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Edo Reset Featured

By Opinion / Friday, 20 April 2018 04:29

The long read

So, why the wait for “Mr. Godot?"
Acting in the capacity of “an agent of change, Edo State Government (EDSG) retains a capacity  to dictate fundamental transformation in the state's economic  structure.  Towards this end, EDSG must now assume a  proactive role in compelling immediate and critical changes in at least seven industrial sectors.  These sectors being transportation, the agro-allied, food processing, retailing, hydrocarbon, manufacturing and infrastructure development. 
Yes, a frightening degree of capacity shortfall exists in about any field  critical to effective  policy administration  in Edo State. Indeed, conditions bequeathed the current EDSG administration were overwhelmingly bad. Basic tools to drive grand policy goals towards desired ends just do not exist in the current situation. 

Yet, strengthening of capacities across the aforementioned sectors must be achieved, if the objective of sustained and endogenous economic growth  to light up the state’s internal market structure is to be realised.  Thus, on the part of state policy administration, improvisation in decision-making process should be seen as inevitable. To surmount the  immediate challenge of capacity shortfall, a viable strategy must quickly be formulated. In this regard therefore, the option of  a  “Big Bang” detonation, to compel optimal operations on systemic level can no longer be ignored. Time is not on our side. The longer the delay, the “more impossible”  it becomes to get it right.  In context of rapid population growth pace, vis-a-vis non expansion in economic production and credit accumulation, a difficult time it must be for the state government.  

 Realism imposes on whatever  “Big Bang” strategy being proposed here, the obligation of providing an adequate response to the question of, "from where the  quantum of resources to effect this project may be sourced?"  Designing “means” by which  critical resources may be mobilized and  invested to create overloads in specific sectors, robust enough to serve as growth pylons for the take-off of sustained and endogenous growth in other sub sectors is straight forward enough.   
 Under-exploited capacities in the state’s transportation sector presents an opportunity for launching  a radical initiative with transformational impact in the mode of economic production. In this respect, the design and commissioning of an Edo State Railway enterprise needs to be studied.   While odds against such a policy thinking may seem overwhelming, if by any chance implemented, the  potential yield appear unquantifiable. 

At first glance, radical expansion of  transport system and allied infrastructure,   to include a localized intra state railway project may be discounted for many reasons.  The proposal may seem "dead on arrival from a number of biew points.  Uncertainty surrounding political approval for it on federal level, gross credit shortfall in treasury and a total absence of technical manpower to implement and manage projects of such magnitude seem obvious. 

Railway policy management remains under exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Government of Nigeria, through operations of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC). The political undertone of this, finds justification in the fact that from a strategic-industrial point of view, a uniform structure and cohesive policy is essential for the management of a national railway system anywhere in the world. Railway is too important to leave in the hands of regional governments. Yet, a way around this may be negotiated. It may be noted that the people of Edo State, voted for an All Progressives Congress (APC) government, under the  leadership of Mr. Godwin Obaseki. The President, Muhammadu Buhari,  and  Nigeria’s Minister of Transport with direct supervisory role over the management of country’s railway policy, Mr. Rotimi Amechi,  are  APC members. On the floors of the country’s national parliament, the APC is the party in majority. 

In political terms therefore, channel for potential convergence in policy thinking, on federal executive and parliamentary levels, as well as regional administration already exists. So, on political levels, a vent exists to negotiate the implementation of composite  railway development concept in  Edo State.     What remains is the driving will to exploit these advantages to the benefit of the people of the state by the government. At the various points “tough negotiations” awaits the Obaseki regime, if a decision is made towards this end.  The proposal must be presented with the ceveat that its implementation would be in consonance with technical and administrative guidelines of national railway development policy.  Edo railway project proposal must satisfy technical specifications of the NRC. Advanced in such relations,  the state stands a good chance of debating its way to acquiring political approval of its own "railway project".  And why not, if by design, provision is made for seamless interface between the local system and the national system at an appropriate time in future?   If so,  then the people of Edo State may not be kept waiting. The time to begin may be now.

