By Lucy Ogalue
Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta says the Itakpe-Warri rail line will help in boosting businesses and rejuvenate rural economy in various states.
Okowa said this at the inauguration of the rail line for commercial operations by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said this was important especially in the post-Coronavirus (COVID- 19) era, where governments all over the world were looking for ways and means to re-brand their economies.
“ This project has the capacity to kick-start new small scale businesses, support existing ones and rejuvenate the rural economy.
“Indeed our people are eagerly looking forward to reaping the immense socio-economic benefit of this strategic rail line, as it becomes fully operational.
“Although now a passenger and cargo line, it is my hope and expectation that the original intention of this project will be sustained for accelerated industrial growth and job creation,” he said.
Okowa recalled that the rail project was primarily conceived for the transportation of Iron Ore to Ajaokuta and steel rolling mills, as well as the movement of processed steel to the Warri port.
He said it was redesigned in 2009 by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, to include passenger services.
The governor however commended President Muhammadu Buhari for naming the rail line after Jonathan.
According to him, the recognition brought this hitherto unknown community into national prominence and the people are grateful to be honoured as such.
He said:“We are also excited as a people because this rail line has strong potentials for stimulating socio-economic activities and bringing succour to low income earners.
“Given the immense economic value derived from the cargo services, we must not relent to realise this broader vision of Itakpe to Ajaokuta- Warri rail line.
“I talked to the Minister of Transportation and I thank him, because I know he is a great fighter.
“He (Amaechi), has already told me that he would ensure before he leaves office by the grace of God, that the rail line is extended to Abuja, which is very key to us, it is very key to connect this rail line to the nations capital.
“I must also thank him because he has also promised that the extension to the Warri port would be done very soon,”.
Okowa pledged his administration’s commitment to collaborate with the various stakeholders, including the private sector, to initiate programmes and policies that would stimulate economic production in the communities and harness the untap potentials of the youth population.
He urged the private sector to take advantage of this historic corridor, by establishing shopping malls and recreational centres in designated centres.
“I believe that this will help to create employment for the locals, curb youth restiveness and stem the tide of criminality.
“Also, it is my hope that our major Telecom networks will establish their presence in this axis. The existence of good telecommunication network will no doubt be a major incentives to passengers.
“Finally, it is imperative that the Federal Government, in collaboration with the states, provides adequate security cover for this railway corridor.
“People will be encouraged to patronise the train services if they feel safe, secured, protected. Without that assurance there will be public apathy with all the negative implication that this potends for the viability of the project and inclusive economic growth,” Okowa added.
Also speaking, Gov. Godwin Obaseki of Edo, congratulated the President on the feat of completing the project.
He said it was a thing of joy that few days to the country’s 60th independence anniversary celebration, the President had achieved the completion of this critical infrastructure.
”For us in Edo state, we are excited that we have a few stops that have been completed and we are going to be working with you to utilise this infrastructure,” he said.
Obaseki however appealed to the minister of transportation to extend the rail line to the industrial park in Benin City, to facilitate the movement of goods to the northern part of the country.
On his part, the Managing Director, Nigerian Railway Corporation, Fidet Okhiria expressed delight at the completion of the project, saying that it would add a lot of economic value to the state and the nation.
According to Okhiria, the project being inaugurated is worth celebrating, as no loan was collected for its construction, but was financed using funds from the country’s budget.
He said: “The construction has lasted for over 30 years and for it to happen in my time, it is worth celebrating .
“We thank the President, the Minister and the National Assembly that have supported and ensured that this project is completed.
“At least this one is not done with a loan, but with the resources of Nigeria, so I am very happy and we hope to start operations next week, when the other two locomotives arrive; the two of them are at Ore now and when they arrive we will start.”