• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Rail system struggles despite N104bn injection in four yrs

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The Nigerian rail transport system is still struggling despite a whopping N104 billion in budgetary allocations to the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) in the past four years.

As at today, the country’s poorly maintained rail system has about 3,557 kilometers of 1,067mm (3ft 6in) narrow gauge tracks. The country has two major rail lines: one connects Lagos on the Bight of Benin and Nguru in the northern state of Yobe; the other connects Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta and Maiduguri in the north-eastern state of Borno.

In order to remedy the poor condition, efficiency, and profitability of the nation’s railroads, the government has sought to privatise the Nigerian Railway Corporation. Under the privatisation plan, three separate concessions of 25–30 years would be granted to private-sector companies to run railways in the western, central, and eastern parts of the country.

Till date the rescusitative measures of successive governments have not seen the light of day: none of the proposed new tracks have been completed, and the rehabilitation and refurbishing of tracks and coaches have almost always come short of expectations.

Former head of state, Sani Abacha, awarded about $500 million (N79 billion) rail rehabilitation contract aimed at resuscitating the Lagos- Kano rail line, while former President, Olusegun Obasanjo,

during the second republic also awarded contract for the same Lagos- Kano rail line to the tune of $8.5 billion (N1.34 trillion), yet the rail system has seen no improvement.

The inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the Nigerian railway have made it unable to serve as a veritable and effective means of transporting passengers and freight from the nation’s major commercial cities to the hinterland.

A breakdown of the annual budgetary allocations in the past four years since the government picked interest in reviving the sector, shows that in 2012, a total of N20.3 billion was approved for the NRC, out of which N16.3 billion was earmarked for capital expenditure. The sum was targeted at rehabilitating the Jebba-Kano, Port Harcourt-Makurdi-Kaduna, Kuru- Maidugiri and Zaria-Kaura-Namoda rail tracks, as well as to procure and rehabilitate rail wagons, coaches and tanker wagons.

In 2011, a total sum of N29.6 billion was budgeted for the construction and rehabilitation of most of the afore-mentioned rail tracks, out of which N5.5 billion was set aside for the construction of Ajaokuta-Warri rail line.

Available statistics also show that a total of N31 billion ($207 million) was approved on a special request in the supplementary appropriation bill of 2010 for the construction of Lagos-Ibadan rail lines.

In 2009, the sum of N23.3 billion was budgeted for rail transport, out of which N20.7 billion was reserved for capital projects that included the rehabilitation of 120 coaches and wagons, rehabilitation of the Ajaokuta-Warri rail line, which was also catered for in 2011 budget.

According to industry analysts, Nigerian rail transport has huge potential in a country of over 150 million population. In the highly populated cities like Abuja and Lagos alone, the rail transport has the immense opportunities such as daily business of moving over 1 million passengers in each city within the inter and intra city transportation, generating huge revenues, decongesting road traffic as well as reducing road accidents.

Currently in Lagos, the system moves 8,000 passengers within inter cities and over 4,000 passengers from Lagos-Agbado-Iddo to Apapa and another 4,000 passengers between Lagos and Ilorin line.

Tony Anakebe, managing director, Gold-Link Investment Limited, a clearing and forwarding company, said that the ineffectiveness of the rail system is a by-product of high level corruption among the cabals within the system who have remained a clog-on-the-wheel of the progress of rail transport.

“The Federal Government in 2013 budget, allocated over N10.7 billion for rehabilitation of key rail tracks ,as well as to procure coaches, wagons and locomotives, in order to revive rail transport. But at the end, the Nigerian railway has continued to lie economically dormant as it has been in the past because this is not different from what has happened in the past”, he said.

He suggested that the government should try the option of concessioning the railway system to competent private operators to manage the rail business.

Reacting to this, Eugene Nweke, National President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), who affirmed that the railway system is an important component of the Nigerian economy, believes that Nigeria cannot attain any meaningful economic reformation without a well connecting and functional rail system.

AMAKA ANAGOR