Physiographically, the construction of a railway service of the nature recommended here would be costly. In terms of valuation,   construction of a railway corridor over rocky and hilly terrains,  especially in the northwestern region of the state will be very expensive. To be of strategic value, the spine of a viable railway architecture should integrate the agricultural belts, population heartlands of the state and the port facility to be established in Gele-Gele. Roughly speaking, the first railway line should connect the southern post of Ughoton, Ovia South local government area, to Benin City.  Cutting north-east as the crow flies,  a second line should drive through local councils in Owan, Esan and Etsako agricultural and population heartlands, terminating in the neighbourhood of Auchi. A  north-western connection from this point, running towards the hilly Akoko-Edo region of the state completes the template of a strategic railway development plan for the state. Construction of culverts, bridges and tunnels blasting through rocks and hills suggests frightening valuation for financing a project of such magnitude.   

Technical Manpower
Railway construction in contemporary times is an area of business that demands skilled manpower and state- of-the-art technical input. This factor makes it highly desirable for transnational construction "dinosaurs" with specialised capacities in railway construction  to be assigned the job of implementing  the proposed “Big Bang” project design. Conservatively speaking,  current valuation of a project of this nature may hardly be negotiated for less than 19 billion USD. Edo State treasury can simply not afford anything close to this. 
Yet, in themselves, the fundamental impediments may partially or wholesomely be resolved if addressed in the context of a will to begin action within limits of means and resources available. In this relation, it may again be proper to  evaluate   outlined “impediments”,  but this time, from the dimension of “proffered solutions”. 

People's Railway`
With the issue of exclusive jurisdiction on railway development resolved, funding source becomes one, of the two critical issues to be considered. By floating  an Edo Railway development bond, open to the general public, the state government may indirectly access significant political credit that will impact on its ability to deliver on the project. Though significantly insufficient in terms of funds available for project finance, political credit once availed,  will serve in mobilising a groundswell of  goodwill. Such an initiative will likely induce   a feeling of shared vision and sense of collective ownership of a big dream among the people. Incentives such as distribution of claims to token shares to each indigene of the state, resident at home or abroad, and everyone born in the state. This will go a long way towards endowing the project with an almost unstoppable  momentum, until successfully completed. 

By floating an Edo State railway company with shares open for  subscription, international credibility in the project may be acquired at quite an early stage. Commissioning of a technical feasibility blueprint for the project will signal to institutional investors the state government’s determination to drive forward with the project. With a view to presenting a technically sound project feasibility design, the government will do well to constitute a team of experts to present its "pre-feasibility" report. It is at this point the project’s strategic intent, may come into view.  By appointing a technical committee of experts drawn from institutions of higher learning in the state,  a "we can do within local means and competence" attitude is at once communicated by the state government.  In tone and expression, the state government's railway development policy will be seen as a reflection of the new orientation and new wave of energy about to take hold in the state. Presentation of a pre-feasibility design would constitute part of the Committee’s reference.

In the main, with a successful commissioning of a technical feasibility report, the newly established railway company may approach local and foreign concession of financiers for funds. This may be via creation of special funding vehicle(s)  in international funds jurisdictions. With this in view, legal instruments and deeds on land transfers to the company based on consultations and settlement of local communities can be made available in course of negotiations for credit finance. With this  in place, the company will come across as one with assets.  By way of promotion, the value of these assets as  estates for profitable investment by local and global brands to install myriads of logistics and tourism infrastructure can effectively be communicated to fund or portfolio managers worldwide. On this strength, a sub product may already be promoted and sold to willing investors. Thus, even before negotiations with investors and potential concessionaires, the company may be seen as one with liquid assets.

