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General Electric $2.7 Billion Rail Concession proposal; Amaechi updates Senate Committee on Land Transport

In what initially appeared to be a battle of supremacy between The Senate Committee on Land Transport and the Honourable Minister for Transportation over the planned Concession of the Narrow Gauge rail network across the country, the interest of Nigerians eventually became a common ground when the Honourable Minister appeared before the committee under the able Chairmanship of Senator Gbenga B. Ashafa.

The Senate committee had vide a letter dated 13th November, 2017 invited the Minister to brief the committee on the effect of the planned concession on the activities of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, the future of the staff of the Nigerian Railways and most importantly the effect of the concession on the budgetary provisions for the narrow gauge rail lines when same is handed over to General Electric.

In his opening speech, Chairman of the Committee, Senator Gbenga Ashafa stated that “According to reports by the News Agency of Nigeria (“NAN) in Lagos on Saturday, 11th November 2017 the Honourable Minister was reported to have stated that General Electric (GE) was would be investing the sum of $2.7 billion on infrastructure, Operation and Maintenance (O and M) of the entire narrow gauge lines concession. Also, the Honourable Minister was reported to have stated further that once the concession agreement with General Electric is concluded, the Nigeria Railway Corporation will hand over the affected rail lines to General Electric.”

L-R: Senator Yahaya Abdulahi, Alhaji Zakari Sabiu (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation), Senator Lanre Tejuoso, Senator Gbenga B. Ashafa, Chairman Senate Committee on Land Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, Honourable Minister for Transportation, Senator (Gen.) Jeremiah T. Useni and Senator Osinakachukwu Ideozu after the meeting of the Senate Committee on Land Transport With the Minister on the planned concession of Narrow gauge rail network in the country on Tuesday, 21st November, 2017 at the National Assembly.

Ashafa at the meeting today expressed that the meeting became necessary when it became obvious that the Senate Committee on Land transport being the supervisory Senate Committee of the Ministry of Transport and representing the interest of millions of Nigerians was not being carried along. He also expressed worry over the fate of the NRC worker’s vis-a-viz this concession.

The Hon. Minister, in his response began by apologizing to the Committee for not bringing the committee up to speed earlier than now. He however clarified that no agreement had been signed yet concerning the concession with General Electric. He stated further that what was imminent was the signing of an interim work schedule (Interim Phase) which involves General Electric investing the sum of $45 Million to carry out some rehabilitation and repair of the track infrastructure amongst other things before the signing of the main concession agreement.

As regards the future of NRC workers the Minister of Transport stated “the NRC Staff would remain employed by the NRC following the commencementbof the concession. However, NRC Staff have expressed a desire to be paid their full entitlements and disengaged prior to the commencement of the concession.  This approach would put a significant upfront liability on the Federal Government. The stated preference of the Ministry/NRC is to retain all the staff in NRC except for staff being transferred to the concessionaire.”

The Senate committee advised the Ministry to tread carefully with respect to the issue of the workers to avoid a repeat of what happened with the PHCN staff which was eventually fraught with series of claims and counter claims from disengaged employees.

At the end of the meeting Ashafa cautioned that the meeting should not be viewed as a witch- hunt exercise, but rather as an avenue for both the committee and the Ministry of Transport to be on the same page as to the concession agreement in order to present a unified front in support of the President Buhari Administration. Amaechi on his part promised that the final agreement would not be entered into without the Senate Committee on Land Transport being duly carried alomng.

 

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