Nigeria to Benin Republic by rail
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Nigeria to Benin Republic by rail


By Tunji Adegboyega 


HOW does it feel travelling by rail all the way from Kajola/Idi-Iroko border in Nigeria to Benin Republic? One may not be able to answer the question directly because the opportunity for such experience has never been provided. And if the taste of the pudding is in the eating, then one may have to experience such a ride before coming to the conclusion about whether the experience is worth it or not. However, much as this assertion of ‘experience is the best teacher’ holds true in many cases, it does not in any way nullify the Yoruba saying that even if one has never given birth to a child before, at least one sees fowls with their chickens trailing behind them.

We may not be in a position to tell how it would feel cruising from Nigeria to Benin Republic by rail because no such possibility exists as at now, but then, those of us who have had cause to travel on other routes by rail know that it is a pleasantly different experience.

Take the Lagos-Ibadan route by rail for example. I used to travel on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway frequently but have had cause to reduce this drastically since the commencement of railway linking the two state capitals, last year. There is no doubt that the rail service has taken some heat off the ever-busy expressway. This is the way it should be. Although some people feel the N2,500 being charged per passenger for the journey is rather high, what they seem to have forgotten is the convenience and comfort enjoyed in the train – the air conditioner, no checking of particulars by policemen, Federal Road Safety Commission’s officers and other security men on the road, which encroaches on passengers’ travel time. The journeys in the train are scheduled, with predictable departure and arrival times. Moreover, accidents are near zero in the trains. Just as unnecessary traffic snarls are a rare occurrence on train journeys.

These advantages and even more would be experienced if the Federal Government favourably considers rail line from Nigeria to the Republic of Benin. Aside the fact that this is in tandem with President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s dream of developing the rail network across Nigeria and beyond (Kano-Maradi rail network), it would also facilitate commercial and other activities along that route.

At present, road transportation is the main choice of travelling between both countries. This is not adequate, considering the level of commercial and other activities going on in that axis. Moreover, this comes with its implications for climate change. If road transport is complemented by rail services, it would reduce carbon emissions on our roads, thus achieving a major objective of climate change.

Aside all of these, rail services would mean more options for travellers on that route as it has done for the Kano-Maradi Line. Ideally, multi-modal transportation is the best in any situation because it makes more choices available to travellers. With multi-modal transportation, transport fares are likely to be reduced because transporters would be aware of competition, unlike when movement of persons and goods is done essentially by road. Transporters are at liberty to charge arbitrarily because they know that commuters have no alternative. The other advantage flowing from this is that availability of rail services along those international routes will prolong the lifespan of roads as well as reduce the cost of road maintenance in the country. This is because many of those who hitherto had no choice other than travel by road now have the train option. This is good news, especially now that the country is cash-strapped and thus needs to manage available resources judiciously. There will be lesser complaints about bad roads and money that would have been used to put the roads in shape can be freed for other competing purposes.

Perhaps the greater advantage in this regard is the haulage of goods that would now be better done by rail. In the case of the Kajola/Idi-Iroko-Cotonou rail line, this would be a big relief to the ever-busy Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, as most of the goods coming in through the neighbouring ports would now be carried by rail. Since the plan on ground is to link the Apapa ports to connecting railway in the Lagos metropolis so that haulage can be taken off the Apapa-Oshodi Expresway, it would be a seamless movement from Cotonou to the ports in Lagos, and consequently to their respective destinations in the country.

This will not only prolong the lifespan of the busy road but also be a big relief to Nigerians who experience a lot of traffic on it. In recent years, there have been several failed attempts to move away the heavy duty vehicles that presently congest the ports and roads in the Apapa axis, making travelling on the artery nightmarish. As a matter of fact, a time there was, when many businesses in the Apapa axis either closed shop or reduced the number of times they opened just because of the traffic challenges on the busy road which made many people spend longer periods on the road than in the office. To date, this still impacts heavily on haulage costs from the ports to their respective destinations. Indeed, it was discovered that the cost of importing most of the items from abroad was chicken change compared with the cost of transporting them within the country. We know the terrible state the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway is in now, as passengers and commuters generally dance ‘palongo’ on it because of the huge potholes on most parts of the expressway, especially toward the Badagry end. Rail option to Cotonou will definitely relief the road of much pressure, thus prolonging its lifespan and that of travellers and commuters, generally.

We cannot also forget the social and environmental nuisance that the drivers of the articulated vehicles and their conductors constitute by defecating on the road that has become their homes, all in their desperation to meet up appointments in the ports.

There is also the international dimension which makes the Kajola/Idi-Iroko-Cotonou rail line attractive, if not compelling. One objective of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is to ensure free flow of goods and services among member-countries. This has remained a dream, what with the numerous security checkpoints along the border towns and roads leading to the border areas. Investment in rail services across borders will thus help boost trade in the ECOWAS region.

This is significant because, among the 15 members of ECOWAS – Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cape Verde, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Gambia and Togo – Nigeria accounts for about 65% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In actual terms, the country accounts for $448.16bn of the region’s $687.66bn GDP. Likewise, Nigeria accounts for a significant portion of the region’s 386,908,402 total population.

Another major advantage of the cross-border rail services is elimination of the frequent and often fatal clashes between security agencies and people in the border communities. This had sometimes led to avoidable tension among the otherwise friendly neighbouring countries.

So far, we have not talked about the massive direct and indirect jobs the project would create because it is a massive job spinner. Many people, including engineers, technicians, accountants, administrative cadres, etc. are going to be recruited, thus taking some of our youths seeking employment off the unemployment queues. Moreover, many rural areas will be opened up as the train would naturally pass through several places and railway stations would have to be created where the trains will pick and drop off passengers. This will also boost commercial activities as opportunities would now arise for all manner of people like food vendors and other traders, etc. to bring their wares to the railway stations to sell. The reduction in unemployment will naturally rub off positively on crime rate.

A germane question that readily comes into mind at this juncture is whether the Nigeria-Benin Republic rail project can pay its way. The answer is not far-fetched: yes, it can. This question is important because, given the economic downturn that has seen the nation’s revenue drop significantly, only regenerative projects with real economic values should be embarked on by the government, either using public funds or loans.

Rail services from Nigeria to Benin Republic will create a window of rail network interconnectivity across Nigeria through Lagos-Ibadan-Maradi rail network. Kajola/Idi-Iroko to Cotonou rail line makes sense first because of Ogun State’s proximity to Lagos. Moreover, Ogun State, with Idi-Iroko, an existing international border town through which the network is expected to pass already has a railway terminal, (the Yemi Osinbajo (Kajola Railway Station Terminal). This explains its appellation of ‘Gateway State’.

Again, Lagos and Kano are the two prominent commercial nerve centres in the country. The Kano-Maradi rail project has taken care of the northern axis. The anticipated Kajola/Idi-Iroko-Benin Republic rail project will take care of the south. There is no doubt that the interconnectivity is desirable and feasible, its viability is also unquestionable.

Even at the present level of commercial activities, the project is worth it. Not to talk of the expected volume of trade, which, no doubt, is bound to increase when the project becomes operational. The indices are looking good and it is only a matter of time for the money-spinning potential of the venture to be felt. As a matter of fact, the success of the Nigeria-Benin Republic experience will point the way to extending such rail services to other parts of the subregion.

So, what are we waiting for? The ball is in the court of the Federal Government.


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