By Gift Okpara
A cardinal objective of the Ministry of Transportation is to provide a safe, affordable and efficient transport system and also manage and operate railway infrastructure in a way that will meet the economic aims of government, boost trade and contribute to the growth of the country.
Since it was established, the ministry of transport has struggled to meet these obligations particularly in the railway subsector which is about the movement of goods and services as well as people from one part of the country to another in a most acceptable way.
After the colonial era, the federal government through the ministry of transportation provided an efficient rail system that did not only serve the interest of Nigerians but was also a major source of revenue for government until 1984 when the railway system became comatose due to government inability to manage the system.
Investigation showed that lack of government funding, negligence, mismanagement and poor welfare of railway staff contributed largely to the crippling of the railway sector in the past.
Although, the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) has its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), it depends on government funding to function optimally.
The country’s railway corporation faced major issues and this includes among others the heavy divestment by government that took place earlier and began to manifest by 1984 to 1985. Secondly was the issue of government funding. It was gathered that even when money was received, it was not up to half of what was budgeted.
In 1964, what was operational was the narrow gauge line which was developed during the colonial and post-colonial era. This line operated effectively under favourable condition until 1980 when its performance started to nosedive, and by 1984 to 1985, the system had completely gone comatose.
Director, Railways, Federal Ministry of Transport, Engr. M.T Babakobi
We will note that a railway system requires funding to survive and the maintenance of tracks and upgrading of rolling stocks and other operations also require money to function effectively. By the time government brought the idea of contributory pension scheme, the number of pensioners that were on transit became far more than the working population in the Corporation. So,they were going to pay more pensioners than those already in the workforce and all these put together made the railway Corporation to start running partial services.
Accordingly, in the year 2002, government realised these problems and started some practical implementation in 2006, and having developed a strategic vision,it went into the rehabilitation and modernization of the railway system.
The modernization aspect was first started so that the railway system will be able to manage tracks they had and still run trains .Government then soon went into government to government bilateral agreement with the Peoples Republic of China and kicked off the modernization project which later gave birth to the Lagos – Kano railway which is currently going on. The Lagos-Ibadan railway which is nearing completion is just a segment of the entire Lagos – Kano railway project.
In 2008, due to funding issues,the government suspended the project and opted for phase implementation which eventually brought about the Abuja – Kaduna rail line.
In 2009, the issue of strategic vision was revisited to rehabilitate the existing narrow gauge which covers Lagos – Kano and Port-Harcourt – Maiduguri. This project has a branch line between Jos and Kafachan as well as Kaduna. However,the rehabilitation was not given adequate focus and intervention in terms of funding and implementation.
Today, the Ministry of Transportation under the leadership of Rt.Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, is leaving no stone unturned towards ensuring that the right things are put in place for effective railway transport delivery.
Amaechi is providing a leadership system that tackles the hydra-headed problems associated with railway so as to enable government in return get a vibrant logistics supply – chain that will contribute immensely to the revenue base of the country.
Amaechi is on his toes to achieve set target even as Nigerians are already seeing considerable output with the hope that in the nearest future they will begin to enjoy the dividends.
The government is also in the process of dealing with all the assets that are tied to railway,that is,Inland Dry Ports among others and priorities are also set in the modernization aspects of building new lines based on needs and reliability.
Already, the Lagos – Calabar rail project, which connects Calabar through Akwa – Ibom and passes through Uyo to Abia, connecting parts of Imo State to Port-Harcourt and passes through Yenagoa to Warri and Benin City is in the pipeline. This same project has a branch line from Onitsha through Asaba, Agbor to Warri and then to Benin up to the Lagos seaport. The project which will improve business activities in the East/West services will generate about five million jobs, both directly and indirectly, when completed and it is estimated to gulp about ten billion dollars.
The Itakpe – Warri project which is also the central line runs through a very important corridor in terms of exploitation of mineral resources as well as agro-allied industries in linking the South-South to the North. So far, the project has been given much attention by the transportation minister, and it is one project that he holds dear to his heart. The project was abandoned 32 years ago but upon assumption of office as minister of transportation, Amaechi has recorded a considerable milestone as far as this project is concerned.
