Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation has blamed the delay in the commissioning of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail line to the increment in the number of coronavirus infections witnessed in the country.
Amaechi disclosed this while reviewing the performance of the Ministry in the past few years and the outlook for 2021 as guest of the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, Breakfast programme, the Morning Show on Monday.
According to him, scores of staff on project site numbering about 60 have been infected by the dreaded virus, noting however that to the glory of God, none of them has died, saying “I pray that nobody will die, but you can see the kind of sacrifice everybody is making to get the rail to function.”
He said: “As far as we are concern, we need to learn how to live with COVID-19. I really want to congratulate those that achieve this feat. We were to inaugurate it in the first week of January. We had to stop doing minor completion because of the rise in COVID-19 transmission.”
According to him, “The timeline for the inauguration is dependent on COVID-19. If it stops today, we will need additional two weeks. It may not even need to stop completely. If it reduces drastically, we will be happy to go ahead and commission. This was our expectation but unfortunately, it shot up. So, everybody has to wait and watch what is going on and make sure we keep safe and alive.”
The Minister also read the riot act to those bent on flouting safety measures put in place to checkmate the spread of the virus, adding that the Ministry would not hesitate to stop the movement of passengers on any route found to be culpable.
“If the Lagos-Ibadan passengers flout the COVID protocols, we will stop the train (services). Don’t forget that we convey about 4,000 passengers in a day on the Abuja-Kaduna rail line. Now, imagine that about 20 persons have coronavirus. They can transmit same to the entire 4,000 passengers. If we take 2,000 to Abuja and 2,000 to Kaduna, the rate of transmission will be very high. We can’t continue that way. The same is applicable to Lagos. For us, we insist that everybody must obey the protocols. Wear your mask throughout the journey till you step down,” he advised.
He also added that save for minor installations here and there, the Lagos-Ibadan route is ready for commissioning in line with the January 2021 deadline given to the contractors handling the mega project.
“We have done over 96 per cent of the work. What is remaining is minor issue here and there on the stations, not on the bridges. We can run and people are using it. The only thing is that we are not allowing them to use the stations, so that they don’t destroy anything. We have furniture left to fix. A lot of the bridges, either overpass or underpass have been completed,” he stressed even as he lamented the craving for the creation of more bypasses by sundry communities whose settlements are close to the rail line.
“The problem with Nigerians is that a lot of people create their own bypasses, instead of walking up or down to the bridge. Every village wants you to create one for them which means you have to end up building these bypasses not only for communities but for individuals. But all you need to do is just to walk to the bridge. The reason many people die on our highways is because they don’t want to use pedestrian bridges,” he added.