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Trade and Industry

Buhari inaugurates rail line, directs linking rails to all ports

By Tanko Mohammed

After more than three decades delay, President Muhammadu Buhari has inaugurated the 326 KM Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line for commercial operation and directed that all ports be linked to rails.

Aside from being opened to commercial operations, the rail would serve as the ancillary facilities yard, at the recently named Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex in Agbor (Owa-Oyibu), Delta State.

At the virtual opening of the rail line linking Itakpe to Warri on Tuesday, President Buhari directed the Federal Ministry of Transportation to link all the nation’s ports of origin and destination – Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Onne, Calabar Ports- to the rail network in order to significantly improve overall   transportation and economic capacities.

The President declared that his administration recognised the importance of the railway mode of transportation as a vital backbone to support industrialization and economic development.

”Accordingly, I have approved the prioritization of viable railway routes for either new rail lines or the reconstruction and rehabilitation of some, to achieve effective and efficient train services supporting the country’s trade and commerce.

”The Railway Infrastructure that I have the honour to commission today is the rail line from Itakpe via the steel town complex of Ajaokuta to Warri, and is an important link for the country’s economy as the central rail line.

”This Government has also approved to link this line further from Itakpe to Abuja, thereby, connecting the Northern Zone of the country and also extending southwards to link the Warri Ports,” he said.

The President expressed confidence that the project, which serves as a vital link of South-South geopolitical zones of the country to the Northern zones, would be completed during the tenure of this administration.

”It will link people across the cultural divides and expand the frontier of trade and commerce, which will lead to better standards of living for our citizens,” he said.

President Buhari recalled that to further give recognition to Nigerian sons and daughters who have distinguished themselves at nation building and development , 11 railway stations and railway village  were  named after some deserving citizens.

He listed them as follows:  Adamu Attah Station, Itakpe;  Abubakar Olusola Saraki Station, Ajaokuta; Augustus Aikhomu Station, Itogbo; George Innih Station, Agenebode; Anthony Enahoro Station, Uromi; Tom Ikimi Station, Ekehen and Samuel Ogbemudia Station, Igbanke.

Others are Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex, Agbor, Owa-Oyibu; David Ejoor Station, Abraka; Michael Ibru Station, Opara; Alfred Rewane Station, Ujevwu; and Michael Akhigbe Railway Village, Agbor

The President enjoined all Nigerians in the transportation industry, especially the railway sub-sector, to continue to support Government in its stride to achieve other railway infrastructure projects.

He also enlisted the support of all at realizing this milestone of a functional and full-fledged central railway, after more than 30 years during which the project has suffered several setbacks and false starts.

”I implore those who work on this line to uphold maintenance and safety culture necessary for long-lasting service in this difficult terrain.

”By the same token, I urge other sectors who will be primary beneficiaries of this transportation backbone, including, the iron and steel sector, stakeholders in agricultural and mining sectors on this corridor, as well as the host communities to protect and sustain this infrastructure and maximize the benefits that could be derived from it and which is readily available at their doorsteps.

”This project will increase the volume of their trade and kickstart and resuscitate the iron and steel complexes.

”All these, I hope will improve our industrial potentials and capacities as well as boost employment,’’ he said.

President Buhari said projections indicate that the commencement of operation of the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail line  will account for close to one million passengers annually and also unleash approximately 3.5 million tonnes capacity of freight annually that will service all off-takers on the corridor and beyond.

Congratulating the Minister of Transportation Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi and his team on successfully completing the project, the President recognized the host communities on this corridor for their patience during the long wait of over 30 years for the realization of the project.

He also commended the host communities for their cooperation during the completion works by the Federal Government.

He assured Nigerians that his administration would continue, within available resources, to judiciously connect commercial and industrial hubs to boost trade, generate wealth and create employment.

In his remarks, Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa commended President Buhari’s bi-partisan approach to governance, saying ‘‘it is a thing of pride and joy that this rail line was completed under your watch.’’

”Deltans are excited that this day has come,’’ he said, adding that the Ika nation is glad of the recognition accorded former President Goodluck Jonathan, in naming the railway complex in Agbor after him.

