Save the Abuja Light Rail Project

Late last month, the Daily Trust reported on Sunday that the facilities of the multi-billion naira-worth Abuja Rail Transit, also known as Abuja Light Rail, are rotting. The metro, which was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari on July 12, 2018 and opened to passengers the following week, has since been abandoned, paving the way for vandals to feast on the facilities. The project was designed to solve the perennial transportation problem in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and its adjacent satellite towns. However, when it opened in 2018, only the Abuja metro station in the airport’s central business district was used, with an intermediate station at Idu.

The initial project was to cover a total distance of 290 kilometers and was to be executed in six phases or lots. The first phase, Lots 1 and 3, was awarded in 2007 at $840 million for four years by the government of President Obasanjo, with Nasir El-Rufai as FCT minister. Of this amount, 60% was to be financed by loans from the Exim Bank of China. But only batches 1 and 3 have been completed and put into operation. The 42.5 km (26.4 mi) Lot 1 comprises two lines and 12 stations connecting downtown Abuja to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport via the Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge Railway at Idu. It has stations at Abuja Metro, Stadium, Kukwaba 1, Kukwaba 11, Wupa, Idu, Bassanjiwa and Airport.

The blue line (lot 3) has been completed but not commissioned. It must pass through Idu to Kubwa, with stations at Idu, Gwagwa, Deidei, Kagini and Gbazango. Lot 2 departs from Gwagwa via transport hub (metro station) to Nyanya/Karu; Lot 4 runs from Kuje to Karshi with the remaining sections of Transit Line 2. Lot 5 is expected to run from Kubwa via Bwari to Suleja and Lot 6 from the airport via Kuje and Gwagwalada to Dobi. None of these worked, and even the Lot 1 train service quickly folded without explanation, thus adding no value to the citizens who live in Abuja, perhaps the only modern city and territory in the capital in the world without a functional public transport network.

However, as the project facilities are vandalized or left to rot, the government began repayment of the $500 million concessional loan in March 2020. The loan agreement was signed on November 7, 2012 by Nigeria and the China EXIM Bank at 2.50 percent. cent, with a grace period of seven years and a maturity date of September 21, 2032. According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), as of December 31, 2021, $76.92 million had been repaid on principal , while $78.23 million had been paid in interest. The amount outstanding is $423.08 million. We believe it is inconceivable that a project on which the government is repaying the debt should be left to rot.

It is not good news that African megacities lack modern infrastructure and the demand for roads, metros, bus systems and bridges far exceeds investment. Until relatively recently, only two African cities had metro systems, both in North Africa, namely, Cairo in Egypt, which opened in 1990, and Algiers in Algeria. But Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to open a light rail metro system in 2015 for its more than four million people. The $475 million system runs through the capital’s main industrial area on its southern fringe, through the Merkato shopping district, to the historic center of Piazza. An east-west line runs along the African Union headquarters, past the main government district, and leads to modern housing estates. This year, Angola intends to launch a surface metro for its capital, Luanda.

We therefore call on the FCT administration and even the federal government to declare an emergency in the FCT public transport sector by rescuing the Abuja light rail project. We also call on the National Assembly, which exercises direct control over the administration of the FCT, to investigate the project and ensure that anyone found guilty is appropriately sanctioned. It is simply criminal for Nigerian taxpayers to pay the debt of a project from which they do not benefit; a project that hasn’t even started. The era of public servants getting away with bad calls that kill the purpose of public services should be over.

Above all, the project must be reprioritized and fully implemented across all six phases. The FCT desperately needs an efficient public transit system, without which the business of government, and for that matter the business of corporations, cannot go smoothly. This rail project will go a long way to ensuring that. So it shouldn’t be allowed to end up as just another well-designed but poorly-implemented project. Nigeria cannot continue to be the graveyard of the very projects intended to make it grow and develop.