The Federal Executive Council held a meeting on Wednesday, 23 September, 2020 came out with a major decision that an approval had been given by the Federal Government for the construction of a $1.9billion from Nigeria to Niger. As revealed by Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, the sum “approved for the development of the proposed rail line linking Kano-Dutse-Katsina-Jibia and to Maradi in Niger Republic is inclusive of Value Added Tax.”
Critics went to town questioning the economic wisdom in that move. In order to calm the nerves of people, Malam Garba Shehu came out with a statement.
Then, Garba Shehu, one of the Presidential Spokespersons, went into the ancestry of the project to justify it. In his words: “Nigeria isn’t building rail line into Niger but, only to the designated Border point. An agreement between Nigeria and Niger in 2015, coordinated by the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation has a plan for ‘Kano-Katsina-Maradi Corridor Master Plan, (K2M)’ as it is called.
Going by this, the two nations would each build a rail track to meet at the border town of Maradi.”
However, Kunle Ojeleye, a scholar, submitted that in this age of technology and easy access to information, you can only fool those who do not seek knowledge.
He said: “In the Google map attached, even the blind will note that Jibia, Gidan and Baure are what can be referred to as Nigeria’s border town with Niger Republic.
Meanwhile, Garba Shehu’s acclaimed Nigerian border town of Maradi (marked in red), is deep inside Niger Republic, curiously housing Maryam Abacha American University.
Maradi is the second largest city in Niger and the administrative centre of Maradi Region. It is also the seat of the Maradi Department and an Urban Commune.
Maradi, as recorded by Abdourahmane Idrissa, Samuel Decalo, in Historical Dictionary of Niger was part of Katsina, a Hausa state and it became independent in the 19th century. From the early 19th century, Maradi, as contained in Geels, Jolijn, (2006) Bradt Travel Guide – Niger (pages 203–212), was home to one of several Hausa traditional rump states, formed by rulers and nobility who fled the rise of the Sokoto Caliphate. “Elements of the Katsina ruling class continued to claim the area as the seat of a Katsina state in exile ruled by the Sarkin Katsina Maradi. Maradi was constrained by the more powerful Gobir exilic state to the west, the Sultanate of Damagaram based at Zinder to the east, and Sokoto to the south. The arrival of the French in 1899 saw the bloody destruction of the town by the Voulet-Chanoine Mission, but later the town recovered to become an important regional centre of commerce by the 1950s.”
Writings of other scholars, as put together by Wikipedia, show the following:
“The expansion of the city in the first half of the 20th century was dynamic, albeit modest, with the population nearly doubling between 1911 and 1950. Up until 1945, the ancient city of Maradi was located in the valley bordering the Goulbi N’Maradi, a seasonal waterway with its source in Nigeria. The urban area, roughly circular in shape, was protected by a mud wall with four doors; the ancient city was flooded by this river at the end of the rainy season of 1945. To avoid future inundation, the French colonial administration decided then to adjust the urban layout. In the process, the city lost its traditional, irregular layout in favour of a grid system. The French sought to create cash-crop agriculture, mostly groundnuts, which increasingly made the city an important regional commercial centre. Aided by economic growth after the 1950s, Maradi experienced a demographic boom, with the population increasing from 8,661 in 1950 to 80,000 by 1983. By the time of Niger’s independence in 1960, Maradi was a centre of Hausa culture, vying with the larger traditional Hausa centre of Zinder to the east.
Notwithstanding the above, many Nigerians see economic benefits in the project. Mr Kayode Samuel, a former Information Commissioner in Ogun State, argued:
“I find all of the ongoing ineffectual noise and grumbling on the Kano-Maradi rail extension quite irritating. If it is the Fulani, for whatever selfish reasons, that show seriousness about the sub-regional and continental destiny of Nigeria, I think they should be left in peace to claim and enjoy their prize. The same myopia and pettiness that made the old Eastern region lose Southern Cameroons while the Northern region gained Northern Cameroons is still alive and kicking – 60 years later. May the common sense of southerners return before Jesus Christ comes back.”
Temitope Ajayi, a public affairs analyst, also argued: “From where do some of our southern ‘intellectuals’ get this condescending notion that major infrastructural projects in the North are not worthy of government’s spending? To start with, every part of the country should be developed and opened up for more socio-economic prosperity.
Those ranting about a rail project that will terminate at a border between Nigeria and Niger Republic should know that Niger was doing its import and exports through our ports before now as a landlocked country. Because of bad roads and poor infrastructure they moved to Benin and Togo ports.
There is also the fact that Kano-Kastina-Baradi is an international trade route with huge volume of regional trade between Nigerians, Nigeriens and others from West and Central Africa up to Sudan. I still dont know how doing a rail to a border between us and Niger became a problem.”