Rail Transportation: A Solution To The Carnage On Our Roads

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

MISSION STATEMENT: To emerge as the leader in the Nigerian Land based transport system, using well-motivated work force with modern technology to offer high quality and reliable rail transport services with guaranteed customer satisfaction.

VISION STATEMENT: To be a world-class rail transport organization, which provides efficient, affordable, reliable, widely connected and customer oriented services”.

The above are from the official website of the moribund Nigerian Railway Corporation. Makes you laugh, doesn’t it? Our situation in Nigeria nowadays is past crying, we might as well be laughing to ease the pain. And that is what I tend to do these days, to keep my sanity and self-respect.

On 3rd June 2005, in a speech entitled “Reform of Transport Sector In Nigeria” presented by the then Minister of Transport, Dr Abiye Sekibo, at the financial bid opening of Port Harcourt Port Terminals “A” and “B” at L’Meridien Hotel, Abuja, the Honourable Minister confirmed to Nigerians that “transportation occupies a central position in the socio-economic and political development of any nation” and further confirmed that “successive Nigerian governments have left the transport sector comatose as a result of total neglect”. He listed the following as being characteristic of the Nigerian transportation system: excessive government monopoly; grounded rail system whose services are more or less inefficient; obsolete and deficient transport policy; under-developed inland waterways transportation, ports and port services that leave much to be desired, and (wait for it!) corruption.

This was during Obasanjo’s term, exactly three years ago. What exactly has changed since then, you ask me? Nothing. It is quite possible that the same rhetoric were uttered by several previous Transport Ministers twenty, fifteen or ten years ago. Still no change, all have been empty speeches and promises. It is not surprising to most Nigerians. Every administration and ministers come and go, failed to leave their marks, fail to deliver and the next thing you know, the Minister is a billionaire.

Dr Sekibo, amongst other things, also admitted that the entire transport system was sliding on a downward gradient and could no longer provide vital links that would support socio-economic activities in a modern society. Damn right, you were!

I would not like to go through his entire speech, but the Minister recognised, at least in his speech, and playing to the gallery as is typical of our politicians, that a lot of work needed to be done to improve, develop and sustain our transportation system. He mentioned the existing modes of transportation in Nigeria – rail, road, inland waterways, etc – and aptly described them as inadequate, inefficient and ineffective, due to the above reasons given. He then outlined the proposed Government plans to resuscitate the transportation system, including putting in place, a 25-year prospective Rail Development Plan, concessioning of railway transport services, rehabilitating of key trunk roads and welcoming investment in road construction and maintenance, and restoration of the lost glory of inland waterways transportation, capacity building and development, and finally ended by saying that “our mission is to bequeath to this nation an efficient, sustainable, affordable and environmentally friendly inter-modal transport system through Public Private Partnership (PPP) either through concessioning, joint ventures or Build Own Operation and Transfer (BOOT arrangements”.

These are very noble and ambitious plans, actually achievable if there is commitment and selflessness and if they really mean it. Granted 25 years is not here yet, but the problem is we cannot see anything to suggest that we will meet the twenty-five year plan at the rate we are going after only three years.

I write this as a result of the daily carnage on our road, with especially in mind the death by road accident of forty-six Nigerian servicemen-peacekeepers, who had just returned, ironically safely, from Darfur, Sudan. As soldiers, I am sure they would have preferred to die in action, in the line of fire in Sudan, than die in a road accident in their own country. However, may their soul rest in peace.

So who have been Ministers of Transport since or before Dr Sekibo? Chief Tony Anenih, dubbed “the most dangerous politician in Nigeria” and “Mr Fixit” of the PDP, was given 300 billion Naira to spend on roads alone (Only God knows how much he was given to spend on other modes of transport) but we can all attest to the poor state of our roads. Not a single kobo, apparently went into the roads, even the main road to Anenih’s home state of Edo – Lagos/Benin City – was one of the worst during his time and was the graveyard of many innocent Nigerians, as it was also the main road to the eastern part of the country. I will not even mention the great inconvenience experienced by those who ply the road and survived the carnage. Then came Chief Ogunlewe. I don’t know how much he was given, but this guy spent our money, and all his time and energy, fighting to wrestle the Governorship of Lagos State from Tinubu. In the end, he was implicated, and even arrested, in the political murder of Williams, and he is now a ruined politician, shuffling to regain something of whatever credibility he ever had.

