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Our Efforts At Decongesting The Ports – Jerry Oche

Our Efforts At Decongesting The Ports - Jerry Oche

Jerry Oche

By Oyeniyi Iwakun
Engr. Jerry Oche is the Lagos Railway District Manager (RDM). In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus, he appraised the activities of the district in the past eight  months, explained the district’s efforts in decongesting the ports and other issues bordering on corruption and workers’ welfare.
Excerpts:
How would you judge the activities of your district in the last eight  months?
 
As a district, our activities in the last eight  months have been very challenging because we have had series of washouts, a situation where water overflows the track although most of the washouts were not in our district but our trains pass through them before getting to their destinations.
In Lagos District, we run 16 trains and move an average of about 10,000 people every day. We run between Iddo, Agbado, Apapa, Ijoku and Kahala. Ijoku, Agbado, Kajola are all in Ogun State.  Our freights are from Apapa to Kano and Kaduna and since we pass through other districts, most of the time whatever happens outside Lagos district affects our earnings. We also run passengers’ trains from Lagos to Kano once in a week (Fridays) and another one from Lagos to Ilorin once a week; every Tuesday.
Another major activity is the ongoing road construction in Apapa that has created more challenges for the commuters. Because of that, we had to look inward to see what we could do. Having known that we have rail tracks up to ENL, APMT, we realized that most of the trucks were going there to pick containers. Since the road is blocked, we had to come in. Right now, we are running a shuttle between the ports and the goods shed which is here at Ebute Metta Junction (EBJ) station, the headquarters of Lagos District. So we started the shuttle but we also encountered some challenges with where we are doing the stocking but we are currently working on improving the place which will be completed very soon.  
One of the biggest achievements for us in the last eight  months is this shuttle innovation. What we were proposing is three (3) train sets everyday which is made up of twenty (20) wagons which give us Sixty (60) containers daily, and this is supposed to be a 24hr -Operations throughout the week. So, at the end of the month you can have an idea of how many trucks we are thinking of taking off Apapa road and this has been very successful and a lot of people are also keying into it.
But there is an impression that you don’t run train services to Apapa ports.
It depends on which part of Apapa you are referring to. If it’s Tin-can, we don’t have rail tracks there. When you talk about Railway transportation, it’s the movement of goods and passengers by rail between point A and B if it’s linked by rail tracks, meaning that we cannot move trains to where we don’t have tracks but wherever we have tracks, you will always see our activities there.
As a matter of fact, we are not only moving things out, we are also moving things into the ports for export. So, it’s not true that we don’t do activities in the ports.
And on the new standard gauge, the initial contract was to make it stop at EBJ station here but it is now extended to the port and we have been holding a monthly meeting on that under the chairmanship of the Transport Minister, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi.
The railway transportation System seems to be relatively unpopular among Nigerians, what do you think is responsible?
For me, I think in Nigeria, we have three categories of people, the lower class, middle class and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie are the high class people. So when you are talking of popularity, you need to look at what class? For example, how many people travel by air in Nigeria? Of course, that’s the high earned people. The middle and lower classes are gradually fading into one based on my personal opinion and the train services in Nigeria for now may not be able to capture the high earned people especially in this aspect. For instance, we run some trains between Kaduna and Abuja every day. When you see the caliber of people that patronizes it, you wouldn’t say the railway isn’t working.  I am sure you wouldn’t even need a railway worker to defend that.
If you come to Lagos, because of the coaches we are using that are really old, you may not expect the high earned people to patronize it because it may not be attractive to them but we move about  10,000 people daily and if we don’t run such services most of them from Kajola, Agbado, Ijoku might not be able to come to Lagos.
I am not saying we are the only means but we are still the cheapest means.
The ticket from Agbado to Lagos is about two hundred and thirty (230) naira. If that is to be done by bus, I am not sure it would go by that rate and in Lagos district; we have two types of trains. The diesel multiple units (DMU) which is fully air conditioned and the normal Mass Transit Trains (MTT). I can also tell you that the people who use the DMU are the high earned people because it is a little bit expensive. It is Seven hundred and fifty naira (750) per trip and if you board it to and fro, it means you will spend one thousand five hundred naira (1500).
So, there is so much we are doing but if you say we are not blowing our trumpets, then I will agree with you. It doesn’t mean that we are at our best but we are doing a lot to improve our services.
How far have you gone with revenue generation?
We are doing all we can to increase our revenue. Don’t forget that increase in revenue is also tied to capacity. The more you do the more money you make and that’s why we keep calling for support and of course the government of the day is a listening one. They have been very positive in every area they can help. On our part, we have been trying to see how we can block all revenue leakages and improve our services.
What’s the capacity of each coach?
 
The MTT coach is ninety six (96) and each train set is about ten (10) to twelve (12) coaches while the DMU is a set and each train set is about three coaches and each coach capacity is about seventy three (73). It’s designed for more of standing than sitting. Of course, there are off peak periods and apart from that we do excursions.
What are you doing in the area of technology transfer?
 
