By Adeyinka Aderibigbe and Frank Ikpefan

From the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi came assurances on Saturday that the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge will be President Muhammadu Buhari’s new year gift to Nigerians.

Amaechi said no stone would be left unturned to ensure delivery of the train by January 1, 2021.

The Minister spoke at Moniya Station, in Ibadan, after conducting top members of the ministry, and the Nigerian Railway Corporation on an assessment tour of the project being handled by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).

Amaechi who expressed satisfaction at the pace of work said with what he has seen, it is clear that the contractor is ready to deliver on the $1.7 billion project on schedule.

According to him, but for the slow pace of work at two of the seven minor stations, he is satisfied that the stations will be ready on schedule, for commercial activity to start as soon as possible.

Amaechi also approved the commencement of commercial activity on the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge.

He said: “It is important to say that we are ready to commence service on this standard gauge line before the festive season, but it will no longer be free.”

He however did not announce any fare regime saying the Corporation would come up with a fare regime that is acceptable to all.

The minister also charged officials of the ministry to ensure that they put in place safety measures necessary to forestall accidents on the sections of the rail line that crossed residential and commercial centres.

Amaechi stated that it would be wrong to hold the Lagos or Ogun state governments responsible for accidents that would have been prevented if the ministry had put in place the necessary safety measures.

He said: “There are communities along these routes especially in the Ogun State area. We have in the course of constructing this rail line elevated the tracks and erosion is happening but it can’t cross over to the next place.”

He assured that the Federal Government will continue to take appropriate actions to alleviate the sufferings of the people.

Fielding questions on the controversial Kano-Maradi rail line, Amaechi directed the contractor to start paying compensation to owners of land affected by the project.

China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation is the contractor handling both the Lagos-Ibadan and the Kano-Maradi rail line projects.

Amaechi stated that the contractor had been directed to acquire right-of-way for the Kano-Maradi line.

The minister said: “Kano-Maradi is at the stage of loan negotiations. In fact, we are fast-tracking them and now they (contractors) are doing front end engineering even before the loan; we are insisting on that.

“We believe that the front end engineering should be able to end before January.

“However, we’ve told them that we can’t wait till January, they should start now to acquire right-of-way, pay compensation and start clearing the right-of-way so that they can prepare well when the front end engineering is over.”

The minister stated that work could start first on the Kano-Maradi line before the Ibadan-Kano line, as he hinted that the Lagos-Ibadan line could be officially flagged-off by the President on January 1, 2021.

Amaechi said: “We believe that the fastest will be Kano-Maradi because the Chinese have a way of slowing down the loan process. In fact, it is worse after the imbroglio at the National Assembly.

“So from October they have moved to December and now we are hearing the first quarter. So that (Ibadan-Kano line) may take time to come. But there is a third project, which is the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri and I can’t give a timeline on that.”

The minister explained that it was more tedious to borrow from the Chinese, adding that “the next project that may kick off easily will be the Kano-Maradi whose loan is coming from the European banks.”

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