By Adeyinka Aderibigbe
The Federal Government has accused the sole concessionaire of its two major railway narrow gauge trunks – General Electric (GE), as inconsistent. Minister of Transportation Mr Rotimi Amaechi who disclosed this on Monday said the firm’s inconsistency has been the cog to the smooth take-off of the project.
Hinting of the frustration of the government about the continued delay of the $2.2bn contract, Amaechi who spoke with reporters at Ibadan, the Oyo State capital said rather than taking off, the project has gone back to the drawing table with GE, again having to fine-tune the contract terms with government’s appointed Transaction Advisers.
It would be recalled that the Federal Government had last year, appointed GE as the main concessionaire of its narrow gauge rail line network spanning the West and Eastern lines after it emerged the preferred bidder in a process that started in 2015.
Based on initial agreed terms with the Transaction Advisers, GE ought to have rolled out service on the two trunks with 20 locomotives and about 200 wagons by December 2017.
Indications that the contract had ran into storm emerged when GE insisted on running only freights and other logistics services, while the Federal Government insisted it includes passenger services. GE’s refusal to bend and its insistence to run only Apapa to Ebute Metta freight shuttle may have been responsible for its refusal to activate the project, two months behind schedule.
Speaking in Ibadan, Oyo State, Amaechi admitted that the conversation between GE and the Federal Government is “becoming a bit more difficult.” He said he has stepped aside to allow those who knew how to handle such negotiations handle the transaction.
While the Western Line which originates from Lagos runs through states like Ogun, Oyo, Kwara, Niger, Kaduna to Kano, the Eastern Line, which is known as the Port-Harcourt- Maiduguri. Runs through Abia,Enugu, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe and Maiduguri, Borno States.
He said: “GE is not consistent as far as I am concerned, and I have issues with consistency. Whatever I tell you in the morning, let it be so in the afternoon. Politicians are not good negotiators, so we have allowed our experts to continue negotiations with GE.”
“I am not saying GE is not transparent. I am just saying that the conversation with them is becoming a bit more difficult, and requires expert’s more detailed negotiation. So we have left them to discuss with our Transaction Advisers.
“When they finished with our team of advisers, they should then come back to the government. The reason why I was involved initially, was that I was trying to speed up the process, but the more I speed up the process, the more I discover that discussions are not going the way that I, a non-professional, wants it to go.
“So let’s allow the Transaction Advisers who are economists, lawyers and accountants to deal with and handle the transaction with GE professionally.”
Under the subsisting agreement, GE is to have a transitional contract of 12 months, within which they would manage the nation’s rail network in conjunction with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC). During the transition, GE is expected to inject more wagons, locomotives and coaches to handle passenger travels on the narrow gauge.