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A peep into Buhari’s Utopian promises (1), By Jaafar Jaafar

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A peep into Buhari’s Utopian promises (1), By Jaafar Jaafar

NEWISSUES, Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has a huge task before him. Delivering a cargo of campaign promises and clearing a cumulative heap of mess left by his predecessors is the huge task. Nigeria’s problem is like heirloom, passed from one generation to another.

I do not doubt the president’s stamina, good health, but I doubt his having enough time and resources to deliver the huge consignment registered in his campaign waybill.

The focus today is on the Utopian promises made to Nigerians in the transport sector during campaign.

The APC manifesto promised that Buhari would “Embark on a National Infrastructural Development Programme that will ensure the construction of 3,000km of Superhighway including service trunks and building of upto 4,800km of modern railway lines.”

Good idea. The Buhari administration is already six months old, which is quite significant in a period of four years. The delay in the take off of governance had, undoubtedly, taken a toll on his administration. The problem with ruling a country like Nigeria is that a president serves a term, a term of four years – or at best eight years. So whatever a president does, he must be conscious of time.

The whole nation is in chronic state of disrepair. The healthcare sector needs health, power needs emergency, education needs overhaul, economy needs revamping, oil sector needs transparency, agriculture needs reinvigoration, security needs tightening, name it. The whole nation beggars attention.

Conversant with the aforesaid problems, the president promised Nigeria 3,000 kilometers of SUPERHIGHWAY and 4,800 kilometers of MODERN railway lines during campaign.

With delay in the take off of the government itself, biting economic condition, slump in oil prices – and a nomadic presidency to boot – how feasible is attaining the 3,000 kilometers of even laterite overlay? 3,000 kilometers is, roughly, a distance from Kano to Cairo, Egypt. How possible is it to lay asphalt from Kano to Cairo in three and half years?

Now, Buhari promised us 4,800 kilometers of modern railway lines, which may include tunnels (where possible), standard gauge lines, air-conditioned coaches, etc. Let us ask ourselves again, how possible is this in the next three and half years?

Nigeria’s current rail system, in its entirety, is 3,500 kilometers. Nigeria’s first railway started with 96 kilometers in 1898 between Lagos and Abeokuta, and the coverage grew up to 3,500 kilometers today. But APC promised to build 4,800 kilometers of rail lines – to beat the record achieved in 117 years – in three and half years!

Sometimes we only appreciate people when they left office. Looking at our current realities, attaining meaningful development appears a mirage today. With hindsight, Nigeria may yet have a Third Mainland Bridge or a Kano-Abuja highway or an ABU or an Ife. With our congenital slow in executing projects, coupled with a sloth in the saddle, I doubt the possibility even if we have the ability.

Even in advanced countries, such mega constructions, especially in transport sector, take reasonable time to complete. In Australia, a 70km metro line was added into the country’s metro lines in 2007. The parliament approved the project in 1999, work begin in 2004, and in late 2007, a MODERN railway line called Mandurah Line was built in Perth, Australia.

As Fashola once pointed out, 4,800 kilometer is approximately the distance from Nigeria to London (4,764km). It is also the distance from Abuja to Paris (4,437km). With our economic realities, how can we build 4,800kilometers of even Lugardian railways in even eight years?

To buttress a point on our knack for abandoning projects, Abuja Millennium Tower is a good example. Nigeria started building the towers during Obasanjo in 2006, and for nine years today, we cannot finish the construction of just two concrete pillars with a grotesque glass capsule.

Interestingly, the tallest building in the EU, the Shards of London, was completed between 2009 and 2012 – with all its 95 floors, 40 lifts, among others. When I visited the place in 2014, a mixed sense of envy and ire overwhelmed me. I remembered shards of broken promises that make our road to the promised land hazardous. I remembered the hovering cranes constructing two concrete pillars for eight years in Abuja.

Ajaokuta Steel project contract was signed in 1979, with 1986 set as the date of completion. Ajaokuta Steel company is still under construction despite gulping $5billion! If we have policy consistency and the project was completed on time, it will simply cost Nigeria $650million. So far there are estimated 12,000 abandoned federal government projects dotted across the country, with some started as far back as 45 years ago.

Late President Yar’Adua started River Niger dredging project, President Jonathan abandoned it. President Jonathan started Second Niger and Second Benue bridges, Buhari may hardly give them attention. I didn’t go through Buhari’s 2016 budget draft to know whether the projects are captured, but I doubt if there will be much pragmatic commitment even if they reflect in the budget.

Aside building 3,000 kilometers of road and 4,800 kilometers of railway lines, President Buhari also promised to “Encourage and financially support States with sprawling urban centres to embark on intra city metro lines and bus systems.”

Buhari may have the zeal, but he definitely did not have the time and resources to execute his “4,800 kilometers of railway” as well as – wait a minute – “support states” to establish metro and bus lines.

Another promise is to “Improve and modernize our aviation infrastructure, ensuring all our airports and aircrafts are compatible with international safety standards.”

Well, modernizing our decaying aviation infrastructure is a call for general overhaul, I so interpret. The Minister of State for Transport (Aviation), Hadi Sirika, should doodle this promise in his notebook to make it achievable for Mr. President – in three and half years.

Other promises captured in the party manifesto were to “Renovate, enlarge and modernize the nation’s ports to cope with growing maritime traffic; construct two deep sea ports and; create a functional inland waterway transport system.”

I really have no idea about what it takes to build “two deep sea ports” or “functional inland waterway transport system”, what I am clear about is that body language cannot build a sea port. The president must act high and mighty.

I just hope he will sit at home to face our domestic challenges.

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