When our colonial Master (The British) built the first railway in Nigeria in 1898 linking Lagos and Abeokuta in Old Western region today South-west Nigeria, it was only Britain, The United States of America and few other countries had such facilities then. Naturally, anyone would expect almost 119 years down the line, Nigeria should have built an excellent National Rail Network with latest models of fast moving trains seen in the developed economies, but that is not the actual case here.
Paradoxically, while many countries that started train services long after Nigeria have perfected that mode of Transportation by using it for efficient human transportation and bulk cargo haulage, ours system remains in near comatose state. In countries like Germany, France, United Kingdom even in South Africa and Egypt, for instance, underground and surface rail tracks are linked to the seaports, airports and land borders. This ensures efficient movement of people and facilitates quick distribution of needed goods like machinery, bulk cargo like cements, wheat, fertilizers, precious stones, perishable and non-perishable food items like tomatoes, cows and medicals among others.
In South Africa, the metrorail operates commuter rail services in the major urban areas. The metrorail system consists of over 470 stations, over 2,220km of tracks and carries over 1.7 million passengers daily. In the United Kingdom, trains are preferred to buses and in some cases flights due to efficiency. If you want to travel to France from UK, many preferred trains to flight on daily basis. In all these countries, modern light rail, monorail and latest electric trains are rapidly replacing the old locomotives. According to global records, Europeans and Asians operates the fastest high speed trains in the world as seen in Shanghai maglev, Harmony CRH 380A and Targo Avril. Some go as fast as 360km/hr, making them excellent alternatives to air transportation.
But unfortunately today, Nigeria still rely heavily on the slower locomotive trains (some as slow as 35km/hr) that pollute the atmosphere. Worse still, the country is yet to develop hubs and spokes system for the trains to ensure total coverage of Nigeria. The railways remain a major revenue earner for operators and government alike. It is also a major employer of labour, which inform why developed nations seek to sustain and improve the sub-sector. Some transport analyst has described our railway services as a monumental disgrace, attributing its perennial wobbly and sorry state to blind politics, corruption, unchecked graft, ethnic differences and other challenges. They insist the railway sector should be well developed as Nigeria roads are death traps, while air travel remains elusive to the masses due to their weak purchasing power.
A retired Director of the Transport ministry once said that some haulage cabals who, in their selfish bid to take over the lucrative inter-state transport/haulage business, masterminded the systematic killing of the NRC so that their businesses could thrive. They did not want to compete with the railway especially for the haulage of heavy goods. Trains will definitely be more efficient and cheaper. They bribed their way to ensure that successive Transport Ministers and Managing Directors of the Nigerian Railways Corporations (NRC) were their anointed candidates. So the transport cabals worked hand in hand with these political appointees to make the railway sub-sector moribund. This is so because every year funds earmarked for rail track mordernization through the budget were squandered. Rail tracks were never maintained while some of the tracks have been washed off by erosion and all that. The trains were in a comatose state. Many of the coaches have been abandoned for decades to rot away. Yet if you go to the NRC office at Ebutte Meta, you will see activities, but no productivity. They languish there doing nothing, but feeding fat from the perennial system rot.
For many decades, the nation's rail system has been starved of the political will to move it to the next level. The last administration of President Goodluck did some work to revitalize our rail system. Some experts noted that the revamping of the sector by the last administration was more of a political campaign strategy than a long time repositioning effort. They alleged that the quality of the rail tracks and coaches deployed were not top of the range as the lion share of the NRC funds were diverted to finance campaigns. With the waned political will to sincerely revamp the sector, massive graft was allegedly uncovered.
But in recent times, it has not been business as usual. With what the current minister is doing there and his appointments in railway sub-sector, things are taking shapes and our railway sector is coming back to life. This is why most of these cabals are not happy with the current Transport Minister Chief Rotimi Amaechi. They were most unhappy with President Buhari because of this appointment. President Buhari has vowed to clean the rot in the NRC as his administration intended to use train services to open up businesses at various agrarian towns and villages that have been denied access to modern transportation. With the construction of Lagos-Ibadan rail project and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano that will eventually terminate in Lagos and that of Lagos to Kano. Then with Calabar-Port Harcourt-Aba-Onitsha-Benin-Lagos rail project being undertaken by the Chinese Government, I believe for the first time we have seen a political leader who has the political will to do the needful in this sector. I believe this sector will create over 1 million jobs both formal and informal jobs.
Consequently, transformation of the NRC eventually consumed the then Managing Director of NRC, Engr Adeseyi Sijuwade, who was sacked by President Buhari. But to me his sack appeared not to has addressed the underlying political manoeuvrings and corruption that have kept the nation's rail system from becoming world class. Most of the staffs at the corporations are not ready to move along with the change mantra of this present administration. With reference to the specific Lagos-Kano and Calabar to Lagos Rail projects, I will like to state that the two projects are very important projects to Nigeria masses and I believe that is why this present government included them in 2016 and 2017 budgets. We in the South- east who travel almost every day through roads will like these projects to be completed. We will be very grateful if President Buhari completes Calabar-Port Harcourt-Aba-Onitsha-Benin-Lagos. I believe when it completed, these routes will be the busiest of all. If Lagos-Ibadan rail project is completed, I believe it will reduce the populations in Lagos and the cost of housing will come down. This is because if I am from Ondo, I do not have any business living in Lagos when I knew with the fast train I can be in Lagos in the next 30 minutes, why paying heavily for rent in Lagos. It can equally help to reduce accidents on our roads and save our environment from pollution.