The Nigerian Railway System through the Times

The Nigerian Railway System through the Times

Nigerian Railway

The development of an effective transportation system is crucial to the economic development of a country as transportation is essential in the execution of daily economic and social activities in any given area.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) was put in place to widen the scope of transportation facilities in the country. This became crucial as a result of the immense growth of commerce.

The railway, at the stage of inception, was rendering efficient services but began to suffer infrastructural decay in the 1970s due to a decline in agricultural exports, issues mismanagement, and government neglect.

The British colonial government completed Nigeria’s first rail infrastructure over 100 years ago to aid the movement of agricultural goods from the northern region to the ports in the south. But 55 years after independence, Nigeria still struggles to operate part of the 3,505km railway inherited from the British colonial masters. The tale of the Nigerian Railway is full of failed contracts, and this became worse with the systemic decay of the corporation’s entire infrastructure and manpower.

After prolonged neglect of the nation’s railway, efforts made by the government to revive and modernise the transport mode have not yielded the desired results.

Although, not much has been done in terms of construction of new rail lines since 1964 except the 277- kilometre standard gauge rail line project under construction between Itakpe via Ajaokuta to Warri, which is now over 80% completed. The Buhari government is taking a giant step to change the outlook of the Nigerian Railway by involving its Chinese partners to enable a revitalized rail system. The government has also brought into the country functional coaches set to run on the revamped railways. However, many people express doubts that given the limited time before the year 2023, the government of Buhari may not be able to deliver a sustainable rail system across the country.

The problems of the Nigerian railway system took their roots from the managerial problems which tilt towards lack of operational facilities, poor revenue generation, poor capital base, lack of government financial support and investment, adequate manpower, and most important managerial problems to mention but a few.

It is quite unfortunate that even as trains still run in Nigeria, many people are oblivious of the fact that a functional train really exists in Nigeria because they have never had a ride on the train.

However, investigations show that the few trains available are mainly used for short-trip excursions and mass transit of peasant farmers, rural traders, and junior workers.

For over a decade now, the performance pattern of successive government in railway project execution has not yielded impressive results despite the huge funds released and expended on the projects. These inefficiencies can be attributed to lack of maintenance, policy inconsistencies, corruption, management inefficiency, and inadequate marketing.

Renowned economists, Dr. Ayo Teriba and Prof. Pat Utomi, raised their concerns over the deplorable state of the Nigerian railway despite the huge sums allocated to execute a number of projects meant to improve the system.

Questions are raised over reasons why governmental leaders will choose to play politics with a highly important infrastructural facility like the railway, which should have been the starting point for the transformation of the economy.

Dr. Teriba noted that no nation with Nigeria’s kind of population can attain economic development without an efficient railway system.

In view of the constraints posed by resources, the FG should explore ways and strategies of unbundling the Nigerian railway system to allow private-sector participation, so as to promote the development of the transport sector.

Freeborn Okhiria, Managing Director of NRC, revealed that the railway corporation is focused on upgrading the rail to a wider track.

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He emphasised on the benefits and importance of the railway transportation mode, saying, ‘It’s easier and faster and cheaper… You can move more people, more goods, more speed, better poundage of the rail – instead of moving 40 tonnes per wagon you can move 80 tonnes.’

He said that this is not the first time Nigerians will hear of plans put in place by the government to construct new railways and fix antiquated tracks, but past ambitions to upgrade the railways had been thwarted by inadequate funding.

It was also revealed that the West African state will be opening up its rail system to private investors, but many Nigerians remain unconvinced that the entire project will be successful due to the government’s past failures.

Transportation generally, is an important aspect of any development initiative, and the railway line, opened by President Muhammadu Buhari in the year 2016, is the first of the country’s standard gauge railway modernisation projects, accommodating high-speed rail lines, which is an attempt to reinvigorate Africa’s largest economy as railways make a comeback after decades of neglect.

Adenike Omosanya

Photo Credit: PM News

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