Okowa urged the private sector to take advantage of the historic corridor by establishing investments that will create jobs for locals, curb youth restiveness and stem the tide of criminality.

”It is imperative that the Federal Government in collaboration with the States provide adequate security cover for this rail line corridor,” he said.

In his remarks, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki congratulated the President on the feat of completing the project, saying it is quite fortuitous that few days to the country’s 60th independence celebration,  the President has achieved the completion of this critical infrastructure. 

”For us in Edo State we are excited that we have a few stops that have been completed and we are going to be working with you to utilise this infrastructure,” he said.

The Edo Governor appealed to the minister of transportation to extend the rail line to the industrial park in Benin City to facilitate the movement of goods to the northern part of the country.

In his remarks, Minister Amaechi said the project was fully funded by the Nigerian government, adding that 8 of the 10 stations are in the Niger-Delta/ South South region of the country.

”There is no loan on this project, it was funded from the budget and I had the directive of the President to go and revive it and complete it as soon as possible,’’ he said.

According to the Transportation Minister, the project started under the military era in 1987 but ‘‘underwent protracted hiccups, prolonged abandonment and massive vandalisation,’’ before it was resuscitated by the Buhari administration. 

NBS starts process of implementing business census

By Tanko Mohammed

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has commenced the process of implementing the 2020 National Business Sample Census (NBSC) in Nigeria.

The Survey which is coming after a similar one conducted twenty-two years (1997/98) ago is apt, especially now that the current government is re-structuring the economy for faster growth through support to Small, medium and large scale enterprises in order to increase their productivity.

The main objectives of NBSC is to compile frame, develop instruments and concepts, establish standards and methodology for industrial and business surveys in Nigeria

It would serve as benchmark for updates of subsequent commercial and industrial sector Statistics and to develop a national directory of commercial and industrial business establishments with all their associated social and economic characteristics.

The census would provide the country with comprehensive and detailed information about the structure of the Nigerian economy

The Census will cover all the 36 states of the Federation and FCT, with establishments in all economic sectors involved in the exercise. For avoidance of doubt.

The establishments to be covered should have fixed structure and location, a separate shop with a different entrance and enclosed from dwelling place (in the case of residential areas), shops should have locks and keys for a market setting, while Kiosks and shops under umbrella are not to be listed during the census.

“All commercial and industrial businesses in each LGA will be identified and listed by state, name, location address, postal address, phone number, email address, year of commencement, number of activities engaged in, main type of activity, among others.

“NBS enumerators with customized T-Shirts and Face Caps will visit your establishment at a date between October 12th and 12th December 2020 to collect necessary information for the census.’’

Lagos resuscitates economic summit

By Tanko Mohammed 

Lagos State Government has unveiled plans for the 2020 Lagos Economic Summit, popularly known as EHINGBETI. 

Mr Sam Egube, Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, said at a media interaction  in Lagos that the summit had been resuscitated by Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu for enhanced economic growth and development. 

Egube said that the summit would address pertinent issues that beset Lagos as an evolving mega city and chart a course for actualisation of the dream of the current administration. 

He said that the government had implemented 109 out 119 resolutions reached at past editions of the summit. 

“The summit has a rich history and is firmly established as a credible forum for stimulating economic growth for Lagos State. 

“It is our belief that you cannot lead a place like Lagos with one mind, you have to bring together all the minds. 

“So far, about 119 resolutions were taken in the history of EHINGBETI and 109 of them  implemented. 

“What Lagos State Government is trying to do is to stimulate contributions from the private sector,  get them interested in the governance of the state, and lead the way in terms of the outcomes. 

“For example, the whole idea about the   blue line, the red line, the rail master plan are things that came out of EHINGBETI,” he said. 

Egube, also the Chairman EHINGBETI, said that major developments in the state were key decisions reached at past editions of the summits. 

He said that the summit was introduced to stimulate contributions from the private sector and corporates for a better Lagos. 

Egube noted that the platform was primarily driven by the private sector and backed by government to show vibrancy of Lagos. 

“We are proud that the private sector in Lagos is active and responsible and takes positive outcomes with the government in development of ideas,” he said. 

Mr Olayemi Cardoso, Co-Chairman EHINGBETI, commended Sanwo-Olu for bringing back the summit in line with his campaign agenda. 

