By George Tolofari
The former Commissioner for Transport in Rivers State, Hon. George Tolofari, has stated for the umpteenth time that the Rivers Monorail project was a well-conceived idea by the Amaechi administration and that it was aimed at boosting the economy of Rivers State and make it the primus destination for business, trade and commerce in the South-South.
Responding to questions asked by journalists at the Port Harcourt International Airport bothering on the abandoned Monorail project in Port Harcourt, the former Commissioner said that he has addressed the issue over and again and he can never shy away from putting the issues in the proper perspective anytime demand is placed on him in that direction. He said:
“On the issue of Rivers Monorail, I would refer you to a piece I wrote in 2015, titled: ” A Call To Reason”. In that piece, I made bold to state the usefulness of that great vision. That project would have taken Rivers State farther than where we are today, if only the present administration headed by Barr Wike had not played politics with it.
“The vision of the Amaechi administration as regards the Rivers Monorail is to take it all the way to the Port Harcourt International Airport. To achieve this, it was broken down into phases. What we all currently see is phase 1A of the project which is 2.6 km. Phase 1B would take it to Garrison which would bring it to a distance of 6.5km. The other phases or routes will see it veer off from UTC Junction along Ikwerre Road to UST Rounderbout, Abuja lane, Olu Obasanjo to Waterlines. Another route would continue from Garrison to Waterlines, from Garrison it veers off to Trans-Amadi through Elekahia, Stadium Road and terminate at Air Force Junction. While it also continues from Waterlines along Aba Road to meet at Air Force Junction. From there, it moves to the Airport.
There is also the route that continues from UST Junction along Ikwerre Road to Rumokoro Rounderbout to the Airport. The route plan and survey is domiciled with the Rivers State Ministry of Transport. It’s a total distance of about 22km.
“The monorail is still an on-going project and any person who believes in the future of Rivers State will, without hesitation, work hard to see to its completion. What I can see is bitter politics and bitter politics has never taken a state or nation anywhere. No real development takes place in an environment of bitterness, rancour and acrimony.
“Here in the South-South Nigeria, the Calabar Monorail was conceived and kick started by Donald Duke, former Governor of Cross River State. He didn’t finish it after his two terms of four years each in office as Governor. Imoke took over as Governor and continued the project from where Governor Duke stopped it. Imoke did his bit for another eight years yet didn’t finish it. Then came Ben Ayade in 2015. He continued it and just recently the Calabar Monorail was completed and commissioned for use. Successive governments never abandoned the Calabar Monorail. Today, Cross Riverians and indeed other Nigerians are enjoying the benefits of modern monorail transport system. That is good thinking pursued by successive progressive-minded Governors.
The Light Rail project in Lagos was started by the former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Babatunde Fashola succeeded him. He continued the project. Akinwunmi Ambode succeeded Fashola. He continued from where Fashola stopped. Today, the Lagos Light Rail has moved from Badagry to Marina. They are succeeding because bitter politics is nonexistent in Lagos State. They also accessed foreign credit and the contractual obligations in such credit-granting arrangements would not allow for abandonment and wastage.
“The assets belong to the Rivers people, the monies spent belong to the Rivers people not Amaechi, and we should not politicize infrastructural developments. It doesn’t matter who takes the glory, just let it be done. Amaechi came in and owned the power vision of former Governor, Dr. Odili and took it to the next level. He also completed the Eleme inter-change, a project that was started by Celestine Omehia after the court sacked Celestine Omehia. That is continuity.
“Can I say here that the project as laudable as it is is without challenges?
No, I cannot say that. It should be noted that the project was 100% funded by Rivers State Government. The mistake we made was that we didn’t take a loan to fund this project. The project was rather funded from the budget. Going forward, I would like to advice the government of the day to take steps toward getting a foreign loan to fund the project. If we had taken a foreign loan to fund the project, the project would have continued unhindered. It takes a visionary heart and leader to identify good causes and work hard to promote and see them to fruition.
“Governor Wike should not jettison the project because of the bitter politics that has engulfed Rivers State. He should take steps to commence the Phase 1B of the Rivers Monorail project. The benefit, upon completion, is to all Rivers people and residents of Rivers State. God bless Amaechi for the great vision,” he said.
Recall that Hon. George Tolofari had in September, 2015 written the piece titled: “A Call To Reason”. Read the excerpt pertaining Rivers Monorail:
“The Rivers Monorail Project:
So much falsehood has been put out in the public domain about this project. However, it remains on record that the decision to embark on the Rivers Monorail Project was a collective decision taken at the Rivers State Executive Council meeting during the first tenure of the Amaechi administration and the facts regarding this project are all still domiciled with the Rivers State Government. The issues with regards this project is quite clear. As part of his efforts to develop the local economy, Chibuike Amaechi realized that there was a need to lay the structures and framework for a new city; it was on that basis that he initiated and commenced the Greater Port Harcourt Project. Coupled with this was the realization that there was a need to develop Port Harcourt as a number One business destination in the South-South. For this to be done, it was important that Port Harcourt should have a well-defined transport infrastructure network with the capacity to link all parts of the city. This was the philosophy behind the commencement of the Monorail Project.
It initially started as a PPP (Private Public Partnership) but due to the global financial meltdown of 2008 the PPP partners pulled out and the Rivers State Government took over the project. I want to place it on record that everything with regards to the Rivers Monorail Project was handled in line with international best practices and procedures. All the firms and consultancy firms engaged with the project are world class firms. I was the supervising Commissioner and I stake my honour and integrity as a true Rivers son on this fact. There was never a time in the course of the project where Amaechi as Governor interfered in any matter whatsoever relating to the project. I challenge anybody who holds a contrary view on the standards of the project to invite the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), The Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) or any other local/international engineering regulatory body responsible for standards in public transport infrastructure projects to conduct an independent assessment of the engineering standards of the Rivers Monorail project.
“It will be dangerous for us as a people to belittle our dreams and our aspirations with regards to development and live in four (4) and eight (8) year cycles of developmental progress. Amaechi did not start the Rivers Monorail to complete it. In starting, he laid the framework for a major public transport infrastructure project that has the capacity to jump start the Rivers State economy and position the city of Port Harcourt as a major destination for business. If I might ask; who built the London underground rail network? Who built the New York subway network? Who built the Heathrow airport?
As a people we must resist the temptation to believe that major infrastructure projects are tied to the life cycles of administrations. We must have the courage to insist that succeeding governments do not kill the collective dreams and aspirations of our people but that they continue the march towards industrialization. The assets belong to the Rivers people, the monies spent belong to the Rivers people, and we should not politicize infrastructure developments. It doesn’t matter who takes the glory just let it be done. The monorail is still an on-going project.”
Hon. George Tolofari was the former Commissioner for Transport in Rivers State