Chinese Name: 阿布贾—卡杜纳铁路
Location: Abuja, Kaduna
Type of Project: Transportation
Project Developer(s): Ministry of Transport, Nigeria; Nigeria Railway Corporation
Main Contractor(s): China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC), subsidiary of China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC)
Known Financiers: Export–Import Bank of China
Cost: 874 million USD (Abuja–Kaduna section)
Project Status: Operational
The Abuja–Kaduna railway forms the first segment of a planned new railway network that was developed under former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the 2000s. This also involves the construction of a new standard gauge railway line from the coastal port city of Lagos to Kano, the biggest economic hub in northern Nigeria, as well the rehabilitation of a national narrow gauge railway network originally built by the British in the colonial era and now in disrepair.
CCECC had been originally contracted to build the Lagos–Kano line in 2006. However, the Nigerian government was unable to raise its portion of the funding for the route, and the project was suspended after Obasanjo stepped down from office. Subsequently, the planned railway was to be split into segments, with an upgrade of the existing narrow-gauge line into standard gauge. The Abuja–Kaduna track was to be constructed first. This was for reasons of technical ease, as it was the shortest segment and it ran on a single track (rather than the rest of the line that was double track), making it the quickest to complete. Following the inauguration of the Abuja–Kaduna line in 2016, the 194-mile Lagos to Ibadan segment of the Lagos–Kano line was awarded to CCECC, at a cost of 1.2 billion USD, and as of 2020, track laying is complete, though the railway is not yet operational.
The railway developments have been justified as a means of promoting economic development, and, as in other African economies, to spur the development of new industrial zones, some of which are being newly constructed in the Ibadan region and in Ogun state. Further lines have been proposed, from Kaduna to Kano in the far north of Nigeria. For the northern states, railway transportation and improved logistics can also help promote the development of agricultural industries and exports. However, it is also clear by the planned and proposed lines, that regional politics, and particularly the background of the incumbent president, also seems to influence which projects are approved and constructed. Another major coastal railway line was proposed that would connect Lagos to the port city of Calabar in the east of Nigeria viaBenin, Warri, and Port Harcourt in the restive, oil-rich Delta region. The coastal railway route does not appear on previous Nigerian railway plans and appears to be an initiative entirely conceived and proposed by CCECC. While a contract for the construction was signed with CCECC, financing for the construction of the line has not yet materialised.
The project has generated significant local employment, reportedly creating 4,000 local jobs in the construction of the line and hiring 500 Nigerian workers in the operation and management. CCECC currently runs the Abuja–Kaduna line, and has emphasised a localisation strategy, employing ten local workers to every Chinese staff. The company continues to take primary responsibility in the management and maintenance, though it has engaged in some capacity-building programmes for local staff, including the construction of a local training centre in Abuja, and providing exchange scholarships to study in China.
Security issues have been prevalent in the northern states of Nigeria. According to the author’s interviews, in 2013 clashes with Boko Haram also affected the construction of the railway, leading to two staff from CCECC being killed by the terrorist organisation, and carriages and stock being burnt. Since it began operation, the railway has been positively welcomed by Nigerian passengers, and ticket sales have been in high demand, as commuters between Kaduna and Abuja seek to avoid the expressway where kidnapping and hostage incidents by local militia groups are frequent. This demand has also incentivised significant local level corruption in ticket hoarding and resale scams by local ticket office staff.
Accusations of corruption have also implicated railway and transport agency personnel at the higher levels, including controversies around the existence of exchange scholarships provided by CCECC to study railway engineering in China. According to the author’s personal communication, CCECC in Nigeria, as well as Ethiopia, has noted that it has facilitated a limited number of student exchanges to China. However, Nigeria’s ministry of transport has received protests from students unable to access or apply for the scholarships, who claimed that these opportunities are reserved for Ministerial nominees only, prompting accusations of nepotism.
Corruption and embezzlement have been an open scandal in other Nigerian railway projects in the Eastern line. While it was not involved in these projects, CCECC itself was, in an independent event, recently blacklisted by the World Bank for violating its fraud and corruption policy, suggesting potentially corrupt practices in its infrastructure contracts in Nigeria, though no public details about this are available. The firm has retained a dominant role in the Nigerian railway and infrastructure market, completing a series of large projects including an expressway, airport terminals, and the Lekki free trade zone, which it runs as a Sino-Nigerian joint venture.