Compared to the road, rail is the most preferred means of transportation, safety, security, economy, and comfort.
This particular means of transportation can be a way of improving the life of connected regions. With the railway development, goods are easily transported out, which maximize income. Therefore, goods from other areas are easily shifted in better cost of goods and services for the local masses.
The prosperity of the cities where the rail stations are located, when in full function is made from heaven.
During its heyday, Kaura in Zamfara State was a farm produce hub bustling with social and economic activities though it has become a caricature of its former self.
Like Kaura, the Zaria railway station was once a vibrant centre. A visit to the site now could quickly bring the prosperous memory back to life. In nostalgia, a friend narrated how the Zaria Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) staff attracted a lot of pride and glamour, therefore becoming a dream of every unemployed person.
Since coming into power, President Muhammad Buhari made it clear that railway construction will top his priority. The president argued that it could be accessed by both the poor and wealthy compared to airlines, which only elites can access.
There are signs of commitment towards this vision of President Muhammad Buhari as various activities toward the railway construction are undertaken by his government.
There are four major lines: Lagos-Kano, Warri-Itakpe, Port Harcourt-Borno, and Katsina-Maradi.
The first segment of Lagos-Kano, Abuja -Kaduna was started by the previous administrations and completed by the present. President Buhari made this point clear at the commissioning of the Abuja-Kaduna segments, perhaps to water down the heat of the debate the project generated from the public.
The second segment of Lagos-Kano, Lagos-Ibadan, was newly constructed and commissioned by this administration which earned them considerable goodwill. While the third segment, Kano-Kaduna, was flagged off this year, the Abuja-Kaduna and Lagos-Ibadan were commissioned in 2016 and 2021, respectively. This 1300km standard gauge rail, when completed together with other segments, will connect states of Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Kwara, Niger, Lagos, Kaduna and Kano
Itape-Warri, inaugurated early this year, connects to the Lagos-Kano line. This brought two other states of Delta and Edo to the federal line
Port Harcourt-Borno traverse almost all the south-eastern and north-eastern states of Nigeria: Abia, Anambra, Imo, Ebony, Enugu, Rivers, Benue, Nasarawa, Jos, Bauchi, Kaduna, Gombe, Yobe and Borno
Katsina-Maradi was flag off earlier this year. It connects two more other states of Katsina and Jigawa to the national rail line
From the four railways mentioned, virtually all the Nigerian states were connected to the federal rail (including some states outside the country), but Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara, fondly called SOKEZA, are conspicuously left out
It is imperative to consider this region for at least two reasons. First, as an agriculture hub, the SOKEZA holds a vital position in the federal government drive for agriculture revolutions, so providing an effective means of transportation will go a long way to complement their work. Second, unfortunately, this region is not doing well based on the numerous human development index given by United Nations Development Programs (UNDP), such as education and per capita income. However, this wallowing at the bottom of the human development index can be reversed with infrastructure development such as railway development.
The nine senators, 25 members of the house of representatives from the region, appear not to be doing enough lobbying on the issue.
A glimpse of hope came in 2017, during the Minister of Transportation courtesy visit to the Sultan of Sokoto, where he confirmed the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval to construct the rail lines to link the three states.
The minister also said, if the SOKEZA is connected, “then, President Buhari’s mandate of connecting all the 36 states of the Federal through railway would be achieved.”
President Buhari later promised the crowd of supporters gathered at Halliru Abdu Stadium, Birnin Kebbi, during the 2019 general election campaign that “My administration will extend the railway project to Kebbi State, which will come from Gusau to reach Sokoto and finally Kebbi State.”
Four years after the FEC approval and three years since the presidential campaign promise, the flag off to Kebbi-Sokoto-Zamfara-Zaria remains more like a fantasy.
For the spirit of the average 1.5 million voters who have been standing still behind the president in each of his five presidential aspirations, the federal government should consider a speedy commitment to connecting the SOKEZA to the national rail network.
Bilyamin Abdulmumin is a PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering at ABU Zaria. He is also an activist for a better, informed society.