Nigerian engineers are to mobilize about 800 billion naira (US$ 5.2 billion) towards the construction of the Trans-Saharan highway, conceived over 50 years ago, to link several African countries and boost socio-economic activities around the corridor.
The Private Guardian Newspaper Thursday quoted the President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Mustafa Shehu, as saying in Abuja, the Nigerian capital city, that the corridor will equally serve as a tool for curbing desertification in the Northern part of Africa.
“Nigerian Engineers believe firmly that opening up the Sahara will bring about smooth inter-continental trade. Movement of goods and services across the continent will be enhanced and this will obviously create the multiplier effect of employment opportunities, education, industrial growth, reduction in cross-border migration, recovery of encroached lands for agriculture and grazing purposes for millions of Africans that border the Sahara,” Shehu said during the inauguration of the Governing Council to raise funds for the project.
The terms of reference of the council include conceptualizing the overall framework and configuration of the project which will connect all regions of Africa.
The engineers are also to explore avenues of sourcing finances locally and internationally, to be used in realising the project and establish, co-ordinate and monitor steering boards, committees and working groups to enable it perform its functions effectively.
Analysts believed the Trans-Saharan Highway, when completed, will fasten the integration of the continent, open up land-locked countries like Niger, Mali and Chad. It will further boost trade, tourism and cultural exchange between African countries.
Environmental activist, Dr. Newton Jibunoh, who has been a major advocate for the project in the past 40 years, wondered why Africa has remained the only continent that does not have roads that link most of the countries within the region.
“It cannot be termed white elephant project because of the enormous economic potentials it has. Imagine a road network that goes to Algiers from Nigeria then links up Ethiopia and South Africa and then the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The ease to movements that will be create and the quantum of commerce that will spring up are enormous. The project can indeed finance itself,” he explained.
In spite of the enormous potentials of the project, many Africans are expressing fears its sustainability in view of the huge funding required to actualise it.
Their fears stem from many projects across countries on the continent that have been abandoned mid way to completion, due to lack of funding.
But Jibunoh believed the project will not be abandoned or become a white elephant one.
“No. funding cannot be a problem at all. In fact, some banks notably the African development Bank, Arab Bank and two others banks have been contacted to fund it. But even at that, the Nigerian commercial banks can mobilize the necessary fund for the project because of many advantages inherent in it,” he explained.
Inaugurating the governing council, tagged “NSE-Taming African Desert”, a former Nigerian Defence Minister, General Theophilus Danjuma, said the huge potentials of the project is too much to be ignored ,
”The potentials to create millions of jobs directly and indirectly for the teeming restive unemployed youths across the continent; the potential to provide clean water to millions of people along the route through the desalination plants; the potential power generation through harnessing the abundant solar and wind energy; potential for geological exploration of the Sahara for its hidden treasures cannot be over-emphasized,” he added.