• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Lessons from railways in a faraway land

Lessons from railways in a faraway land

I purposely titled this in reference to recent goings-on in our land. Transportation is crucial to modern life for so many reasons, how much more in a time of conflict or war when people need to flee war and essential supplies must be transported to where they are needed.

It is therefore instructive to see how the railways in Ukraine have kept on operating even as the country prosecutes the terrible war brought against it by Russia. It takes effective leadership to run a public service efficiently during peacetime, but even more so during war.

Let me give some context about the size and scale of operations of Ukraine’s railways. Ukraine has one of the world’s leading railway systems, with about 22,500km of track, placing it as one of the top 15 longest networks in the world. It is also the world’s seventh largest rail passenger transporter and the seventh largest freight transporter.

Running an organisation of this size in peace time is a massive operation operationally and logistically, how much more when war is declared, and the parameters of peace time operations all change

The second-largest country in Europe, Ukraine’s railway is the country’s biggest employer with 231,000 staff across a network of about 1600 train stations in a land territory of 603,470 sq km. It is by no means a small organisation.

But the country suddenly found itself invaded by Russia and in the middle of a war it did not initiate. Running an organisation of this size in peace time is a massive operation operationally and logistically, how much more when war is declared, and the parameters of peace time operations all change. Tracks are hit daily, staff risk their lives (41 killed so far), yet operations don’t stop.

In all this, Ukraine Railways has been able to achieve many feats. First, the evacuation of over 2.5 million people fleeing war to safety as at the middle of March 2022.

It is also playing a crucial role in the delivery of aid, the movement of troops and the transport of whatever the country can still export in these times.

The organisation also recently successfully carried out an assignment with the eyes of the whole world on it when in the middle of the war it safely transported the Prime Ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and Czech Republic on the over eight-hour journey from Poland to Kyiv and back.

The chairman of the Railways, Oleksandr Kamyshin says he himself is a target of the Russians, so he is constantly on the move for security reasons.

In demonstration of leadership by example, he and his executives have not seen their families since the war began – a sacrifice they are all making.

Just as his executives are making this sacrifice so is he – it isn’t one standard for others and another for him. He and his team are constantly on the move across the country checking on their employees to encourage them, and monitoring operations even in dangerous areas.

In an interview with Business Insider, Kamyshin said: “In the last two days I’ve been in more than 10 locations. I have 231,000 people, and they’re fine to go and work without sleep — but I have to show them that I’m with them.”

At this time of crisis, he himself is in the trenches with his frontline people. Though he was offered the opportunity for he and his team to operate from President Zelensky’s bunker, he refused, preferring to be on the move with his team, personally overseeing operations in this war time.

Read also: Why the railway system has failed in Nigeria

How has he responded in terms of the leadership structure of the organisation in this critical time? The structure is now “flat” with managers given the freedom to make decisions without seeking permission from superiors.

Repairs of tracks can be executed without bureaucracy, which means they are done much quicker. The train schedule for the next day is also drawn up each night, so it can be changed to adapt to developments on the ground.

These are some of the changes that have been made which have made running Ukraine’s railways possible in a war time. It takes good leadership to devolve power and to trust people to take important decisions, especially when the lives of many are at stake.

I have said all this to address leadership in Nigeria, especially in the comparable sector – our railways. We certainly do not have a railway system that is anywhere near the scale or size of what Ukraine has.

Most importantly, we are NOT actively at war as Ukraine officially is. So, why are we unable to run railway operations that are reliable and safe?

It was only recently we saw the debacle of the fuel gauge not working on the Lagos-Ibadan train, and thereafter the terrible incident of bombing of the Abuja-Kaduna rail tracks and the tragic deaths and abduction of our citizens.

When are we going to start taking responsibility for our failures and realise that we MUST put in positions of leadership only capable people who are truly interested in the assignment at hand and not those who will give excuses or are not competent?

The cost of not doing the right thing has been colossal for this country. Sadly, the situation in the railways in Nigeria is symptomatic of the leadership in many other sectors.

Oh, lest I forget, the chairman of Ukraine’s Railways superintending this vast organisation and its war time operations is only 37 years old! A shame on us all. We have absolutely no excuse for our leadership failures in Nigeria.

I do hope we will learn some lessons from Ukraine’s railways and its leadership.

Thank you and until next time, let me challenge you to begin to lead from where you are.