possibility that the project will continue, thus it may not be at the same pace as it used to be during the last administration because definitely there are priorities,” he said.
He urged the present government to complete the project and other similar ones irrespective of who started it.
On his part, Dr Muhammad Shamsuddeen, a lecturer with the Department of Economics, Bayero University Kano, said despite certain controversies surrounding the financing of the project, the rail project is very important to the economy as it will save the country’s road networks from dilapidation.
“I can remember right from the inception of the project, there were some complaints over the mode of financing, partly the Chinese loan that Nigeria kept collecting and of course the lamentations of people over the humongous amount that Nigeria kept borrowing,” he said.
“Of course, the other issue is the money allocated for the project, people kept wondering how a project that is not more than 240kms or thereabout can consume such amount.”
He said security-wise, the railway is the most secured means of transportation, adding that another advantage to the project is the fact that the towns and villages along the way will become economic hubs.
Also speaking, a retired Professor of Economist from BUK, Isiyaka Pedro, said “Major rail projects like that of Kaduna-Kano all over the country are very vital for the industrial development of any nation.”
He urged the government to address security concerns on the rail tracks for the system to be more reliable and dependable for passengers.
Efforts to speak with the contractor, CCECC’s information unit, proved abortive as officials both on site and in the office declined comment. They said, “there is an order from above not to speak to the media or disclose any information without expressed authorisation.”
Credit: Daily Trust