One of the purposes of establishing the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) in 2018 is to create a single market for goods and services facilitated by movement of persons to deepen the economic integration of Africa, observers note.
Anchored on the platform of the pan-African vision of building an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, AfCTA is a free trade area that includes 30 African countries.
Reviewing AfCTA’s potential, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by 52 per cent by 2022.
With this, economists posit that AfCTA would consolidate Africa into one trade area to provide great opportunities for entrepreneurs, businesses and consumers across the continent to support sustainable development in the world’s least developed region.
To achieve part of the aims of the initiative, the federal government embarks on a rail line project between Nigeria and Republic of Niger as a way of improving trade relations and boosting economic activities between the two countries.
Economists note further that Nigeria has always played a significant role in ECOWAS and taking a lead towards trade integration via rail to engender sustainable development, reduce poverty and provide jobs.
According to them, Nigeria-Republic of Niger rail project would open up development in the rail route, deepen and foster relationships between both countries and decongest the borders because rail would become alternative means of transportation to nearby countries.
Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi said the main idea behind the construction of the rail line from Kano to Maradi, in Republic of Niger, is to boost economy and not for politics.
Amaechi believes that Nigerians should talk more on the employment opportunities the project would generate as well as imports and exports activities that would open up for Nigeria through the neighbouring countries.
“The decision to invest in Kano-Maradi rail line is purely economic, no politics, people are the ones politicising it, I made that decision because there is a competition between the coastal states of Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana.
“The other three countries are able to move cargoes from this landlocked countries to their seaports for either exports or imports; they are able to do those businesses but we are not able to do them because the landlocked countries are complaining of crimes, the road are not safe in Nigeria, there is customs interference and police checks here and there.
“Therefore, they find it difficult to do business in Nigerian seaports. So, to be able to attract those cargoes, we decided to construct a rail line from Kano to Maradi which is just a village in Republic of Niger and we would also build warehouses there to be able to attract cargoes from neighbouring countries and transport it effectively to Tin-Can or Apapa seaport for movement onward or outside the country.
“Nobody has talked about the employment this investment will generate, nobody has talked about the economic benefits that would raise funds for the country,’’ he said.
Speaking on the project, the ambassador of the Republic of Niger to Nigeria, Mr Alat Mogaskia, said the project was a welcome development and the government would be ready to support the idea.
According to him, the rail line would open up economic activities between the two countries which would create employment and generate revenue for the governments.
Sen. Abdulfatai Buhari, Chairman Senate Committee on Land Transport, said that a lot of people do not understand the rationale behind linking a rail line to Maradi, adding that if it is analysed properly the economic value and development to be opened up will be more beneficial to Nigeria.
He said that with the construction of the rail line it will attract exporters to export through Nigeria which will bring more foreign exchange to the country.
“Initially, I was a bit sceptical; I couldn’t understand the rationale behind taking a railway to Maradi when we have not satisfied the whole country.
“But, the last time we went on oversight function, the minister was able to convince us that from Jibya to Maradi is only 20 kilometres and the reason why we are losing the economy activities to Togo, Cotonou and other West Africa states is because of the risk of travelling by road.
“If you look at the bulk money that will come in foreign exchange, it will bring more economy activities between Nigeria and Republic of Niger which is even called Trans-border trade.
However, Alhaji Ahmad Rabiu, Managing Director, Dala Inland Dry Port, Kano State, said the importance of a rail line linking Kano to Maradi could not be over emphasised.
He said that Kano had been the centre of commerce not only in the northern part of the country alone but for the entire Sahara region.
Rabiu said that with a functional rail system, government would be able to know the volume of trade between Nigeria and other neighbouring countries.
“Smuggling happens so much in the region, the road is so bad from Nigeria to Republic of Niger which discourages trade, lack of rail was the major hindrance to trade because you find that a vehicle loaded to go by road suffers untold delay and goods get damaged because of the bad road.
“A lot of goods that you find in the Sahara Africa are from Nigeria and most of them are taken through smuggling; but if the rail is functional all those goods will be transported to those places officially and government of Nigeria will earn what it deserves in terms of export duties and the trade among those countries will be significantly captured and recorded.
“The benefits cannot be over emphasised, it will be able to help us get back the trade in the Sahara region if this is achieved,’’ he observed.