Employment and Capacity Development
Challenges relating to manpower training and development for the purpose of meaningfully engaging several hundreds of thousands  unemployed and underemployed youths in economic production is a time bomb awaiting detonation in Edo State. This challenge is accentuated by rapid population growth, and more imporatantly, by an ever growing bulge in rural-urban migration. Tens of thousands of youths born in rural settlements and peasant communities drift out to urban settlements periodically. A few find their way to Europe via the Sahara. Others stop over in different Nigerian and African towns, while the bulk settle in urban communities in the state. Unskilled peasant manpower from Edo State settled in communities away from "home",  become displaced people  of anti social and nuisance value when they cannot be absorbed in the chain of socio-economic production of  the host communities. The ill-equipped and disillusioned Edo youth currently away, will one day return "home", even more disillusioned than he was before they left. 

Perhaps, more than anywhere else in southern Nigeria, Edo State environment has enabled the emergence of disctinct and burgeoning lumpenproletariat class whose devastating potentials may yet  unravel.   Despite (perhaps)  "best" and not so close to best efforts by succesive administrations, this problem persists. Failure of past policy measures is a legacy that has assumed the nature of an immediate security threat to the state and the nation in general. 

For Mr. Godwin Obaseki, there is no slack to cut. The time to frontally confront this challenge  is now.  A labor-intensive railway construction project in Edo State, hold the potentials of an "Open Sesame".  If so,  an immediate policy course is worth considering in this regard. The construction of the project’s main spine, i.e., Gele-Gele to Akoko-Edo railway corridor, will likely require the direct engagement of well over a quarter of a million unskilled and low skilled workers. These categories of of otherwise unemployed and underemployed people can be engaged in different areas of the construction project for a minimum of six calendar years. Not only will this impact hugely on current condition of youth unemployment in Edo and surrounding states, the state’s internal economy will be positively impacted. Dispensable income coming the way of so many workers daily, and spendings by project’s labourers (and their families) will go a long way to stimulating production and demand of services from the base of Edo State's economic pyramid.   

Six uninterrupted years formal of on-the-job technical training for low and middle skilled workers will achieve a lot for the state's drive towards industrialization.  Training and equipping  over a quarter of a million people directly engaged in different facets of Edo Railway construction and development project will provide the basis for the state’s industrialisation. Training acquired by 15 to 20% of productive manpower in the state in course of the project’s construction phase, will be deployed to other sectors of socio-economic production in the state upon the project’s completion. Construction, fabrication, installation, wielding, plumbing, electrical, driving-automation, piloting of cranes and earth moving machines, artisanship and masonry, tiling, roofing, welding, landscaping, etc, are sectors that will experience revolutionary upsurge in capacities.   This will mark an arrival of  knowledge-based economy in the state, albeit Nigeria in general. Such a development will assure transformations in production mode. In turn, this achievement will radically impact on government’s effort to design structures of a  self sustaining internal market system. 

Existing pool of middle to upper level skilled manpower in Edo State will benefit directly from project’s execution. Seven universities, five tertiary poly/mono technical institutions, a national institute of construction technology, four technical secondary schools and a host of other specialised training centres exist in Edo State. The project presents a novel opportunity to directly involve these institutions in the state’s industrialisation policy.  The yawning disconnection that exists between industrial training institutions and the practical purpose they were set up for may thus be "bridged". Left on their own, research studies conducted in these institutions have scarcely consulted by state policy planners nor private sector  actors in the state. Graduates of these institutions hardly find employment as very few companies exist to absorb them. On their own, they can hardly do anything, other than join the train of illegal migrants crossing the Sahara and Mediterranean Ocean daily in search of  illusive “life redefining” job opportunities abroad.

Local Content
Edo State railway development project, as proposed, would rapidly expand capacities in industrial sectors involved in extraction and processing of local raw materials input into the construction process. Input demand will spike up production in many industrial sectors. Cement production, quarry industry, timber extraction and processing, glass production, petrochemical and polymer production, agriculture, food processing and catering etc will witness capacity expansion. Further supply of input may be expected from non-Edo State resident producers, as aluminium smelting plant in Akwa Ibom State and steel plants around the country. This in turn will boost production capacities for operators in logistics and haulage business in and outside the state.

