By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
Senate has charged the Federal Ministry of Transportation to take immediate steps to complete the construction of the rail line from Ajaokuta in Kogi State to Otukpo in Benue State with a view to facilitating operations of the Ajaokuta Steel Company and boost economic activities through ease of transportation.
The upper legislative chamber also directed the ministry to incorporate construction of siding rail to Okaba in Ankpa local government area of Benue State to the backbone rail to ease transportation of coal to the various end-users companies.
These resolutions were sequel to a motion on the need for expeditious completion of the rail sponsored by Senator Jibrin Isah (APC Kogi East) and co-sponsored by six others during plenary.
Isah, while presenting the motion, noted that the project commenced from Ajaokuta across the River Niger to Ukpo village in Itobe where it stopped and abandoned, with no step taken to continue with the project for several years.
The lawmaker recalled that “the already constructed rail bridge across the River Niger, spanning about three kilometres is the longest rail bridge in Nigeria and accounts for about 30 percent of the cost of the entire rail line from Ajaokuta to Otukpo.”
According to him, there’s abundant commercial deposit of coal in Okaba, which is indispensable and critical to revamping of Ajaokuta Steel Company, “as coal serves as both fuel and reducing agent in melting iron ore”, adding that Dangote Cement Ltd at Obajana and the Kogi State Super Cement Company at Allo-Itobe are major users of coal from Okaba, and that their products are transported by road.
Isah expressed worry that three major ceramic companies in Nigeria, that is, the West African Ceramic Company Ltd., BN Ceramic Company Ltd., and Royal Ceramic Ltd, which are located in Ajaokuta, are major users of Okaba coal and are currently utilising road transportation to move coal to their various locations, with attendant high costs, which are passed over to the final consumers by way of high prices of their products.
He said besides “the benefits to Ajaokuta Steel Company, the completion of Ajaokuta-Otukpo rail line will significantly assist in transportation of coal from Okaba to the aforementioned cement and ceramic production companies, which will ease the costs of doing business by respective companies, resulting in reducing the cost of production and consequent reduction in the prices of cement and ceramic products.”
The lawmaker added that Kogi East, being an agrarian district, the project would facilitate transportation of farm produce like cashew nuts, palm oil, palm kernel and various grains through Otukpo to other parts of the North and South.