Today, the Itakpe-Warri train runs from Itakpe to Aladja , near Warri. The project has up to three hundred and fifty kilometres of standard gauge rolling through major important industrial base with a host of other mineral resources that are in remote areas.
The foregoing was confirmed by the Director,Rail Services in the Ministry of Transportation, Engr. Baba Koby, who said that “The train can run today from Itakpe to Aladja, near Warri, and we are very near in a more organized and structured pattern that will be of mutual benefit to us and whoever moves the steel industry to move iron ore. With this train you can service Kogi, Edo and Delta States, and we are not stopping at that. We are almost at the final stage of achieving an implementation that will run the train up to Abuja”.
He further said “We are discussing with a Chinese firm and we hope that in a very near future we can reach an agreement and work things out. That will mean a lot to the Nigerian economy. It means that you can lift goods from the Port through the central area to all the central States up to Abuja. And in this case , more than what you are having in other corridors. We are comprehensively tackling the issue of end to end supply chain logistics”.
Baba Koby, who also shed more light on the Port-Harcourt – Maiduguri rail project said “In realisation of our present contemporary demand, an industrial park and a deep-seaport is attached to the project. It’s our plan and we are still negotiating. You can see that in the near future we’ll be able to connect by rail regions of the country”.
With the efforts by Amaechi and his team, it is believed that by the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second tenure, the narrow gauge network would have been achieved and modernization will continue. The industrial park which will service not just Nigerians and also connect the country’s commercial sector with other countries in the hinterland of Chad, Niger Republic and Mali will have also been realized.
Also,the ongoing Lagos-Kano project will have been completed and be made viable to meet the economic and technical needs of Nigerians. This will increase locally-produced goods to a large degree and the completion of a Transportation University which will focus basically on railway,will have also come to fruiton.
The Nigerian Railway Modernization Project Segment 1 which is the Abuja-Kaduna Project is a segment of the Lagos – Kano Rail (Western) Corridor, was substantially completed by Amaechi and commercial operations also commenced on the line after President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR commissioned the project in July, 2016.
The project has conveyed over 300,000 + passengers in its first six month of operation with only three (3) available coaches. It is on record that the rail corridor played critical role during the 6 weeks closure of the Abuja International airport which made Kaduna airport to be used as an alternate airport for the period.
With sufficient coaches, wagons and locomotives to do to & fro simultaneous trips, the corridor has the potential of doing close to a million passengers per year.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) also approved the procurement of additional coaches and baggage/parcel van for the standard gauge.
In line with the Federal Government reform policy to involve Private Sector Investment to participate in Railway Transport Subsector, concession of various rail corridors for construction, rehabilitation and operation are on-going, majorly with relevant agencies on the concession of the Nigerian Narrow Gauge Rail lines of Lagos – Kano (Western Lines) and Port Harcourt – Maiduguri (Eastern Lines). This is to be done with General Electric (GE) of which millions of Nigerians will benefit.
The Federal Government also has as priority for the connection through branch line of Port Harcourt–Maiduguri line to Damaturu and Yola, capitals of Yobe and Adamawa States respectively.
The Federal Government is also in negotiation with China Investors for the development of vital connection with neighbouring Countries in West Africa sub-region through the new lines in the Kano-Katsina-Jibriya Line connecting Maradi Niger Republic and Benin and hope to reach Port of Marekech in Morroco, when adequate protocol is established between the intervening Countries within the context of ECOWAS Rail Interconnectivity Policy.
Mr. President gave approval to source for financier to invest in the development, particularly to build various necessary Rail Infrastructure in Eastern Corridor with linkage of the Eastern to Western Geo- political zones as with the North. This of course includes the Port Harcourt -Aba – Maiduguri, Aba-Owerri -Nnewi – Onitsha -Enugu -Abakaliki with branch to Aba.
The interim solution which will enhance Nigeria’s rail transport service before the final concession will include among others; increase in freight and passenger train traffic/service, increase of freight volume to one million metric tonnes within eighteen months as against five thousand metric tonnes obtainable in the last administration, increase in capacity and technical know-how of the staff of Nigeria Railway Corporation and availability of rolling stock (Locomotives/Wagons).
Okpara, an aide of the transportation minister writes from Abuja
By Gift Okpara