Edo Railway Development Company can indeed install, commission and manage subsidiary companies specialised in such diverse fields as -  rolling stock, property holding, tourism development, logistics  and electric power generation. The rolling stock subsidiary company will be responsible for assembling and maintenance of locomotives and development of local content capacities in their production, while the property holding company will attend to asset development along land corridors of the railway system. The tourism subsidiary would attend to development of such tourism packages and concepts “in the tropics”, such  as hotels, resorts, restaurants etc, in designated coaches, train stations and geographical locations along railway routes.

A logistics subsidiary to be created will be involved in the design, operation and management of logistic support solutions and facilities and the leasing of these on concessionary terms to private and institutional operators. 
Since the railway system will rely on electricity as its principal source of power, an electric power generating and distribution subsidiary may need to be established. If thermal based, a power generating plant deemed capable of generating the companies’ power requirement may be situated somewhere in hydrocarbon fields located in Southern Edo State. If hydro, the power plant may be located in the neighbourhood of Edo Central or Edo North. Otherwise, a hybrid solution incorporating thermal, hydro and green house plants (solar and wind) sourced from plants to be installed in guinea savannah plains located in Owan region of Edo North senatorial district may be considered. Evacuation of power from points of generation into the railway grid will be straightforward, as the plants will hardly be too far away from railway route.  

Edo State integrated railway project may be co-opted to serve as a vehicle to lay the foundation upon which a composite industrialised internal economy will emerge in Edo State within 50 years. An integrated railway system linking the main population centres in Edo State to agriculture and industrial heartlands, as proposed, presents an opportunity for the construction of a network of underground canalisation and piping system.

 A network of pipelines running alongside the railway system may be used for evacuating hydrocarbon from gas fields to refineries, and refined products from refineries to depots installed at points along railway route. Subterranean pipelines will serve for evacuation of pipe borne water from treatment plants to reservoirs installed along railway route.  From such points,  water can be redistributed to end-point consumers which may be factories, communities or integrated farms.     The construction of concrete channels designed as principal artery of an integrated state-wide drainage and sewage system may also be considered.   

Evacuation of electricity from generating plants located in outlying areas to points of consumption seems to be a big problem in not just Edo State, but Nigeria. The deployment of high tension cables between outlying power plant and transmission stations in the vicinity of urban centres can be channeled through an underground concrete canal system. This will be built  in course of construction work on Edo Railway project and investment for this could be sourced from foreign private and institutional investors and fund institutions. With this, erecting and maintenance of aluminium pylons for deploying high tension cables between power plants and transmission stations will be a less talked about issue in Edo State.

Edo Railway development project will likely serve as a backbone, upon which the most robust ICT infrastructure ever in Africa may be built. The basis of this opinion rests on the supposition that investments can be sourced relatively easily for the construction of cement canalisation system for laying a network of high speed fibre optic cables across the state. Relatively easy it would be for selected “concessionaires” to access any (or some), of the five submarine cable systems from Europe, or the one from South America, running within a 250 kilometre arc off Nigeria’s Atlantic Coast. Sub marine cables may then be channeled via Benin River, to Gele-Gele, onwards to the interiors of Edo State via Edo Railway project. Through this channel,  fibre optic broadband may be deployed around  cities, towns and villages in Edo State, from which further deployment beyond the northern frontiers of the state.  This backbone may be expanded to interconnect urban settlements in the central heartlands of Nigeria, onwards to Abuja and beyond. With a vast collection of tertiary institutions and relatively educated labor force, such a deployment will open up vast investment opportunities in cities, towns and villages in Edo State. 

History beckons on the state’s 21st chief executive administrator (with the addition of Major Albert Okonkwo, a secessionist officer imposed on the region). A capable hand of very high quality, what Godwin Obaseki has promised is to lift a locomotive engine from a one way track leading nowhere,  turn it around and set it off on tracks in the opposite direction. An insurmountable task it seems.  Yet, not one that is impossible,  at a time that’s right, with a method that's appropriate.


David Danisa

David Danisa



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