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Friday Sermon: Leadership Conundrum Revisited 2

By Babatunde Jose

“Under the IBB / Abacha administrations (1990 – 1998) Nigeria realized $199.8 billion; under the Obasanjo / Yar’Adua governments (1999 – 2009), the country got $401.1 billion; and during the Jonathan administration (2010 – 2014), Nigeria got $381.9 billion from oil revenues.” Where are the infrastructures to show for these monies? These monies were mismanaged, stolen, wasted and shared with the active connivance and collaboration of the corrupt civil service. Our kamikaze leaders were not interested in the welfare of our people but rather in who gets what from the common patrimony. With these kinds of monies accruing to the country, they had a field day in the nation’s vault.

People, whose only credentials are having served as governors, became stupendously rich with mansions all over the place, travelling in private jets and changing SUVs, in competition with our ubiquitous men of God: Those who did not buy private jets were always travelling in chartered flights.  They had little or no time for the infrastructure that would aid the development of our people. Hospitals were poorly equipped since they and their families could travel abroad in air-ambulances for emergency treatment sometimes of questionable symptoms such as knee injury at the gym. In the midst of this mindless looting of the national treasury, they forgot about the railway. Why won’t they? It’s all about them. But they forget that worldly desires are mere illusions, transitory pleasures, that Allah is testing us with.  Allah Almighty warns us of this by saying (what means):

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” (Quran 57:20)

Currently, 24 senators are also receiving fat pensions from governments as ex-governors and 3 as ex-deputy governors. It is alleged that in Lagos, a former governor will get two houses, one in Lagos and another in Abuja, estimated at N500 million in Lagos and N700 million in Abuja. He also receives six new cars to be replaced every three years; a furniture allowance of 300 percent of annual salary to be paid every two years, and a N30 million pension annually for life. Yet, you want them to remember about the railway system. No Sir! They cannot.

Yet, a virile rail transportation system plays a significant role in the sectoral development and overall growth of any economy. There have been significant changes in railway systems throughout the world There have’ been considerable modernizing and updating of equipment to enable railways fulfill their role more effectively. However, in Nigeria, rail transport has had a stunted growth over the past 100 years when compared to railways in the developed world. There has been a continuous decline in its performance over the years with attendant operating deficits in its accounts. Almost six decades after independence, the Nigerian railway system remains static in structure and is highly unresponsive to the emerging socio-economic and political challenges. Hence the railway system no longer exerts a strong influence nor plays a competitive role in modern Nigeria.

Despite feeble attempts to jumpstart its revival, the railway system is still in a state of limbo. There was the Abacha attempt which witnessed massive importation of rail construction material that ended up abandoned at the Ebute Meta yard of the Nigerian Railways. Obasanjo too mouthed an attempt without visible results and was followed by Jonathan’s which laid the groundwork for the Kaduna/Abuja line which is now in operation. But, what of the other plans for a Lagos-Calabar line and the Lagos Benin line, going all the way to Onitsha and thence to join the Enugu line? All these and many more were treated with levity and careless abandon.

The railway, which forms the fulcrum on which rest the proposed Inland Port system, has not been developed to perform this function, hence the continued congestion of the sea ports.

Yet, the railway was not conceived to be abandoned to road or water transportation.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation traces its history to the year 1898, when the first railroad in Nigeria was constructed by the British colonial government. But the railway has not been marshaled to play the developmental role which it has continued to play in other countries of the world.

The whole of Europe is crisscrossed by railways both freight and passenger linking cities together and ferrying goods from port to landlocked cities. The United States has the world’s longest railway network, followed by China and India.

Within the last 50 years the highest number of passengers carried by Nigeria Railways was 15.6 million in 1984 which declined to 0.7million in 2006. The maximum tonnage of freight hauled was 3,003,000 tonnes in 1961/62 while the minimum was 36,758 tonnes in 2007. Hence, there is the need for urgent revitalization of railway system in Nigeria for economic transformation and integrated national development.

Unfortunately for the railway, there has’ been a continuous decline in its performance over the years with attendant operating deficits in its accounts. In the days of yore, Apapa port, Nigeria’s premier port was served by railway which was used to freight imports to far off places such as Maiduguri and via Kaduna Junction to Jos and south to Port Harcourt. Coal was transported from Udi Coal mines to Port Harcourt from which it was shipped to Lagos. All these services are no more. All important companies in Apapa had rail lines that serviced them including those companies in Iganmu. What happened to these services? It’s a question which only our leaders can answer as the railway was left to die an unnatural death; it was asphyxiated by road haulage barons.  In the course of this shameful saga, a second Lagos Port, Tin Can was commissioned without a rail system serving it. Today, we are seeing the sorry consequence of that act of criminal omission.

“Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said the failure of past administrations to invest in infrastructure resulted in the congestion of the Apapa Port, Lagos. “I think one of the major failings that we have had as a nation is the failure to invest in infrastructure, especially when we were earning significant sums from oil. The Apapa Port has a 35million metric tonnes capacity; now it’s handling 85million tonnes. So we have so many trucks coming out of Apapa, destroying the roads.” According to him, the Federal Government is aggressively addressing the Apapa Port congestion through the development of the rail system and the other ports. “We’re opening up the ports in the Southsouth and fixing the rail system. You cannot transport goods around the country without investment in rail,” Osinbajo said.

According to the critique by Mazi Jetson Nwakwo, former acting managing director of the NRC the rail system is suffering from the lack of political will by the nation’s politicians. While the NRC had employed about 45,000 people between 1954 and 1975, current employment is only 6,516. He pointed out that no new wagons had been bought since 1993, and some wagons date back to 1948. Track condition limit trains to a speed of 35 km/h.

May Allah save us from our leaders who have ganged up and conspired to make life a ‘living hell’ for us; Amen.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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