AFTER many years in the cooler, our rail system began to undergo a revival through efforts which began with the President Olusegun Obasanjo regime. Between then and now, strenuous efforts and a lot of money have been invested across several regimes in efforts to enable Nigerians resume using the railway system of transportation.
The most audacious effort at modernising the Nigerian railway system is evident in the Abuja – Kaduna standard gauge line, it also includes the Abuja light rail and the ongoing effort to extend the Warri – Itakpe rail line to Abuja.
In the Eastern wing of the Nigerian railway system, there is the Enugu-Port Harcourt line, while the Lagos to Kano narrow gauge system has been operating on a skeletal basis, with dilapidated locomotives and coaches deployed on poorly-maintained, antiquated rail tracks.
In spite of the unflattering appearance of the trains that run shuttles between the outskirts of Lagos and the Iddo Terminus on the Lagos Mainland, thousands of Nigerians have shown unbridled enthusiasm to embrace rail transportation, especially in the Lagos metropolitan area. Every morning, noon and night, thousands of commuters fill the trains to overcrowding. Many young people hang precariously in between the coaches with many more risking their very lives perching on the roofs.
Just a few days ago, one of the coaches of an overcrowded train derailed in the Agege area of Lagos, with scores of passengers thrown off the roof. Fortunately, there were no reported cases of on-site fatalities.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, does not seem enthusiastic in pushing the agenda to restore rail services even to colonial levels, let alone striving to meet the digital templates of today. The trains and rail tracks are badly neglected. There is little evidence that security officials guard the trains. If they do, they will maintain order and ensure no one climbs to the roofs. The level crossings are hardly manned, and the gates are nowhere to be found. Trading on rail tracks goes unchecked, thus increasing the possibility of derailments and accidents.
We call on the government to put our rail services in private hands. The large crowds that stuff train coaches simply mean that Nigeria is a profitable market for rail transport waiting to be exploited. It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt since the end of the Civil War that Nigerian civil servants are incapable of running any form of business, least of all train services.
The longstanding plan to offer the various divisions of the NRC to concessionaires should immediately be activated to enable those who have the means and the expertise from any part of the world to take up the provision of decent, modern train services in the country. Enough of NRC’s eyesore services that portray Nigeria in poor light.
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