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Pushing hard on Standard gauge
The Federal Government gave the standard gauge contractor one-month ultimatum to complete all minor stations. ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE examines the quest to deliver this project, which analysts believe will have positive impacts on the economy
FOR the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), the contractor handling the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge project, time is no longer a luxury. At the last routine tour of the project on October 28, Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi was livid. He simply could not understand why CCECC had been long on promises and short on delivery.
He had a good cause to be aggrieved. He gained his return ticket to the ministry on the basis of his determination to deliver the nation’s third standard gauge project and he is determined to get it done before the expiration of its three-year cycle which lapses February 2020.
So he gave the contractor what appears to be a tall order – complete all smaller stations on the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge rail corridor in one month. By November 25, the seven stations must be ready, as according to him, a free train ride from Iju, Lagos-Ibadan must begin by month-end. The free service, he said, will run until Christmas ahead of the major flag-off of commercial activity in the New Year.
Amaechi had every reason to be disgusted. CCECC had in May promised these stations would be ready in three months. It said everything to make this happen and to deliver by July or latest August was ready. But as at October, none of the stations was standing.
The entire stretch had 10 stations and three – at Ebute-Meta, Abeokuta and Ibadan are proposed as mega stations, while seven others are minor stations.
The speed train line will have 10 ultra-modern railway stations with four in Lagos: (Apapa, Lagos, Agege and Agbado), three in Ogun: (Kajola, Papalanto and Abeokuta), and three in Oyo: (Olodo, Omi Adio, and Ibadan).
The 156 km line will have four extra-large bridges, 11 large bridges, four medium bridges two steel bridges, 10 frame bridges, 207 culverts, 40 railway crossing-no level crossing and 31 pedestrian overpasses.
The 157-kilometre Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan Railway is the first railway in the Southwest since 1896, when the first line, which was the backbone of what is now known as the NRC’s western line, was laid.
With an initial contract sum of $1.5 billion, which has jumped to about $2 billion due to several variations to the project variation, the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge was originally penned to be delivered by the CCECC in 36 months. This first cycle ends in May 2020.
Amaechi was put at this same spot last year, when he had to cancel an assessment tour earlier scheduled for President Muhammadu Buhari on the heels of the then-presidential campaigns.
“If I tell you I am impressed with the level of work at the Lagos end I would be lying,” he told the CCECC officials.
And this much he traced to a number of hurdles, chief among them being the relocation of water pipes, which the sub-contractor ought to have delivered by November 5, but has been extended for another two months “because of other unforeseen exigencies which they encountered in the course of the relocation”. About 34 kilometres of pipes were affected by the relocation.
Lagos had posted the most difficult challenge to the actualisation of the project. This, according to sources, was due to the state being already built up. Aside the water mains, gas and petroleum pipelines, which were submerged underground and in the sea, high tension power lines, overhead bridges, and several structures had been some of the impediments at the Apapa and Lagos end of the project.
Amaechi said: “Though these are real and tenable excuses, they are not permissible, as these are “known challenges for which solutions ought to have been proffered.” While the other three segments of the project started in 2016, work did not begin on the Lagos corridor until June this year.
“Everything but money could impede the progress and delivery of the project,” Amaechi had said, alluding to the fact that the Buhari government had paid its counterpart funding of the Lagos-Ibadan speed train rail project.
The minister believed a firm which could construct 1,500 kilometres of rail lines in its home country should not find delivering 156.56 kilometres hard.
A top Team Consults source, who asked not to be named, said: “The project could have achieved more strides by now, if the contractor had started from the hinterland, which had but little challenges outside payment of compensations for those whose land or buildings were acquired for the project but had first started working from Lagos, beginning from Ebute-Metta (where the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo) flagged it off in March 2017.
“They had to stop when it was discovered that little or no progress was being made and today, we are living witnesses to what could be done if the CCECC had fewer encumbrances to contend with,” he said.
The source, whose firm oversees the contractor on behalf of the Federal Government, said the uncertainty over the December deadline was compounded by the heavy rainfall. According to him, the unpredictable pattern of rainfall affected the work plan, as it made access to the site difficult and increased the water level of the water bodies along the corridor.
On likely delivery date, the source said a more likely delivery period could be the first quarter of 2020. He, however, envisaged that since there may be likely disruptions within the electioneering period, this may be extended to the second quarter.
When the project failed in December, Amaechi had promised its inauguration on or before May. That was not to be, a development which had irked the Minister of Transportation.
