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Chinese Firm Says Funding Stalling Nigeria's Rail Project

A Chinese firm handling an 8.3 billion-dollar (5.4-billion-euro) contract to upgrade Nigeria's under-performing railway system said Wednesday inadequate government funding was stalling the project. Nigeria signed the contract with the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) in October 2006. "The contract provided for an advance payment of 1.1356 billion dollars from the federal government of Nigeria but so far we have been paid only 250 million dollars in March 2007," CCECC Vice President Chen Xiaoxing said in a published. He said despite the problem of funding, the company had made some progress on the 1,315-kilometre (817 miles) Lagos-Kano double track standard gauge, which is the first phase of the 25-year-long modernisation project. 

The Chinese firm has been under fire in the media for the slow pace of work at the site. The Punch newspaper early this week accused the firm and the government of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, which signed the deal, of inflating the contract by 5.8 billion dollars. But CCECC said its rates are more than competitive. "The international average construction cost per kilometre is about 3.5 million dollars whereas the cost per kilometre on the Lagos-Kano line comes to about 3.04 million dollars for double track," it added.

The company urged Nigeria to release money to enable it to continue with the project which it sees as a key part of the solution to the country's transport problems. "Based on our experiences in China and the world over, there is no alternative to satisfy land transportation in Nigeria up to 2020 and beyond other than what is proposed in the modernisation contract," it said. "The Nigerian government should realise that every day that passes without a firm decision taken on this modernisation project will only aggravate the cost in the final analysis," it added.

Once Nigeria's pride, its railways, like much of the rest of the country's infrastructure, have slowly crumbled into disrepair. Nigeria has a network of 3,505 kilometres (2,178 miles) of narrow-gauge single track lines, covering nine of the country's 36 states. Most of its 200 locomotives however, broke down long ago. The only passenger service still operating in the country takes two hours to link central Lagos, the commercial capital, with Ijoko, a small commuter town less than 30 kilometres (20 miles) away.