Developing a functional railway system

By Tola Ogunnubi 

GROWING up in the late 80s and early 90s in Lagos, commuting on trains from our house in Idi-Oro area of Lagos to Yaba/Ebute-Metta on a daily basis was such a wonderful experience. My other elder siblings and I were always looking forward to using this means of transportation because it was the most affordable and safest means of transportation. As a child growing up around the railway line of Lagos that stretched behind my family house, the sound of the different train coaches approaching was always fascinating. I remember going to the rails of the trains and putting bottle tops on the rails for them to get flattened and be able to use them in childhood contests. Such a memorable experience growing up!

Train services remain the cheapest and most efficient of all modes of transportation worldwide. It is the most effective way of conveying large number of people as well as goods on land. Presently in Nigeria, roads carry more than 90% of domestic freight and passengers. This places so much pressure on the available road infrastructure, which results in the incessant collapse and unnecessary huge financial outlay for maintenance and repairs. There is the need to resuscitate our railway system and it needs to be done as quickly as possible to allow the railway mode of transportation exert the desired impact. It is not enough to have just the roads as our major arteries of commercial transportation.

Before now, the railway system of transportation’s contribution to national economic development in its glorious heyday was of immense value and got declined tremendously as a result of competition from the roads. Nigeria  was one of the first countries on the African continent to have a well-funded railway system, but the moral ills in Nigeria affected the rail system. The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) assets including lands were stolen and grabbed, the immediate post-administration sure did well in ensuring that there was a concerted and pragmatic effort at reviving the Nigerian Railway system but then some of their activities were shrouded in secrecy as far as some of the awarded contracts were concerned. The potentials of our rail transport system is immense, its core values of attainment of movement of passengers and goods in a manner that is safe, reliable and affordable cannot be over-emphasized. Railway infrastructure is supposed to be a priority in our economy because Nigeria needs a decent rail transport network to move a major part of its estimated 80-100 million tons of freight per annum. With over a trillion naira on railway contracts and additional funding from the now-rested Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P) between 2010 and 2014, there is little or nothing significant to show in terms of passengers and goods carriage on a commercial usage. It has not really translated into the desired improved train services.

This critical sector of our national economic development has suffered so many things ranging from lack of maintenance, policy inconsistency, inadequate marketing and publicity of the activities of the rail system, to management inefficiency and above all massive corruption. In other developed economies, a functioning railway system contributes immensely towards the attainment of economic and social goals. It is an all-important infrastructural facility that is very viable and a springboard for the transformation   of the economy  I will rather the different state governors building airports will jettison the idea and get involved, contribute and encourage a functional commercial railway system which is a more enduring infrastructural legacy than the egotistic airport projects.

Going by this year’s budget proposal, the ₦120bn allocated for different railway projects across the country is grossly inadequate because ₦60bn or 50% of this proposal is for the Lagos- Kano project alone. The joint committee on Land Transportation of the National Assembly should increase it to something more reasonable. Private sector involvement is required in the process of developing the railways, the resuscitation must not be at the expense of the government alone. Nigeria is in dire need of a modern and efficient rail transport system to develop its economy. In order to sustain the efforts made so far, the present administration needs to fund this sector to achieve a commercial status dream.

Different contracts have been awarded and monies paid, some mobilized up to 60% of the contract sum but abandoned, with nothing to show for it. Or how do you justify the recent outcry of the Senate committee on the FCT that the Obasanjo government awarded $841bn rail project without MOU to a Chinese firm. That is monumental corruption.

Government is a continuum but some awarded contracts in this sector must be reviewed and some cancelled to give room for a more competitive contract bidding with the involvement of all stakeholders, especially the coastal rail contract that was awarded without competitive bidding, improper documentation and over inflated costs.

•Ogunnubi writes from Abuja 

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