Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has said the Federal Government had requested a fresh $1.8 billion from the China Exim Bank for the construction of the coastal rail line.
He pointed out that the actual cost of the project was $2.3 billion while the government is to pay $500 million as counterpart fund. At a valedictory press briefing in Abuja, the minister disclosed that government was yet to pay any of the loans taken from the Asian giant even though full commercial operations had commenced on the Abuja-Kaduna rail corridor. The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) had announced an improved revenue generation of 400 per cent for 2018. Its Managing Director, Fidel Okhiria, had revealed that in 2017, the corporation earned N16 million monthly but its fortunes soared last year when the figure rose up to N80 million, but a little below its N100 million monthly target. He had also initially put NRC’s monthly overheads at N56 million but later revised the figure to N100 million, citing high cost of diesel.
But Amaechi expressed dismay that Okhiria was yet to heed his directive asking him to establish a sinking fund or an escrow account for the repayment of the $500 million facility. He said: “They know I am going and that I may not come back. But I want the Permanent Secretary to hold him to that instruction. The instruction was that all the money they realised from the Abuja-Kaduna railway should be kept in an account with the cost of operations deducted while the balance is used for the repayment of the loan.” The former Rivers State governor said the Chinese had insisted during negotiation for the facility that the two accounts be opened for the purpose.
Specifically, he stated that the Asian nation demanded that the repayment funds should go to the sinking account on a yearly basis while those for the running of the railway should naturally be domiciled in the escrow account. On the delayed take-off of the national carrier, Amaechi admitted that the differences among members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on the modality to be adopted were standing in the way of the project. His words: “On the national carrier, the cabinet is divided on the issue of modality. There are those who believe that the Federal Government should invest and then sell off its equity later.”