Cardoso said that the summit introduced in 2000 had yielded a number of positive results and should be maintained. 

“It is timely that this is happening. I say that because COVD-19 and its aftermath wreaked havoc in economies around the world and we are no exception to that, and when it going to end, nobody knows. 

“All we know is that countries around the world, paid dearly from being on lockdown, and for any lockdown, you have a corresponding loss in gross domestic product. 

“With the challenges ahead, and Lagos being the economic nerve centre of the country, there is a large responsibility to ensure that it protects the citizens of the state,  and this is something that can’t happen unless it is planned for. 

“It is a great opportunity for us in the private sector to come together with the government again to show what Lagos is truly made off and show what Lagos can truly do in the most difficult and challenging circumstances which we are in,” Cardoso said. 

Cardoso said that the virtual summit slated to begin from Nov. 10 and end on Nov. 12, would make it easier for enhanced participation of the private sector, local and foreign investors. 

Mr Muda Yusuf, Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Comerce and Industry, said that EHINGBETI was about inclusiveness. 

Yusuf said that investment was very important for the developement and growth of any economy. 

“We know that making the economy progress is about promoting investment, and that is what makes the difference between Lagos and many other states. 

“The focus on investments is very key and is top priority for Lagos State Government, and we appreciate that a great deal. 

“This has been the context of the very strong public/private partnership that we have witnessed in the state. 

“We are part of this and we know it is going to create a lot of value. We are committed to partnering with Lagos State Government to ensure that we continue to push this forward,” Yusuf said. 

The summit which last held in 2014m would have the theme: “For Greater Lagos: Setting the Tune for the Next Decade.  

Expert proffers strategies for business revival

By Moses Uwagbale 

A public Finance expert, Dr Greg Ugochukwu Ezeilo has suggested survival strategies that organisations can use to revitalize their operations and bounce back to profitability quickly in the post COVID-19 era. 

He gave the suggestion at a webinar organised by Team Bronze, a Think-Tank Group from Igbo-Ukwu, a historical town in Anambra State. 

Team Bronze is also a group that is driven by the overarching goal of championing the wholesome development of their community and the Nigerian state in general. 

Ezeilo is a consultant to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAN). 

He said that Some of the survival strategies include digitisation of business operations, right-sizing of staff and outsourcing of certain functions. 

Others include renegotiating wages of staff, adaptation to the dictates of the new normal and close collaboration with key stakeholders. 

The webinar, which had the topic: ”Business Recovery and Survival Strategies in Post Pandemic,” was the second in series organised by the group. 

Ezeilo said that the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a devastating blow on the world economy, with the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracting by 7.7 per cent, while Nigeria’s GDP shrunk by 5.3 per cent. 

He noted that COVID-19 pushed many Nigerians into abject poverty and misery, warning that the devastating effect on local and world economies might remain for a long while. 

He regretted that key industries in Nigeria had remained shut since March when the pandemic broke out and that resulted in the closure of several small businesses and loss of jobs for thousands of persons. 

Ezeilo further advised promoters of organisations to consider profitable new ventures, mentioning some of them to include the agricultural value chain, transportation, food stuff and groceries, bakery and confectionary as well as commodity brokerage. 

“Other tips include deciding if the company’s workforce should operate remotely or in physical offices, exploring new sources of finance and ensuring optimal customer service and care,” he added. 

He disclosed that the Federal Government had floated the Survival Fund, a funding scheme that will support micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to overcome the challenges of COVID-19. 

He advised businesses to examine the criteria for accessing the fund and take advantage of the opportunity. 

He listed a few other sources of low cost funding for MSMEs to include Renmoney, Green Stallion, NIRSAL MFB and Anchor Borrowers Programme. 

He identified innovation and technology as a smart technique for reviving businesses, stressing the need to move from brick and mortar business to online business. 

He said: ”Whatever business or trade you are engaged in, you need to embrace technology.” 

Lagarde’s peace at risk as ECB splits over virus response

By Reuters 

European Central Bank policymakers are increasingly divided over how to steer the economy through a second wave of COVID-19, threatening President Christine Lagarde’s hard-won peace, conversations with eight ECB insiders show. 

