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Getting standard gauge of the ground

Getting standard gauge of the ground

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Transport Desk Head ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE chronicles the sacrifices of Nigerians who are toiling to make the Lagos Ibadan Standard Gauge a reality on schedule.

FOR  Taofiq Salami (not real name) seeing his family has become a luxury. He could not see them more than four times this year. And there is no hope that he will see them this Yuletide.

Salami, whose family lives at Ipokia, an Ogun State suburb, is 57. He is a driver with the Chinese on the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge project. “We have no working hours. We cannot even go home to see our families, because we may be called at any time, to move to site or take our Chinese masters out and there is no telling when you return. Most times, no provision is made for our accommodation. I have had to sleep in the vehicle several times and there’s no feeding allowance for any driver outside your salary,” he said.

“The job is stressful. We are really suffering. Nigerians working on this project are suffering and those who could not cope with the stress had walked away. The Chinese are too demanding, very rigid, and the language barrier is a major impediment and drawback,” he said.

He earns about N45,000 (a mere $123 per month). Salami who dreams of being a transporter, looks forward to the day he could save enough to buy a vehicle, but each day, the dream gets dimmer.

Salami, who works at Station III, with office at Odeda, in Ogun State, recalls the early days of the project, when getting sachet water to quench one’s thirst was as difficult as getting water in the desert. The closest hamlet to the tracks, according to him, is five kilometres, most tracks are farther.

Working with CCECC has brought its rewards; at least he sees the project’s progress from the front seat. He has seen how technology is turning virgin tropical forests into livable settlements, and how bridges and tunnels are flying over rivers, rivulet and swamps; and how speed rail tracks and access roads are redefining the otherwise forgotten communities.

Salami is not the only one who has continued to endure the stress of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge project, many artisans, janitors, drivers of earth moving equipment, vehicle drivers, masonry, welders, plumbers and other technicians, have sorry tales of denials and the pains they have to cope with.

Mathew Ola was one of such artisans. He works as a welder on Section IV (the Abeokuta Ibadan end of the project). He said government needs to take more than a passing interest in the Chinese labour relations, which he alleges, treat Nigerians with utmost contempt and disdain.

“No attempt has been made by the Federal Government to peep into the working conditions of Nigerians. The government is more interested in delivering the project than protecting the interest of local labour working on the project,” he alleged.

He said that Nigerians are being molested, harassed, persecuted and maltreated unjustly by the Chinese and called on the government to enforce minimum industrial standards.

The Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge is not all a bed of thorns. Towns and villages hitherto forgotten may begin to become more prominent. Towns such as Iju, Ijoko, Itoki, Itori, Papalanto, Omi Adio and other such rural agrarian communities would attract a thronging of travellers and settlers. Reason, these communities have become prominent stations, along the new speed train corridor traversing the Southwest’s two most prominent commercial and administrative centres.

No fewer than 10,000 Nigerians presently work in all the four different sections of the $1.6 billion iconic project that is emerging as the biggest signature project of the ruling APC government.

When completed, many more workers would be employed either directly, while hundreds more jobs would be created indirectly.

CCECC’s Public Relations Consultant Abdulraouf Akinwoye, said the gains of the project far outweigh the pains any worker could be going through in delivering the prime project.

Akinwoye described the project as a giant developmental stride in the history of railways in Nigeria.

According to him, not only has the Federal Government taken audacious steps to modernise the narrow gauge, which was a British heritage, the construction of a double track standard gauge line from Apapa port in Lagos to Omi Adio in Ibadan, Oyo State, has created thousands of jobs and would create much more upon completion.

The project, he added, has also opened the doors of “fantastic community relations” to the centennial corporation, many local communities have had their schools upgraded, while many other social amenities destroyed or absent, have either been replaced or provided on the platform of corporate social responsibility by the Federal Government.

He added that through the project, the Federal Government is directly intervening and providing social facilities in several rural communities in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states.

“We have also upheld due respect for tradition and customs of the people by ensuring that ensuring that we pay regular homage to traditional rulers along the rail corridor,” Akinwoye said.

This, according to him, is besides strict compliance of the project to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The Project’s Coordinator, Mr Leo Yin, said the CCECC is “committed to turning Nigeria into a modernised nation, by activating speed train. Nigeria, he said, will join other nations using modern rail services as the backbone of its intermodal mass transit transportation system.

He said the transformation and technological re-engineering going on in the corridor is already redefining the landscape of communities along the corridor, assuring that the firm is determined to meet the present government’s directive regarding the January deadline.

He added that the project has further cemented a smoother company to governmental relationship, between CCECC and the Nigerian government. Though, the project is meant to be delivered in three years, CCECC, Yin admitted,  he has been under tremendous pressure to deliver within 20 months. He, however, assured Nigerians that the firm would deliver world class project that would stand the test of time.

To achieve the Minister of Transportation’s directive to get the track ready before January 5, Yin said CCECC’s workers are now working day and night, every day of the week, especially between Iju, Agbado and Ijoko railway corridor.

According to him, while the Iju to Abeokuta rail corridor would be ready by January, Abeokuta to Ibadan may have to wait until  the end of January.

He traced the delay to the change of the track’s alignment in Abeokuta, which forced the government to acquire more properties lying on the project’s right of way.

The slow down on the Lagos corridor between Iju and Apapa, according to him, was due to the relocation of basic infrastructure, adding that though work has started along the corridor, it cannot be said to be at the same pace as between Iju to Abeokuta, where the project has suffered the least encumbrance.

The Minister for Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, said the government is envisaging high traffic on the corridor once it begins operation.

He said President Muhammadu Buhari is committed to achieving commercial operation along the corridor by January. He disclosed that the Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo and a number of ministers would ride on the train by January 5, 2019 after which further test run would commence with the train taking passengers from Lagos to Abeokuta and vice versa.

Amaechi said the government has fully paid 100 percent of the counterpart funding for the project, adding that nothing should endanger the delivery of the project on schedule.

“We have given CCECC our expectation which was the period within which we think they can complete the project. Though the project was for 36 months, we have asked them to see how they can achieve this within 18 months and even though we couldn’t achieve this, but we are confident we are almost at the point of riding on the tracks,” he said.

He said he has scheduled a meeting with the CCECC’s MD, after the Christmas to resolve the grey areas that would ensure that the tracks get to Ibadan on schedule by January.

Amaechi also disclosed that he had directed that the construction work on the 10 stations along the corridor be stopped. Also to be put on hold, is the construction of the double lane tracks. He asked that all attention should be put on delivering of the tracks, to Ibadan, while work on the second lane should commence only thereafter.

He said Lagosians would have to bear with the government as the tracks would only be flagged from Iju, adding that taking the tracks to EbuteMetta and to Apapa may take a while longer, because of the delays experienced at the take-off of the project, which he put at the doorstep of the state government.

“If the Lagos State Government had responded on time, we would have witnessed same speed even on this section of the project as we are seeing elsewhere,” Amaechi added.

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