That was why he gave CCECC till November 25th to complete the construction of the 7 minor stations on the Lagos-Ibadan rail project and also to complete the construction of the rail tracks from Iju to Ebute Metta, kilometre 20 to kilometre 4.
Amaechi, who spoke at Kajola, on Monday, said the construction company had not lived up to their promise of completing the stations in three months.
“They said before the dissolution of the cabinet that, they were going to complete the stations in three months. May, June and July but we are here today in October and the stations are not completed.
“What do we agree the last time we were here, we said the next meeting will be holding here because we told the Chinese company that this place should be completed, is this place completed? So why did you bring us here?” the Minister questioned CCECC.
“You have refused to bring your materials in and we are not owning you one Kobo, we have paid everything so what is the problem! You (CCECC) gave three months to complete these buildings and now you are giving the excuse that your materials from China have not arrived.
“The reason we gave you the contract was for you to grow our local economy, but now you bring doors from China, you bring widows from China, you bring roofing sheets from China and if we are not careful, you will bring sand from China.”
He, therefore, urged the Director of Railway, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and CCECC to ensure that “next meeting Monday 25th November will hold here in a completed environment, not just here but most of the minor stations.
“If the CCECC met this deadline, the government will be able to commence test running of the rail line by November 30,” if the coaches we are expecting from China had not arrived, we will use the two coaches here. We will start trial runs because we made promises to Nigerians and we must fulfil that promise, so the test running must start from Ebute Metta to Ibadan,” he noted.
The minister again urged the contractor to deploy more equipment and personnel to ensure timely completion of the stations and the project in general, “I know that I am putting pressure on you but you must ensure that you do quality and standard job while trying to meet your deadline,” he stated.
An engineer with CCECC, Xia Liju said the company was sourcing materials for the construction of the stations locally, “we are sourcing all the materials here, we are not importing them” he explained.
Xia explained further that heavy rain had hindered the construction of the stations and laying of tracks from Iju to Ebute Meta.
The 36 months Lagos-Ibadan rail project is expected to terminate in February.
The gesture, according to him, will further ease travel pattern, especially for those who wish to travel for Christmas.
The minister noted that the operation would commence with two Executive coaches, pending when more coaches would arrive from China.
Ameachi also revealed that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would lay the foundation for the establishment of the Railway Factory proposed for assembling and manufacturing of coaches and locomotives at Kajola before the end of November.
It is expected that the factory will create employment and boost the country’s economy.
On the free train ride, the minister said: “My concern is to have coaches on these tracks to convey passengers, who will like to travel for Christmas.
“On the 30th, we will commence test-run but the issue is that we want to start it from Ebute Meta, but they are saying it is Iju that is ready. As far as Lagosians are concerned, Iju is in Ogun State, and that is why I am pushing them to get to Ebute Meta.
“We may start with the Executive coaches. The reason why I am certain about the ride is because of the fact that other coaches are expected to arrive in Nigeria from China before Christmas.
“Even if they arrive in the second week of December, we don’t know how long it will take them to be cleared from the seaport. Once they are cleared from the seaport, it may take one or two days for them to get here.
“But I will struggle to make sure that before Christmas, it happens. But even if it does not happen, the executive coach will be available. The only problem with this is that we will insist on 24 passengers on each coach, making it 48 for the two.”
Speaking on the progress of work on the route, the minister explained that the policy change by the Chinese will hasten the completion of the project.
He said: “It was good that they have changed all their policies. Before now, they bring all the materials from China and they have to wait for it to be imported before they start work despite their readiness to work.
“Now, they have said that all materials will be got locally. Why do they have to import doors, windows from China? With the change of policy, the progress of work will improve.
“They said the reason for the delay is due to the inclement weather.”
He also dismissed the notion that another contractor would have performed differently.
On the Kajola factory, he said: “In signing the agreement between Nigeria and the Chinese company, we agreed with them that they should produce most of the materials they need locally and they said it would be a bit difficult for them. So, we reached an agreement that they should start assembling wagons.
“Five years after that, they should start producing wagons and assembling coaches and locomotives and ten years after that, they should start producing locomotives and coaches here.
“Their argument is that if they produce, we will buy from them, instead of buying from outside and I told them that we will enter into an agreement to buy from them. That way, we will be able to pay naira and save scarce dollars.”
For now, Nigerians are waiting for the completion of this project, which, analysts believe will not only boost the economy but will also ease the movement of goods and passengers across the country.
Pushing hard on Standard gauge