My hands are clean —Amaechi

Govt. should institute a probe —Activists 

The revelation a few days ago, in a report by online medium, the Cable, that Nigeria was spending a whooping $2billion (N720 billion) for 156 kilometers railway line from Ibadan to Lagos, while Ghana, its neighbour, secured a contract for 560 kilometers railway line for same $2 billion, has continued to attract condemnation and outrage from cross section of Nigerians.

However this concern by Nigerians has not been enough to warrant a clear explanation from either the Ministry of Transportation or former Transport Minister, Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, both of whom have largely kept mute thus far. A mail inquiry sent to the ministry by BusinessHallmark on Wednesday was ignored. But Amaechi who had maintained dignified silence and innocence responded to our inquiry with documentary evidence.

The Cable report showed that while the China Railways Construction Corporation (CRCC) had offered to rehabilitate and construct a 560-kilometre standard gauge railway line for Ghana at $2 billion, it is just $500 million more than the 156-kilometre Lagos-Ibadan railway line being constructed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) for about $2.5billion.

Funds for the 156-kilometer rail line, available information shows, is mostly sourced from loans borrowed from the Chinese. So, in essence, if it is as many have suggested, the contract was inflated, it means that the government is accumulating debt for the future generations, in part, to loot same.

“If it is true, it’s sad,” says Mr. Monday Ubani, rights activist and former vice president, Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch. “That’s what we have been saying about this anti corruption fight.

“We should try to standardize our contract award. There is no procurement law, so they use contract to steal from the system, same as local government funds and security votes. That’s why I have been saying that if the country is serious about fighting corruption, what we need first of all is to locate the ways monies are stolen from the system.”

Indeed, for many it is simply not explainable that despite the 404 kilometres difference, the cost is nearly the same. This, for public commentators, highlights a culture of contract inflation and the mind-blowing corruption that comes with contract award in Nigeria.

Interestingly, the Ghanaians had awarded the contract after Amaechi had invited the Ghanaian Minister for Railway Development, Joe Ghartey, to see what the Chinese were doing with the Lagos-Ibadan railway line. It was after the visit that Ghana secured its own contract with the Nigeria based Chinese Company

“One of these ways (they steal) is in award of contracts. They award one kilometre road for any amount,” Ubani notes.

“Things are not done that way. If you go to some other countries, they don’t have oil money, they rely on taxation, but you see that their roads are motorable and of international standards. But if you come here, there is no single road that you can drive for 30 minutes without meeting potholes. It is like that because of the fraudulent contract award system. These people don’t mean well for this country, that’s the truth.”

But perhaps, it has also played up something more worrying: the pervasive culture of lack of accountability in public service in Nigeria. This, in essence, some suggest, is another consequence of the flawed electoral system in Nigeria, where public officials feel, in a sense, that they do not need the people. Nigeria’s culture of lack of public service accountability stands even by African standards, and perhaps, it’s not entirely surprising that most countries on the continent are leaving it behind in all developmental indices.

For instance, when the Kenyan government was accused of spending $3.6billion to build the 250km Mombasa-Nairobi railway line, which cost significantly higher per kilometre of track than the Addis Ababa-Djibouti rail line ($3.4billion for 756km), the Kenyan government explained that the Mombasa-Nairobi line would carry more cargo and be powered by diesel.

The Kenyan government had thought it necessary to give account. Yet there are other reasons why the Nigerian case seems more pathetic. While in other countries, contracts are awarded and largely delivered on schedule, in Nigeria it is a different story altogether, even with apparently inflated contracts amounts. This means that the inflated sum may not eventually be the final contract cost as the prolonged execution period would require review.

Again, it had taken only five years -2011 – 2016 – to complete the Addis-Djibouti line, which is powered by electricity, and has added cost. The other Mombasa-Nairobi line had only taken six years to complete, both of which have opened up for use and have been providing vast business opportunities for towns and communities along their routes.

In Nigeria’s case, Amaechi had after several missed deadlines finally promised months ago that the Lagos-Ibadan railway would be open in May 2019. But evidently, he couldn’t deliver it till the end of his tenure.

When BusinessHallmark contacted the former minister on Thursday, he maintained his innocence and provided a rebuttal to the Cable’s story made by the Ghana Ministry of Railway Development as proof. The Ghana Ministry had in a letter dated June 3rd, 2019 and addressed to the Cable’s Editor and the Managing Director, CRCC-Nigeria and signed by the minister, Ghartey, denied that the said contract had been signed.

“The Ministry of Railways Development signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) dated 21st March 2019 with Messrs China Railway Construction Corporation (international) Nigeria Limited (CRCC-Nigeria) represented by its Managing Director, Mr. Dou Yisuo,” the letter said.

“Messrs CRCC-Nigeria expressed interest in supporting the Ministry to develop and modernise Ghana’s railway network, particularly the Trans-ECOWAS line which runs along the coast between Afiao on the border with Togo, and Elubo on the border with Cote d’Ivoire. The purpose of the MoU is for CRCC-Nigeria to undertake feasibility studies through the use of independent consultants.

“CRCC-Nigeria is responsible for verifying the project cost as estimated by the feasibility studies and also raise capital to finance the project. CRCC-Nigeria has NOT submitted any report of the feasibility to the Ministry of Railways Development, let alone the project cost estimate.

“The Ministry of Railways Development has not received any offer from CRCC-Nigeria for the construction of the Afiao-Elubo railway [email protected],thelettersaid.
But the minister concluded the letter in a manner that suggests there is something to hide. It had expressly cancelled the railway contract because according to him the contractor had breached itsby revealing ‘confidential’ information.

“We wish to indicate that CRCC-Nigeria as a party to the MoU has failed to act in good faith, having breached the confidentiality clause as spelt out in the MoU as follows:

“‘Each party agrees that the terms of MoU and all previous and subsequent discussions, documents and information exchanged pursuant to or otherwise related hereto will be treated in confidence and will not be disclosed except as required by law and otherwise.'”

“The Ministry of Railway Development therefore, does not intend to proceed with the relationship between the two parties as established by the non-binding MoU.”

Many have wondered why the minister will accuse the Chinese company of divulging confidential information if indeed the Cable story is untrue as he suggested.

“They could have put the Ghanaian under pressure to write the rebuttal, says Comrade Adeniyi Alimi Sulaiman, convener, Safe Lagos Group. “There have been such discrepancies in Amaechi’s dealings right from the time he was governor of Rivers.

“Remember that ab-initio, there were allegations of corruption against him before he became a minister, which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) ignored and Buhari went ahead to appoint him as minister. That tells you that the anti corruption campaign of the president is not more than mere rhetoric and witch-hunt against opposition. This is a corrupt government.”

Sulaiman who is also chairman, Centre For Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ) insists that the EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, is not fighting corruption.

“We don’t have confidence in Magu. You see how everyone is behaving anyhow. Itse Sagay, for instance who is a professor of law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, turning logic on its head.

“They cannot investigate Amaechi because as always, they will shield their own people. A lot is going on in Amaechi’s ministry and that railway line contract has highlighted it. But they won’t investigate him because he was one of those who sponsored Buhari’s campaign.”