Monday Onyekachi Ubani, activist and former second vice president of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), has said Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi should provide details of the proposed rail line linking Nigeria to Niger Republic as according to him, there are conflicting information about the project.
Ubani who, alongside John Nwokwu, a Lagos based lawyer, have formally demanded for details of the proposed rail line through the Freedom of Information Act, also wondered if the National Assembly approved the funds for the project.
“The main reason we want to get fuller details of the contract is the information that was dished out by Rotimi Amaechi which runs contrary to what the presidency, that is Garba Shehu, dished out,” Ubani told Business Hallmark.
“While Amaechi told us that the railway project runs into Niger, a particular city called Mahradi, Garba Shehu is telling us that the thing stops at the border, that there is no contract that takes us into Niger Republic. That shows that something is missing. So, who is lying?”
Ubani emphasized that there is no rationale behind building rail to Niger Republic when Nigeria’s major economic hubs and cities have not been linked by rail.
“Secondly, we want to be aware whether the National Assembly actually passed a budget to that effect. Was there any consideration of this railway project by the National Assembly that is supposed to appropriate? And if, what were they told before they approved the budget? Have we linked all the economic cities we have in Nigeria linking the the South West with the South East and the Northern Region?,” he wondered.
“This will be far more economically beneficial to us. The rail is a project that everyone should be interested in. Let’s know the details of this contract, whether there was approval by the National Assembly. In the name of transparency and accountability, we should have those details so that we can now be able to evaluate whether what they are doing is in national interest or private interest.”
Ubani and Nwokwu had in an FOI request dated September 29, 2020 and addressed to the Minister of Transportation, stated that their demand for details of the rail project was premised on the need for transparency and accountability.
Some of the information they sought include actual cost of the project, contract papers and the firm handling it, economic benefit of the project and where it is provided for in the 2020 Appropriation Act, including the source of the generation of the fund for the contract.
They also requested to know the details of the deliberation and approval of such fund by the National Assembly.
The FOI letter signed by Joseph Igwe Esq, reads, “Kindly provide the information to the best of your knowledge in the interest of transparency and openness which you have been at the vanguard.
“In a public statement credited to you, you did disclose to the media the award of contract for the development of the proposed Kano to Maradi rail line in Niger Republic.
“Sir, you are hereby specifically requested to make available to our clients or grant them access to: The actual contract cost of the rail line cutting across Kano state in Nigeria through Maradi in Niger Republic and the termination of the track length.
“The awarded contract document(s), name of the firm and procedure of the award of the contract to the preferred firm.
“The detailed information on where it is provided for in the 2020 Appropriation Act and the source of the generation of the fund for the contract.
“The details of the deliberation and approval of such fund and rail project by the National Assembly.
“The detailed economic benefit of the rail line project from Nigeria through Niger Republic to the generality of the Nigerian populace.
“However, if you think that another agency of the Government has greater interest in the information requested for, you are obliged under Section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 to transfer this request to the other agency within 3 days, howbeit not later than 7 days of receiving this request.
“Our clients shall pay the necessary fees for the information. Be notified that if you fail to provide the above information within the period stipulated by law we shall proceed against you in accordance with the provisions of the law.
“We have no doubt that you will accede to this request in the interest of the Nation you are serving meritoriously,” the letter concluded.