There is no immediate hope that the transportation headache of Abuja residents will soon be over. The light train projects which Nasir el-Rufai conceived in 2007 when he was the minister of the federal capital territory, are suffering from unnecessary delays due to poor funding and other factors
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Apr. 7, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
IT WAS a noble idea conceived in 2007 by Nasir el-Rufai, the then minister of the federal capital territory, FCT. It was meant to, among other things, decongest the roads and ameliorate the transportation woes of Abuja residents. But almost seven years down the line, the Abuja rail project is still a dream in the pipeline which may never come to fruition.
It is no longer news that transportation is one of the many daily challenges that residents of Nigeria’s capital city face because a large percentage of the workers in city live in satellite towns like Nyanya, Bwari, Dutse, Lugbe, Masaka and Maraba among others. Often times, the roads are congested with thousands of workers looking for any means to get to their offices. Traffic in Abuja is a never ending cycle. In the morning, there is a rush to get to work and in the evening, there is a rush to get back home and prepare for the next day’s work.
This situation is likely to persist for a long time as the Abuja light rail projects are still an unrealisable dream despite assurances from government officials that it would be ready soon.
At the moment, there are two rails projects going on in the city. The first one is Idu-Kubwa to Kaduna rail track which is managed by the federal government and the other is the rail track linking Idu to the Central Business District which is the project of the federal capital territory administration, FCTA. The FCTA project is also expected to link the Central Business District with satellite towns of Nyanya, Kubwa, Mararaba and Lugbe.
Like a child of necessity, the Abuja rail project came into being in 2007 when former president Olusegun Obasanjo awarded the contract. But like many other projects in the country, the contractors did not move to site until sometimes in 2009 due to the delay in the release of funds.
Even though work had commenced on the project, it was moving as a very slow pace because the contractor said the fund released was still not enough. The development forced the FCTA authorities to review the contract in 2012. By that time, the government had realised that it could not finance the project alone and therefore entered into an agreement with the China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC. A loan of $500 million was obtained from the China Exim Bank for the completion of the project by 2015. The loan agreement was signed on behalf of Nigeria by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, coordinating minister of economy, while Soon Ping, managing director, signed for China Exim Bank. Expectations have been raised since the signing of the new contract agreement that the project could be ready before its completion deadline in 2015.
On various occasions, government officials have expressed confidence that Abuja residents will be able to use the train soon. Earlier this year, Bala Mohammed, minister of the FCT, assured while he addressing a delegation from Pakistan, that the light rail project would be ready by 2015.
His optimism was echoed by Jonathan Ivoke, FCT transport secretary, who at an event recently, said the project had recorded 37 percent completion and that it would be ready before the 2015 deadline. Confident as they sound, the reality on the ground says otherwise. All indications point to the fact that Abuja residents will have to wait much longer beyond 2015 to use the light rails.
Junaid Salami, an official of the CCECC, told Realnews that even though the contractors are working hard, it would be difficult to meet the deadline due to some logistical challenges. Salami also said work had been slow on the site lately because the contractors were having problems with some of the local workers they engaged.
“I can tell you authoritatively that the project cannot be ready by that time. We have not been working and the Chinese people are having problems with some of the workers.” As if to confirm Salami’s concerns, some residents around the Bwari site of the project stopped CCECC staff from working. Their action was based on what they described as the “insensitivity” of the company to their plights as residents of the area. According to some of the residents, their houses had been damaged by the rock-blasting activities of the Chinese company. Officials of the company had initially agreed to repair the affected houses but reneged on the agreement.
The situation is similar in Idu-Karmo, where some landlords whose structures were demolished during the rock-blasting process are said to be bracing up for a showdown with the Chinese company’s workers. Nonso Odika, one of the landlords said: “the government cannot just come and demolish our houses and leave us like that, we will fight this to the end. El-Rufai came and did his own and left, it cannot happen again.”
With these developments, residents in the satellite towns who are obviously in dire need of an effective transportation system are worried that the project may never be completed. Modupe Adewunmi, an immigration officer, who resides in Nyanya, said the delay encountered by the Chinese companies would no doubt have a negative effect on the project.
“With all these stories flying here and there, what hope do we have that the project will be ready by next year? This suffering on the road will not end anytime soon from the look of things at the moment.”
Ruth Anukew, another resident, shares a similar view. According to her, the project will not be ready before the deadline regardless of what any government official says.