ON TRACK

Nigeria 2019 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

Railways and infrastructure deals are the next stops for West Africa's largest economy, which offers a large, dynamic domestic market for investors.

Chibuike Rotimi
BIOGRAPHY
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.

What are the ministry's priorities in terms of improving infrastructure?

The priority is the railway. There are 84,000km of rail in Africa and nearly 80% of that is found in South Africa while the rest is mostly in North Africa. West Africa has not done well with railway integration in terms of transportation; what it has is mostly for the transportation of cargo. Road transportation suffers significantly in West Africa and most parts of Africa because we move our freight by road. The government has worked to enhance the movement of goods and services and ensure that we protect our roads. We have engaged GE for a concession agreement to rebuild about 3,300km of roads. We are also working on the standard gauge railway, where we have concluded 108km between Abuja and Kaduna and are currently working on 168km between Lagos and Ibadan. We hope to have these completed by December 2018 or early January 2019 and for commercial activities to commence. That is expected to move about 3-5 million tons of cargo by road and pass through Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun state. We are also trying to continue from Ibadan to Kano and have applied for a loan through a Chinese concession. I have also approved seeking facilities that will let us construct towers and 500km of rail from Lagos to Calabar, the south flank of our rail system. We have also approved building 3,000km of rail line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, passing through all the state capitals along that line. All these rail lines will cover most of the country, and a line from Abuja to Etabi will be outstanding. Railway is definitely the focus, though we are also doing a great deal for aviation and maritime.

What challenges do local airlines face today and what potential does Nigeria have to become an aviation hub in Africa?

The challenge for local airlines is that they require the facilities; it is not only about airport infrastructure and the terminals but also about flying from point A to point B safely and ensuring that everything else is perfect because it is a delicate form of transport. If all the facilities are not in place, then passengers' lives are in danger; therefore, we emphasize safety first and after that security. We are currently focused on building airport terminals. Nigeria could be a hub within the West African region as it takes about four hours to North Africa, four hours to East Africa, and about six hours to South Africa. It is also six hours to London, between nine and 10 hours to the US, and 13 hours to China. Typically, people say there is no infrastructure for transport; however, there has to be infrastructure to understand which transport will be made available. If we make all the seaports available but there are no vessels coming, then it is useless.

What is the progress on road construction to Apapa port?

Roads in swampy areas and even elsewhere cannot be constructed in one month; they take up to two years and we have contractors working onsite to complete the project. This affects business and currently we are trucking most of the cargo via a safe road through the Nairobi Nigeria line.

What framework is Nigeria looking at in terms of future infrastructure investment?

The president encourages local investors, foreign investors, and PPP arrangements. We have to create employment and to do so, we have to create job opportunities. With maritime, railways, and airlines we encourage PPPs and foreign investors to come in. We would be glad to enter into partnership with investors who want to engage in funding any form of transportation.

How attractive is doing business in Nigeria for foreign investors?

There are 180 million Nigerians, which represents the staying power of India and China. So companies can never make a loss. Nigerians certainly have purchasing power for commodities, which is what we tell investors.