The current Minister of Transport, Mrs Diezani Allison-Maduekwe made a show of public emotions when, on assuming duties last year, she visited the Lagos/Benin “expressway” and promised quick action. To her credit, although work is very slow, several important major roads all across the country are being either reconstructed or repaired. Travellers on the Lagos/Ibadan and Lagos/Benin roads will be grateful when these are completed. The Lagos/Ibadan expressway is a very important route in Nigeria. It is the main gateway or road to the north of the country such as the Lagos/Benin one is the main road to the eastern part of the country. What we should have on these roads are not what we are getting.

What Ministers, civil servants, transport ministry engineers and this Administration should be concentrating on is not so much as the state of the roads themselves, but the cause of the sorry state of them. We also do not have enough road in the country. One major problem which no one seems willing to address or recognise is the number of heavy duty vehicles plying these roads. Of course it is essential to move goods, services and people from Lagos to other parts of the country, but are these roads built to withstand such gruelling and constant use, especially where our maintenance culture, corruption, careless and illiterate drivers, inefficient policing, and even our climatic conditions, etc are all playing their respective roles in ensuring the roads deteriorate so rapidly? For example, the number of trailers or articulated lorries, plying the Lagos/Ibadan “expressway” is such that there is no way that the road will not deteriorate because the traffic is too heavy and the road cannot withstand such heavy usage. Again, as we know, when roads are built in Nigeria, that is the end of it, nobody maintains anymore. The Ministry of Transport’s supervising engineers in charge are no longer available. They have made their money and forgotten about the road they are supposed to supervise and maintain.

Then again, are the contractors building according to world-standard specifications taking into account the effect of our climate – torrential rainfall, high humidity (in the tropical rainforest that is the south of the country) and very hot, arid weather (as in the northern part of the country) on the roads they build? The rainy season, poor equipment and poor maintenance pose challenges to road maintenance in Nigeria, and these should be recognised and addressed, but are they? Yet again, does it make sense to have religious camps on the expressways who cause such misery to travellers on a daily basis because of their indifference to the havoc they perpetrate? Don’t even talk about the nuisance and death caused by trailer drivers (Alhaji Dangote is one of the guilty ones here) on our roads, not to talk about the general indiscipline of our often impatient, doped, illiterate drivers, who you will see driving on the wrong side of the expressway everytime there appears to be a traffic hold-up in front of them. On my last trip to Nigeria barely a month ago, I witnessed accidents and deaths caused by such drivers, with bodies lying all over the place. And where are the Federal Road Safety Corps in all these? They are busy collecting bribes from over-laden, battered, non-roadworthy vehicles that should not be on the road in the first place. They are even worse than the Police.

The carnage on our roads calls for a lot more than government officials making speeches in hotels and forums. Many Nigerians will not and cannot forgive them for their indifference to their plight, their duplicity, double-speak, inaction and their corruption. Their action, or inaction, have visited death and misery on millions of families, Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. I have tried to make a conservative guess, but believe me if I say that on Nigerian roads all over the country, an average of 100 people lose their lives on a daily basis. That works out to a minimum 36,500 Nigerians per year. On the Lagos/Ibadan expressway alone, there must be an average of 10 per day, so you can see I am not far wrong. And please do not count the survivors who are usually maimed for life. Is this a deliberate plan to reduce our population? Conspiracy theorists, over to you.

So what do we do? Whilst it seems that Nigeria’s short term solution to road transportation is air transportation, as evidenced by the sudden flourishing of airlines in recent times, the fact is not many Nigerians can afford to travel or move goods and services by air to all parts of Nigeria. Air transportation is also not an alternative to mass movement of people, goods and services in a country as poor and corrupt as we are and where technological knowledge and tools have not been fully established to complement our maintenance culture.

I have always advocated the efficient, effective and safer rail transport system for Nigeria, (Please see my article – The Urgent Need for Rail Transportation In Nigeria, nigeriaworld.com, 31 October 2006), and in this article, I listed the advantages of rail transportation to the development of a country like ours. This article was written shortly after the ADC plane crash, which followed the Bellview and Sosoliso air crashes). When the Obasanjo Administration initiated the rehabilitation of railways in Nigeria about three years ago, I was one of millions of happy Nigerians. The China Civil Engineering Construction Company and Obasanjo’s government signed a contract to modernise the Lagos to Kano railway line in October 2006, with a proposed 3-phase line upgrade – Lagos-Ibadan (181 kilometres); Ibadan-Ilorin (200 km); Ilorin-Minna (270 km); Minna-Abuja-Kaduna (360 km) and Kaduna-Kano (305 km). In March 2006, the Guangdong Xinguang International Group signed an MOU with the Federal Government of Nigeria to construct a “revolutionary fast rail” (RFR) from Lagos to Abuja (where there is no existing railway) as well as light rail lines from Murtala Mohammed International Airport to Lagos City and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to Abuja city centre, and according to the Government, US$22 billion was made available to start the project. I am sorry if I have not travelled to other parts of the country to verify this, but from what I saw, or did not see, in the western part of the country where railway used to exist, the rehabilitation of the rail system in Nigeria is nothing short of a mirage in the country. I did not see anything to make me hopeful that the contract is being executed. Well, maybe the projects are meant to start in the north and then work their way to the south, who knows? Maybe this is the precursor of another typical Nigerian scandal, or I fear the Chinese companies have disappeared with our money.

