Take the West African train

When a team of journalists from Arise News Television asked the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired), why Nigeria would fund a railway line – complete with tracks, coaches, engines and personnel – from Kano to Maradi in the Republic of Niger, he explained that he had first cousins ​​in the Republic of Niger.

As well as brushing aside speculations that her father was a Nigerien who came to Daura, Nigeria to trade in ducks, it was also a rejection of the artificial borders created by the metropolitan powers that sat in the Berlin Conference. from 1884-1885 to share Africa as you do the spoils or the spoils of war.

At the dawn of the industrial revolution, which introduced the wheel which enabled man to move heavy objects and free himself and his animals from the drudgery of physical transport of loads, and the twilight years of milking transatlantic slave, the inhabitants of the metropolitan powers, led by German Chancellor Otto von Bismark, “The man of steel and blood», African societies have been torn to pieces.

Many glorious African ethnic nations were fragmented so that the Hausa, Peuls, Yoruba, Kanuri, Efik and other linguistic and cultural groups were fragmented in Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Republic of Niger, Republic of Chad and Cameroon.

The President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, laments that the Maasai, divided by the borders between two countries, Kenya and Tanzania, see themselves as “The Other” and in competition, instead of being complementary. He told the ridiculous story of the Awori brothers, of the same father and mother: Moody, the vice president of Kenya, and Aggrey, the minister in Uganda.

Some point to President Buhari’s filial sentiments, Kenyatta’s cynical observation, and the objectives of the Economic Community of West African States and the African Continental Free Trade Area to advocate for a path from Cameroon, via Nigeria, to the Republic of Benin and to other countries in West Africa.

It reminds you of the “Go west, young man”Charge given to the adventurous and daring young men who sought both fame and fortune in the outback during America’s early days to become a country and economy of opportunity.

In 1975, 16 heads of state and government signed the ECOWAS Multilateral Trade Agreement to foster economic relations and allow members to have unhindered access to each other’s markets.

The AfCFTA was founded in 2018 by 54 member states and started its operations on January 1, 2021, with the following objectives: “Create a single trade market, deepen the economic integration of the continent, establish a liberalized market through several rounds of negotiations and help movement of capital and people.

“Facilitate investments, progress towards the creation of a future continental customs union, achieve sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformations within member states, strengthen the competitiveness of member states in Africa and on the world market.

“Encourage industrial development through the diversification and development of regional value chains, agricultural development and food security, solving the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships.” ”

You will agree that the idea of ​​free trade, a single market, unimpeded access to individual markets and aiding the movement of people and capital presupposes that there is a transport network that crosses the entire region. . An extensive road network is credited with the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire.

Arguments for a railway line through ECOWAS member states include low carbon emissions (the Green Lobby’s article of faith), damage avoidance and reduced maintenance costs roads, facilitation of the objectives of ECOWAS and AfCTA, and easy linkage from Lagos, the hub of the Nigerian economy, to the ECOWAS region.

Others argue that whatever is good for the Lagos-Ibadan-Kano-Maradi rail line is also good for the Calabar-Lagos-Porto Novo-via Dakar rail line. They further contend that while the gross domestic product of the Republic of Niger is only $ 13.7 billion, that of the ECOWAS countries west of Nigeria is $ 233.3 billion!

Add to this that only 24.2 million Nigeriens could not match the relatively huge market of 145 million people that Nigeria would have if the railway line were to be extended to the Atlantic Ocean via Dakar, in Senegal.

Imagine the savings in time and money if the goods were transported from, say, the port of New York on the east coast of the United States and transferred on trains going from Dakar to Lagos, instead of the ships having to cross the Gulf of Guinea and Gulf of Benin.

Nigeria, with $ 429 billion, or 62.5% of GDP, and 206 million inhabitants, or 52% of the population of ECOWAS, is by far the hub and pillar of the sub-regional economy. from West Africa.

Even if the Lagos-Ibadan-Kano-Maradi railway line were extended north to Tunisia, the market and effective demand that will be available from the resulting GDP and population cannot match the opportunities for a railway line connecting Calabar to Ethiopia on the (East)) Horn of Africa.

Tuareg countries, mainly in North Africa and the southern Sahel, and countries in Central Africa, as far as southern Africa, should also be encouraged to build rail lines to transport their goods and people. Africa can certainly achieve its goals of economic integration and free trade faster with an Africa-wide rail network.

If Nigerian policymakers understand the dynamics and adopt appropriate policies to take advantage of Nigeria’s large-scale production economy, Nigeria will be able to expand its economic tentacles across West, Central and East Africa into the immediate, North Africa in the medium, and Southern Africa in the long term. The loan taken out to finance a busy rail route will surely be repaid more quickly.

If Nigeria’s land use law is revised, multiple taxes are eliminated, insecurity is tackled, infrastructure is further improved, and Nigeria spearheads the country’s vast railway line. West Africa, Nigeria, with the largest economy and population in West Africa, and even Africa, will be the preferred destination for foreign direct investment.

However, while trying to implement this East-West African rail system, parallel to the equator, Nigerian policymakers should pay attention to the following checklist prepared by some experts, namely: a detailed memorandum of understanding, but simple, comprehensive feasibility studies, project costs, finances, timelines, approvals and relevant agencies, land clearance and allocation, and environmental impact assessment studies.

India, a country that is almost a continent, has 126,366 kilometers (or 78,500 miles) of railroad tracks. Between 2019 and 2020, this giant rail system carried 22.15 million passengers and freight of approximately 3.32 million metric tons.

The United States of America, with the largest rail network in the world, has 257,723 kilometers (or 160,141 miles) of track. It also carries cargo and passengers, across national borders and into major urban centers, and carries a not-so-impressive 10.3 million passengers, but moves, wait, 1.71 trillion tonnes of cargo per. year.

The European high-speed railway that runs across Europe has assets that include infrastructure, facilities, logistics, equipment and rolling stock in 33 countries. There is even a pass, known as Eurail, which gives passengers access to no less than 40,000 European destinations.

These statistics are just to show how much the peoples and economies of the world owe to the Englishman George Stephenson, the civil and mechanical engineer who invented the train engine, and to the American Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, who built its wealth, first from ships, and later helped transform the geography of America from East to West Coast using railways.

What Nigeria needs to do is take advantage of this sustainable technology.

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