Lagarde has managed to end the public infighting that left the ECB in disarray in the final months of Mario Draghi’s tenure last year and she has seamlessly pushed through several record stimulus packages to keep the economy afloat amid the pandemic. 

Her pledge to seek consensus and bring sceptics onboard is in stark contrast to her predecessor Draghi, who rarely engaged key opponents of his policies and signalled moves even before any discussion within the Governing Council. 

But tensions are rising again as a fresh surge in infections forces the ECB to contemplate even more stimulus, with old rifts resurfacing and chief economist Philip Lane coming under fire from all sides. 

Conservative policymakers, known in central bank jargon as “hawks”, argue that the ECB is downplaying some of the good news, such as a stream of better-than-expected economic indicators over the summer. 

In the opposite corner, “dovish” central bankers are pushing Lagarde to adapt stronger language both on the risks to growth and the threat from the euro’s appreciation against the dollar. 

Disagreements were already clear during the last policy meeting in September, the eight sources, all with direct knowledge of the process, told Reuters. 

The hawks wanted the ECB to quietly reduce its bond purchases given the relatively benign market conditions, saving its firepower so it can raise the pace of buying again if needed at a later date without increasing the overall size of the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP). 

Some also argued that economic projections were too pessimistic because they failed to account for fiscal stimulus measures already announced which would inevitably lead to higher growth and inflation. 

Both of these points were rejected by chief economist Lane, but so was a call to give a clearer warning about the risks to growth from a stronger euro, the sources said. 

The ECB, which speaks on behalf of board members, declined to comment. 

While most policymakers have echoed Lagarde’s “wait and see” stance in public statements, some took a decisively dovish tone in the meeting, openly discussing prospects for more stimulus, something Lagarde has deliberately steered clear of. 

Some of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, especially objected to ECB board member Fabio Panetta’s comments last week that the ECB should err on the side of doing too much rather than too little. 

Panetta, who joined the board at the start of the year, argued that inflation was uncomfortably below the ECB’s target and in such situations a policy response may be necessary. 

“It’s like Mario is back,” one of the sources said, referring to Draghi’s tendency to deviate from the Governing Council’s message and front-run policy before others had a chance to weigh in. 

But the sources added that Lagarde is for now keeping her end of the bargain and she is even engaging with policymakers Draghi did not talk to. 

“She’s working the phones non-stop and managed to get a consensus in June so I have no reason to think she’s about to change her style,” another source said. 

Some senior ECB staff have advocated increasing the quota for emergency bond buying to 2 trillion euros from the current 1.35 trillion euros but Lagarde pushed back on that suggestion, bolstering her credibility among policymakers who were often at odds with Draghi, one of the sources said. 

The sources said that while policy action may be necessary in December, bringing disagreements into the public domain and fuelling market expectations with dovish comments could make it more difficult to keep it consensual. 

“If you front-run policy in public debate, then you harden positions and make it difficult to compromise,” one of the sources said. “That’s when you get public dissent and market confusion.” 

The sources also agreed that while the possibility of a rate cut was still there, as often stated by the bank, there was no appetite for such a move and it was not being discussed. 

While the majority of policymakers were happy with Lagarde’s management style, Lane, who is seen as the most influential voice on policy matters, was criticised by both factions. 

On the one hand, he was criticised for a choice of words deemed too timid on the euro’s appreciation at the Sept. 10 policy meeting, underwhelming traders. 

Some policymakers had insisted during the policy meeting on tougher language, like that used by Draghi in 2018, but Lane pushed back, two sources said. 

On the other hand, hawks objected to Lane’s blog post the day after the meeting, in which he took a dimmer view on inflation and warned against complacency, suggesting he wanted to amend the agreed policy message, several sources said. 

Other signs of the tension, the sources said, were the growing number of leaks from the Governing Council, some of which lack credibility and are designed to steer the debate, rather than reveal it. 

One leak suggested the ECB was contemplating extending emergency powers to its open-ended bond purchase scheme, a notion Yves Mersch, who also heads the ECB’s legal services, rejected. 

“No such thing was ever discussed,” a second source said. “Removing limits indefinitely would be a guaranteed way to get us sent back to court.”