Railways revitalisation gulps N2trn in 20 years – New Telegraph Newspaper
Still in comatose
After reaching peak performance of over 11.28 million passengers and three million metric tonnes of freight in 1964, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), started its rapid decline in the 70s, but was briefly stabilised in 1976 when the Obasanjo Military Junta invited the Rail India Technical and Economic Services to manage the Corporation.
The Indian experts met only 20 functional locomotive engines in NRC. By the time they were leaving in the early 1980s, the number had increased to 173.
The Shehu Shagari administration called in the Romanian railway experts after the Indians had left and they were reportedly paid $17 million to supply wagons and workshop equipment. The supplied facilities are still reportedly rotting away at the NRC workshop in Lagos, not installed and may never be installed due to what Comrade Segun Esun, Secretary General, Nigerian Union of Railwaymen (NUR) described as ‘manual blunders’.
According to a former president of NUR, Comrade Ado Maigoro the huge assets left behind by the Indians diminished rapidly due to wear and tear, poor maintenance culture, corrupt management practice and little attention by the Shehu Shagari administration.
He said that the final journey towards total collapse of the rail transport mode in Nigeria actually, started in 1984, when NRC suffered neglect by the Federal Government.
He said that the attitude of neglect towards the Ibrahim organisation was sustained by the Babangida administration which succeeded Muhammadu Buhari, through what then described as a palace coup.
He noted that the late General Sanni Abacha administration attempted to revive the sector by awarding a $528million (about N187.44billion) in 1995 to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to rehabilitation the already dilapidated Nigeria rail infrastructure, supply, 50 new locomotives and other rolling stocks, as well as train critical NRC staff.
The same Chinese firm was rewarded with more contracts by the Obasanjo administration on his return on the saddle as Nigeria’s elected first civilian president in May 1999.
Even the Lagos State Government awarded several road contracts to the company, including the contract for the construction of the ongoing light rail along the CMS-Mile 2-Okokomaiko route.
Ex-President Obasanjo, who expressed shock over the collapse of the huge railway infrastructure he left behind as military leader, initiated a 25-year Railway Strategic Development Plan for the railways in 2002.
This was meant to herald a systematic modernization of Nigeria’s rail transport mode. Then Minister of Transport, Late Chief Ojo Maduekwe, explained that the vision was specifically designed to provide a global framework and benchmark for rail expansion and modernisation for over 8,000 kilometres linking all state capitals and major centres and industrial areas in the country.
“Among others, it will involve the conversion of the nation’s narrow gauge rail tracks to a standard gauge and the construction of new 4,984 kilometres of rail lines to link the West and Eastern parts of the country,” he said.
For about seven and half years of his eight years rule, Chief Obasanjo did not take any action to actalise the vision which was supposed to take off in 2003. But few months to the end of his second term in office (November 28, 2006), he inaugurated a $13 billion contract for the construction of a new Lagos-Kano standard gauge line, spanning 1,315 kilometers.
The project was later abandoned by the Umar Yar’Adua administration after CCECC, the contractor had pocketed the sum of $250 million, being the initial payment made by the government for the job.
Then Minister of Transport, Ibrahim Bio, explained that the government had to suspend the project because the Chinese Government later backed out from a $2.5 billion soft loan it earlier agreed to give to Nigeria for the project.
Another project, a new Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line, was awarded to a Korean firm at a cost of $10 billion then. But it was never executed.
The Jonathan administration showed a reasonable interest in reviving the rail transport system, but that interest and the amount reportedly sunk into the development of railway system is yet to produce any positive result.
In 2013, the Jonathan administration specifically promised to invest N1.6 trillion in the rail revitaliza tion project in two years. About 15 different railway projects were penciled down for completion by 2015.
And 13 of the projects were listed for attention in the capital projects of key federal ministries for that year.
Although the old Lagos-Kano rail line was inaugurated in December 21, 2012 after its rehabilitation, it received a vote of N1.4 billion in the 2013 budget for maintenance purposes. The breakdown shows the Lagos-Jebba end and Jebba-Kano end got N700 million each.
The rehabilitation of the narrow gauge Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line (an ongoing project then) was allocated N67 billion; while N225 billion was approved for the construction of a rail line from Aba to Ajaokuta, linking Enugu, Asaba and Agbor. Sunday Telegraph could not independently verify if these amounts were fully released for the projects, as some of them are yet to commence. The government also pledged an initial sum of N48 billion for the construction of the 360 kilometer rail line from Ajaokuta to Abuja through Jakura and Baro.
Similarly, the government voted N5 billion for the commencement of the East-West rail line construction, expected to link the Western part of the country from Lagos to end in Calabar, on the eastern Nigeria. Construction has not started on this corridor.
Another long stretch of rail line, spanning 650 kilometer, received N97 billion. It is a standard gauge line to cover Lagos, Ife, Ilesha, Owo, Benin, Onitsha and Enugu.
It indicated about N50.9 billion would be spent to construct a 604kilometer rail line linking Zaria-Kaura Namoda-Sokoto and Ilela.
The Abuja mass transit trains, Lot 1 & 2 projects, got N85.7 billion; while the construction of the Abuja light rail received N66.3 billion.
Six stations being constructed between Itakpe and Warri were allocated N475.7 billion.
Also the $500 million concessionary loan from China Exim bank was to be spent on the remodeling of some of the railway terminal across the country.
Sunday Telegraph learnt that a total of 25 new locomotives purchased by the Federal Government from the General Electric Transportation South America at a cost of N114billion were delivered to the NRC between February and October 2010 and deployed to boost train services across the country’s railway routes.
When our correspondent visited the Ebute Meta Headquarters of the Corporation on Wednesday, an official said of a total of 50 locomptives in the services of the organisation, only about 10 are still operational, the Secretary General of the NUR, Comrade. Segun Esan, corroborated this assertion in an interview.
Apart from the locomotives, 366 coaches and wagons were refurbished for the NRC’s use.
The Jonathan administration also procured two sets of diesel multiple units (trains) with a capacity for 640 passengers and six modern air-conditioned coaches with a seating capacity of 68 passengers each.
As follow up to the supply of locomotives, the GE also got the offer to assemble 200 locomotives for the NRC over a 10-year period at a plant to be established in Calabar, Cross River State.
Meanwhile, the House of Representative is investigating the over N1 trillion the Jonathan administration spent on the railways, even as the incumbent Minister of Transport, Chief Rotime Amachi has assured that the Buhari administration would complete all ongoing rail projects around the country.
But reacting to the pledge of this administration to continue with railway projects, financial expert and former President Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), Dr Samuel Nzekwe, said if adequate calculation is made on the amount already spent by successive administrations have made in the past 20 years on the railway rehabilitation without any tangible result, it will not be less than N3 trillion.
“Nigerians are tired over rhetorics about the railways revival, I think they should privatise it and stop wasting taxpayers money on it,” he said