TBY talks to Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, on the investments being made in fortifying and developing transport infrastructure, the role Nigeria's transport sector will play in ECOWAS, and the ministry's wider ambitions for its legacy.

Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi
Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi was born in Umuordu-Ubima and grew up in Diobu. He received a BA degree in English studies and literature from the University of Port Harcourt, where he was the president of the National Association of Rivers State Students (NURSS). He became Rivers State Governor in 2007 and was reelected for a second term of four years in April 2011. Amaechi was appointed the Director-general of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Presidential Campaign. He was then appointed as Minister of Transportation by President Muhammadu Buhari, which was announced on November 11, 2015.

How would you describe the importance of the transport sector to Nigeria's economy?

The transport sector is the second-most important sector of the economy after oil and gas. This sector is the one that affects all sectors, including oil and gas. We are currently upgrading all modes of transport, including rail, roads, sea, and air. We have been working on the seaport at Onitsha, Baro, and Lokoja. The first two are ready and the third will be ready soon. We are talking with Chinese companies to see how we can capitalize on Nigeria's internal waterways and use them as a means of transport. In railways, we are in the process of developing a plan for laying 2,650km of new railways, investing USD20 billion over a period of four years. The construction of two deep-water ports is also underway in Lekki, near Lagos, and at Ibaka in Akwa Ibom River State. The Lekki deep-water port is still in an early phase but both these developments will be critical, particularly to handle trans-shipping.

How can you expand the capacity utilization of the dry ports in Nigeria?

Dry ports and extensions are key, and will provide stimulus to the economy. We want our dry ports to be close to where we construct our new railways, especially the Lagos-Kano railway.

What role does Nigeria want to play within the West African Regional Rail integration?

We are developing this integrated system because the amount of cargo and services that can be transported within the region is huge. It is an ECOWAS-driven project and will facilitate greater trade and development of solid minerals, finished goods, agriculture, and so on, boosting the economic development of the region.

What is your assessment on the potential of Lagos as a transport hub within the ECOWAS?

We need more airlines coming to Nigeria and the region. This is starting to change and more airlines are coming here, such as Alitalia, Air France, United, Delta, Turkish Airlines, and Lufthansa, among others. However, we still need more regional airlines to connect our over-20 airports. Promotion of inter-regional flights and transport routes is also key to this development. In the next five years we aim to have a range of regional flights.

After South Africa, Nigeria's air travel sector is the second largest in sub-Saharan Africa. How are you working to keep this privileged position?

We have fixed the communications aspect of air travel, and everything concerning safety to ensure that we minimize the risk of all preventable accidents. We are also building more connections with airlines. For example, Turkish Airlines will begin flights to Port Harcourt, on top of its flights to Lagos and Abuja. There is huge volume of trade going on in Nigeria, and air travel will expand to cater to these growing needs and demands. The government has plans to concede the management of four airports to improve services and create higher standards. The four airports in question are Abuja, Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt.

What legacy would you like to leave after your term of office?

For me, the most important project for the next four years is the railway project. This will change the country greatly and have a positive impact on the economic development of Nigeria. It is a NGN4 trillion project, which is completely unprecedented. The impact will be felt in all sectors of the economy and provide employment, contributing to Nigeria on both a macro and micro level.