The history of the modern world cannot be complete without the railway. Railways are to a country what arteries and veins are to the body. They transport passengers and goods in their multitudes connecting all nooks and crannies and in the process add to the economic well-being of a country thereby making life easier for all.
At the dawn of the British colonial enterprise in Nigeria, one of the earliest projects they embarked upon was building of railways. It was pivotal to their goal of evacuating primary products and the mineral wealth of Nigeria wherever they were found, and also in their strategic calculation, to subdue internal and external threats to their rule.
Thus we came to have railway lines extending to far-flung places like Nguru, Kaura Namoda and Kumo. The rails also greatly enhanced the movement of people across Nigeria who settled in such towns as Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Gusau, Kafanchan, Bauchi and Funtua. Indeed the growth and development of towns and cities such as Jos, Enugu, Zaria, Aba Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Makurdi owe, to a large extent, to the railways.
Again, many prominent Nigerians like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Bola Ige and Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu can be called “railway boys’’, having been born or raised in such towns.
Against this background, one is really at a loss at the hiatus accompanying the railway projects in Nigeria, especially the Kano-Maradi and Port Harcourt-Maiduguri lines. A lot of the comments I have read coming from supposedly enlightened folks centre on the “economic viability’’ of these projects or that the motive behind them is to enable President Muhammadu Buhari bring in his Fulani kinsmen into Nigeria in furtherance of his Fulanisation agenda.
That there are some people who still raise objections to the development of railways despite their contributions to the political and economic evolution of Nigeria baffle the mind.
But perhaps some comparative examples are necessary here to debunk these asinine opinions.
When the adventurer and arch imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes, ventured to South Africa in pursuit of fortune and fame, his stated ambition, which has become etched in British colonial folklore, was to build a railway “from Cape to Cairo’’. At the time Rhodes made that vow he was yet to know what riches lay on the path, but although he did not achieve that tall order entirely, his stance acted as spur in his controlling all of Southern Africa – South Africa, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), Zambia, Malawi and Namibia – and its riches in diamond and gold.
Similarly, the vast hinterland of the United States of America (USA) could not have been settled as rapidly as happened subsequently were it not for the railways. So much was the need to effectively settle the hinterland of the US that it became a state policy. Thus the American government licenced and incentivised railway companies such that rail magnates like Leland Stanford and Cornelius Vanderbilt; and iron and steel moguls like Andrew Carnegie took up the challenge. In the process, the railways became the critical lifeblood of America which greatly spawned the growth and development of cities like Chicago, Kansas, St Louis, San Francisco, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.
Coming back to Nigeria, the argument that the Kano-Maradi and Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail lines are not economically viable does not cohere with current and historical reality.
The Kano-Maradi area is an old trade and commercial corridor of the trans-Saharan trade route which predated the colonial era extending right across the Northern fringes of the West African sub-region terminating at Kano at the eastern end. Even with the balkanisation of West African countries, the corridor still serves millions who continue to use the ancient trade routes for commerce and other purposes. Building a railway to link the important ancient trading town of Maradi right up to Kano will further boost the latter’s status as the hub of trade and commerce in the Sahel area of West and Central Africa.
Kano will be to the Sahel part of West and Central Africa what Lagos is as a hub to the Southern part of West and Central Africa all to the ultimate benefit of Nigeria. With the construction of West East railways cutting through the entire Southern region of Nigeria and the Maradi-Kano rail lines, Nigeria will have the advantage of having two major economic hubs for West and Central Africa, one in the North and the other in the South.
It is in this regard that the viability of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail project can be understood. Just as the Lagos-Kano rail project serves to link up the two hubs traversing the South West through parts of the North Central to the North West, the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line will link up the Nigerian Eastern trade and commercial corridor beginning from the South South through the South East, through parts of the North Central to the North East.
On any given day hundreds of trucks laden with livestock and agricultural produce make the hundreds of kilometres journey to South Eastern and South South markets.
The shoe industry in Aba would greatly benefit from the convenient transportation of hides and skins from Borno, Yobe and Bauchi through the rail line, as well as the livestock markets in Okigwe, Umuahia, etc.
Similarly, industrial goods produced in Port Harcourt, Calabar and Aba could easily be transported through the railways to Makurdi, Jalingo, Yola, Damaturu, Potiskum and Maiduguri.
This rail line will not only be of benefit to Nigeria, but will also boost trade and mobility beyond Nigeria to Central Africa.
Why then would anyone object to the building of a railway line that would connect this important trade and commercial corridor enhancing Nigeria’s overall economic development? Is Nigeria not long overdue to have this railway connectivity all over the country linking state capitals and urban areas? Why can’t we also have it here what we see and admire in other countries?
These are the questions those who raise objections to the railway projects in Nigeria need to answer in order to convince us that railways are not necessary to our quest for integrated development as a country. It is not enough to make statements based on sentiments and what clearly are poorly understood issues in the necessity of railway development in the life of a country. Nigerians must not allow such opinions prevent us from having such a very vital development requirement for a country aspiring to become an economic power as its potentials shows.