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Corruption and bureaucracy has rubbed Nigeria of an efficient railway system

Comatose Railways Gulp N500billion in 10 years

When, next week, President Olusegun Obasanjo flags off the first phase of the estimated N325billion or $2.5b modernization and expansion programme for Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), the one-century old hemorrhaging corporation would have gulped more than N400billion in the last ten years of its operation.

General Sani Abacha’s administration in 1995 started the transformation of the corporation when $528million was approved for the rehabilitation of the railways and acquisition of rolling stock and locomotives through a Chinese company, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCEC).

Earlier in 1979 – 1982, Rites, the Indian railway specialists got the federal government nod to manage the Nigerian railway network for three years and succeeded in putting the corporation back to profitability. This achievement was however short lived as a result of NRC bureaucratic bottlenecks that eventually led to the loss of several billion of naira.

The unsuccessful completion of the project and resultant failure of the railway to work proficiently recently informed the call for the modernization and expansion of the railway from antiquated narrow gauge to a dual-standard gauge rail track with a travel speed of between 120km/h – 150km/h.

Dr. Abiye Sekibo, minister of transport had said the initiative was aimed at fostering rapid technological change through a three-way alliance, involving the federal government, private sector and China in a concession strategy expected to reduce government investments in the sector and enhance the railway corporation’s competitive edge in providing safe, reliable and efficient rail services for the country.

The Ogun State government has against this backdrop donated 120 hectares of land at kajola for the project anticipated to last 36 months.

As it were, NRC has demolished all structures that could cause obstruction along the railway tracks from Lagos to Kajola, Ogun State before the arrival of the president next week for the ‘ground breaking ceremony’ to signal the commencement of the modernization of the rail track.

Alhaji Abdulrahaman Abubakar, managing director of the corporation who recently acknowledge the cleaning exercise said it would enable the rail tracks to be accessible and above all, rid them of weeds.

The first phase of the proposed 1, 010km standard gauge rail track would run alongside the existing narrow gauge rail line from Ibadan to Ilorin (200km), Ilorin to Minna (270km) and Minna to Abuja to Kaduna (305km).

And when completed, both tracks are expected to haul 40million tones of goods annually and 6.2million passengers yearly.

David Ndakotsu, assistant director of public relations, NRC, applauded the federal government for spearheading the initiative to reform the railway, saying the idea was over due, especially when viewed against the significance of the rail to the development of the economy, he recalled.

He told BusinessWorld Intelligence in a chat in his office in Lagos that the concession of the railway is being handled by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) who according to him has short listed 11 concessionaires.

He declined to react to the more than N500billion that has in the last ten years been disbursed to the corporation, arguing that the amount was insignificant to what was sank in the Aviation and road sub-sectors. “If the railway was funded in like manners, it would be better off than what we have today,” Ndakotsu noted.

He lamented the pitiable status of the railway adding that until the coming of president Obasanjo’s administration, the corporation has never enjoyed so much support.

Of the 50 locomotives supplied by the CCEC in 1995, only 10 are currently serviceable as others have since been grounded owing to lack of spares parts.

The corporation has however placed public tender, calling on interested entrepreneurs to supply it with batteries, microwave equipment and microwave network management system among others, the corporation’s spokesman said.

BusinessWorld Intelligence was however reliably informed that sourcing parts for narrow gauge locomotives and coaches may almost be impossible because they have been discontinued in Europe, Americas and Asia.

We also discovered in our findings that in recent past, recommendations are rarely implemented. In stead, funds are injected without financial justification – a scenario that has made the huge investment in the corporation unfathomable.

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