• 44 Cities, Town To Be Linked Through Rail Transportation
• Commercial Centres, Agricultural Belts Key Targets
For years, adequate and reliable power supply as well as an effective rail transportation system have been identified among the crucial factors stunting Nigeria’s industrialization.
With a series of failed interventions initiated in the past to combat the challenges, many are of the view that the magic wand needed to turn the tide was the recent alteration of the constitution to move electricity and railway systems from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List.
Following the assent of President Muhammadu Buhari, state governments are now empowered to license, generate, transmit, and distribute power, as well as kick off railway operations in their territories.
Identifying the urgency to tap into and take advantage of the amendments, particularly the fact that rail transportation and electricity are both essential components of a modern and prosperous economy, the regional agency of the six Nigerian South West states, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria Commission (DAWN), in conjunction with Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs), converged on Akure, Ondo State capital, a few days ago to chart a pathway for the region.
The two-day conference, held with the support of Odu’a Investment, paraded players in the private sector and government officials across the six South West states with the mission to achieve the outlined goals and create a brighter future for the region.
When actualised, no fewer than 44 cities covering 667 kilometers in the region would be connected through a rail system within the region.
Director General, DAWN Commission, Seye Oyeleye, who expressed optimism over the move, disclosed that the steps will create a more reliable and efficient electricity and rail infrastructure, which would help to boost economic growth and improve the quality of life for citizens within the region.
With the conference, tagged, “Powering the South West for Productivity through Increased Investment in Infrastructure: Power Sector and Rail Transportation,” Oyeleye claimed that the new wave of liberalisation will allow the region to develop at its own pace.
However, he pointed out that political office holders must use the system to their advantage and develop policies and a strategic framework to ensure implementation, base strengthening, and capacity leveraging of the amendments.
“The conference was organised in conjunction with the Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs). We had our first meeting last year in Lagos, and at that meeting we decided that subsequently our meeting would be sector-focused. And the Dawn Commission has been working on rail and power self-sufficiency for the region over the last few years.
“Indeed, the DAWN document that was launched over 10 years ago has power and rail as the focal points for the development of western Nigeria. When we decided that the next meeting was going to be on power and rail, coupled with the fact that President Buhari had also signed the bill, decentralising it and making it possible for the states to do more in power and rail, it became a no-brainer for us. We decided that we would convey that meeting of the investment promotion agencies so we could craft a way forward.
“Let the private sector know that we are not just joking, that we are indeed ready to let them operate, to let them be the ones that will drive rail and power in the region. Without power, there can be no development; without rail, indeed, there can be no development as well.
“Over the years, we have heard people say that farmers cannot move their goods to the market all because of transportation. So, we chose rail and power because we believed that those two things, if we get them right, will be the catalysts for accelerated development in western Nigeria.
“We have already sent a memo to our governors, particularly on rail, saying that we need to set up a Railway Regulatory Authority and that we now take charge of how we can develop rail in western Nigeria. That is why we brought all the IPAs together, and you could see we brought in private sector players to speak here at the conference. We have noted a lot of things they recommended, and in the next two or three weeks they will be landing on the desks of our governors.”
Aside from the economic potential inherent with the move, the DAWN Commission emphasized that with the population of the South West tending to double in a few years, the region must strive by all means to ensure that the proposed moves come to fruition.
On the aspect of funding for the project, Oyeleye stressed that it will be sorted out with ease the moment private investors and international investors notice the seriousness on the part of the state governments.
“If we don’t develop our rail and our energy, within a short time with a population explosion, even investors will not stay in western Nigeria. They will head to West Africa. There is a major challenge to our growth in western Nigeria, and that is the road AFDB is funding from Abidjan in Ivory Coast to Lagos. It is an eight-lane road. Once that road is completed, if we don’t get our acts together in the hinterlands states and Lagos and Ogun are saturated, the companies will shift to Togo, Benin Republic, and Liberia. So we need to be ready.
“Moreover, the prediction for our population is that we are about 40 to 45 million. They are saying that in about 20 years, we will be heading close to 100 million. So we need to be ready for whatever we are doing. The time to start is now for Western Nigeria. We are already late—70 years late.
“In 1953, Michael Ajasin led a committee that was already designing a rail for Western Nigeria. So, we are 70 years late. Funding should not scare the states. Investors are ready to withdraw their funds once they think the states are serious and have created that enabling environment.
“Lagos has done a lot, and it has a lot of rail experts now. The five other states don’t need to reinvent the wheel. They should leverage what Lagos has done with the blue and red lines. LAMATA was here, and they shared their experiences.
“Our states must be ready with this new law that Buhari signed to renegotiate with the GenCos. Whatever they have negotiated with the federal government, that is federal. If you are supplying power in my state or in my region, this is what I want from you. The law has now allowed me to go and look for another GenCo who is ready to supply me. They have liberalised it.
“The experts said if we are serious over the next 15 months, we should start having smaller captive power plants here and there. But in rail, it is organic. What we need now is to look for funds for comprehensive feasibility studies that will do the costing and align the routes properly by going through the commercial centers and the agricultural belts.
“Funding, particularly rail in western Nigeria, should not be a problem. If Niger Delta states can get a company to fund a $15 billion rail to link Niger Delta states, then it shouldn’t be a problem for the south-west, which is the economic capital of West Africa, to attract funding. This is the time to move forward. The best time for the rail was yesterday; the next best time is now, and we must do it.
One of the resource persons at the conference, Prof. Yemi Oke, a Professor of Energy and Electricity Law, maintained that the region cannot afford to fail in its quest, particularly now that others are watching and interested in how it will pan out.
“Nigerians eagerly await effective implementation of the amended Constitution on the decentralized electricity governance model that will eventually lead to the establishment of state electricity regulatory institutions.
“This is because, as speculated, if the ultimate objective is to ensure regular supply of power for the economic development of Nigeria, it naturally follows that the Federal and State Governments must act as collaborators, not as competitors, in terms of electricity governance in the country.
“Given its antecedent and levels of sophistication, all eyes are on the Southwest States to get it right, as usual, for other states in the country to follow and get properly guided.”
On his part, Abiodun Otunla, who spoke on rail transportation, stated that the system will automatically activate the development of economic activities across the region, with the towns and cities becoming centers of bulk building and breaking for onward
distribution to other neighboring areas
“Land-value capture and unlocking of over 306,000 hectares of land, which would generally increase in value due to the rail development. Development of satellite towns, industrial areas, residential areas, and other transit-oriented developments (TOD) across the region. Reduction in the price of goods across the region. Economic explosion and productivity.”
Ondo State Acting Governor and Deputy Governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, who represented Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, maintained that the integration of the South West socio-economic region is very critical due to the common heritage of the region.
Ayedatiwa stated that the two focus points of the conference, energy and rail transportation, would drive development in the region.
“Energy and rail transportation: these two will form the bedrock of our near future as they will support the industrialization drive here in Ondo State and that of the other five states of the Southwest region.
Chief Executive Officer of Ondo State Investment Promotion Agency (ONDIPA), Gbenga Badejo, highlighted the strategic importance of the conference as having the potential to instigate meaningful change that is both immediate and futuristic for the region.
“The conference has the unique opportunity to turn around Western Nigeria to do better and make it the darling of Africa.”