Whatever the case, the Federal Government must urgently actualise rail transportation in the country. There must not be any more delay in a massive rail modernisation and rehabilitation, as well as funding for these projects. It remains the most practical, efficient, effective, safest and cheapest way we can move people, goods and services to and from the large expanse of the country. We can see the result of this in China, Pakistan and India and especially in the Western countries. It is a shame really, knowing that apart from South Africa, Nigeria was one of the first country in sub-tropical Africa to have a railway system. Railway construction was started by the British colonial government in Nigeria in 1898 from Lagos in the Southern Protectorate (JA Odeleye, Japan Railway & Transport Review No.23, pp.42–49,2000) with the construction of the 96 km Lagos – Abeokuta Railway line; starting with a 32 km line of 1067mm gauge from Iddo (Lagos State) to Otta (Ogun State), which was further extended to Ibadan covering a total of 193 km in 1901. Railway construction continued incrementally in such manners between 1901–1910, Ibadan–Jebba (295 km); 1907–1911, Kano–Baro (562 km); 1909–1915, Jebba–Minna (252 km); 1914–1916, Port-Harcourt–Enugu (243 km); and 1922–1927, Kafanchan–Jos (179 km). Further development resumed in 1958 with the construction of Kafanchan to Bauchi line (238 km) followed by the Bauchi-Maiduguri line (302km) 1961–1964, which brought the total rail route of the Nigerian Railway Network to 3505 km and to 4,332 km if sidings are included.

The Nigerian Railways however, came into existence on October 3, 1912 by the merger of the Lagos Government Railways and the Baro – Kano railway. The Railways became an autonomous public corporation by an Act of parliament, the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act (1955), as amended in 1990.

According to a critique in January 2008 by Mazi Jetson Nwakwo, acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Nigeria’s rail system is suffering from the lack of political will by the nation’s politicians. While the NRC had employed about 45,000 people between 1954 and 1975, current employment is only 6,516. (I don’t even know what these 6,516 are doing since there is no train to run). He pointed out that no new wagons had been bought since 1993, and some wagons date back to 1948. Track condition limit trains to a speed of 35 km/h.

I do not believe that the money is not there, as our politicians and government are often fond of telling us, thinking they are talking to idiots. In fact, we all know the money is there, the problem is the corrupt, selfish idiots who parade themselves as leaders. Nigeria is a very rich country, but we know where all the money has been ending up. If Nigeria wants to connect all the major cities in Nigeria by a world-class rail network and excellent world-standard standard good roads within the next 10 years, I have no doubt in my mind that the money is there to do so, it is just their own idea of priority and commitment that is preventing such happening. We see Governors spending millions of their states’ money on their birthdays, don’t we? We see even worse, don’t we? Of excesses by our leaders, don’t we?

Why don’t they for once do something for us that we can remember them by in good appreciative sentiments?

I say, let the truth be said always, only then can we progress as a nation.

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fola May 9, 2011 - 6:12 pm

pls. i will love to keep contact, i am a journalist doing a report on the new initiative of the federal government in railway development in Nigeria. im planning to do a multimedia work that will allow people to follow in debt the history and possibilities in railway development in Nigeria’s development. im the photoeditor of Daily trust newspaper in Nigeria.

Joshua Odeleye February 16, 2011 - 2:57 pm

Good one.Our nation deserves environmentally-friendly mode like rail.Shinkassen,Maglev technology is meant for country like Nigeria,that is endowed with a huge land expanse e.g.Lagos-Maiduguri,Kano-Port-Harcourt.May God help us.Joshua Odeleye.

ephraimadinlofu@hotmail.co.uk June 15, 2008 - 11:41 pm

Good piece ones more from a versatile writer. The money is there quite allright but politicians in power play bad politics with good policies.


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