President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday explained that he has approved rail lines linking Nigeria to Niger because he has ‘first cousins’ in the North African country.
Despite public outcry, the Federal Government in January awarded the controversial rail project linking Nigeria to Niger Republic to a Portuguese construction firm, Mota-Engil Group.
It will cost $1.95bn to construct the Kano-Dutse(Jigawa)- Katsina- Jibia – Maradi (Niger Republic) rail line project.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party and some civil rights groups had taken a swipe at the government, saying the project was a misplacement of priority in a country facing intractable problems of insecurity and harsh economic conditions arising from hikes in fuel price and electricity tariff.
But the President made it clear on Arise TV that he has first cousins in the country and cannot cut them off.
The President said, “How many neighbours do we have both on individual and national hood. You have to cultivate your neighbour. If you don’t, you are in trouble. If you could recall when I came, I went to Chad, I went to Niger and I went to the Cameroons.
“Look at what is happening around Boko Haram, if we are not in good relationship with Niger and Chad and Cameroon, Boko-Haram would have done worse things to us than this.
“And you say I am taking it to Niger. I told you the border between us and Nigeria is 1,400 km and Niger you see… I spoke to one Frenchman and I had to tell him this, ‘you people in 1885, you set down a ruler and pencil and draw lines.”
“I have first cousins in Niger. There are Kanuris, There are Hausas and there are Fulanis in Niger Republic, just as there are Yorubas in Benin Republic.
“You can’t absolutely cut them off. But the rail, look at the plan. If you read the plan, how we are rehabilitating that rail. Niger they discovered oil too as you know and we don’t want to allow them to go through Benin Republic. We want them to come through Nigeria.
“We hope they will decide when we take the rail up to Maradi. Then they will send all their exports and so on through Nigeria rather than through Benin.”
Buhari said if infrastructure is put in place, Nigerians will keep themselves very busy.