It’s not about what I am doing but what we are doing as a nation. The NRC is a 100 percent government owned agency and we only implement government policies.
Railway technology like you know is mostly imported, what we do here is the design. The local engineers give the technical aspects like specifications and then we sit with the manufacturers to discuss at different stages and have series of meetings with them. This is also part of technology transfer.  When these things are produced and brought to us for use, the manufacturer would have to be around for the commissioning.
Like the construction of the standard gauge that is awarded to the China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), it is not going to be 100 percent Chinese deal. Of course, we have to use local labour and Nigerian engineers would have to be involved.
If General Electric (GE) goes into the concession with the Nigerian government, they are not going to bring Americans to come and run the trains. At certain stages some of us will have to be involved. For me that’s still part of the technology transfer but if you are looking at technology transfer from maybe design and manufacture, that’s not for me to decide and as a matter of fact, I am not in position to speak on that.
I discovered that some Trains and Tank Wagons have been abandoned. Why?
Yes, you might have seen some old coaches and wagons. Everything has a lifespan and once they exhaust their lifespan then they become scrap but we cannot just on our own scrap them. Scrap for us is that we sell them and don’t forget that almost everything in railway is metal.
We sell them to pantries and we can’t do that without an approval from the ministry of transport, so anytime you see them parked like that, we have requested for approval and once we get it, we will sell them. Again there are times that we take them out of operation for safety reasons. For example if the wheels are worn, we would need to profile the wheels or get new ones. So during that period, we have to put them aside.
That’s why when you come around, you will see so many coaches and Wagons and another time you come, you may not see them. Probably we have taken them to the workshop to be worked on. When they are in good order, we will bring them back for operations.
Some workers complained of poor welfare and maltreatment by the senior staff.
 
We have a disciplinary Committee and that is what we work with. Our salaries are fixed and paid by the government. It is what other Federal Government agencies are earning that we are earning. If any officer errs, I don’t act based personal discretion. We go by the book and if there is any staff that feels he is being maltreated, he has the right to petition the authorities and we will investigate it. If anyone has such complaints, he should bring it to my notice and I can assure you that we will treat it accordingly.
To the best of my knowledge I have not heard of any staff being maltreated by anybody. I have had staff that erred and we used the disciplinary procedures to call them to order. Like I said, if you talk of welfare, NRC has a lot of welfare packages for the workers. We have quarters, hospitals and other needed things within the compound.
Some of them complained about PENCOM policy, that they aren’t being carried along despite the monthly deductions from their salaries.
 
We have a desk officer that handles all National Pension Commission (PENCOM) related issues. And what we do as a district is to pass all complaints coming up in relations to this to the desk officer. We even had a Town Hall meeting recently where all these issues were addressed.
There are allegations of favoritism in terms of posting checkers to the train.
We have different departments with different functions. Checkers are from a particular department. You cannot be a checker if you are not in the operations department and only those that are trained for the job are posted on train as checkers. I am not aware of such issue of nepotism and I expect whoever sees such to bring it to my notice and substantiate it.
What does the law say about defaulters on the train?
 
According to the law, when you are caught in the train without ticket, you pay double of the designated amount and if you refuse, we shall arrest you and that is why we have people that will arrest defaulters in the train. After arrest, we shall bring you to our station here and if you still refuse to comply, we shall charge you to court. So, if the court decides to jail you or take you to community services it is out of our hands.
I think the corruption on the train is a product of checkers’, task force and passengers’ connivance.
 
The task force on the trains is not only there for the checkers but also for the security, safety and efficient management of the train. We have other enforcement agencies like the Man Of War and armed policemen for this same purpose on our distance trains. We have the St. Johns ambulance to provide first aid.
Again on the acclaimed checkers fraud, there would not have been any issues of corruption if we don’t have dishonest passengers. Like I said if you have your ticket, there would be no embarrassment. We don’t have any society that is rational even in the developed societies there are deviants. That’s why we have law enforcement agencies because there is no society where everybody is perfect. It takes two to tangle. The passengers are also part of the problems because they either don’t want to pay at all or want to pay less than the designated fee. It is very easy to throw stones and it is easy to say NRC staffs are corrupt but who are those aiding the corruption? It’s the same passengers that want to cut cost by shortchanging the government. Passengers should always strive to do the right things by paying their normal fare.

Every checker is supposed to have a bib, and every bib is supposed to have a unique number at both sides, its front and back and for bribery to take place, there must be somebody giving it. At all the stations, we have little write ups boldly pasted with the three indigenous languages and equally announce the ticket fee which is two hundred and thirty (230) naira. If you enter the train without your ticket you have to pay double this amount. So, the question of entering and not knowing is not an excuse.
We have had several cases of people entering the train and even telling us that they are not aware of buying the ticket thinking they will pay inside the train. You have no right to be in the train without a ticket no matter how hasty you might be. It doesn’t matter whether you bought it and it got lost you are required to pay double. And please if you find anybody collecting one hundred (100) naira rather than the designated four hundred and sixty (460) naira report the person to me with clear facts.
However, we have always taken steps to address these issues when we hear such complaints but unfortunately there hadn’t been any evidence from any one and this is a government institution where there are rules and procedures to follow
There are allegations of siphoning of government funds by top railway officials that the revenue generated are divided into two and shared.
They’re mere cheap talks. Is it logical to say NRC management would put someone on train and say go and make money so that we can share? That we say when you make hundred thousand (100,000) naira, pay half into government coffers and bring the rest for us to share? Between who and who are you going to share this money and how will there be discipline? Do you think it’s rational to imagine that the checkers we put on train will now come back to share the money with us? And you think the management will have the effrontery to discipline them? Just try and catch one of the checkers you said you saw on the train engaging in any fraudulent act with evidence and bring him to me and see if I will not deal with such person.
Anytime I get any petition or written report against anyone, the first thing I do is to suspend that person immediately and then investigate. Do you think I will be confident to suspend someone if they are coming to share settlements with me?
Probably you are talking about yourself.
No! I head this district and you said top officials and when you say top officials none is exempted. After me in the district we have Heads of departments (HOD).
I have not heard of such allegation against anyone before but if it happens, I will not even spare the HOD.
As far as I am concerned, it is a mere allegation. Let me also bring to your notice that our transactions are done through the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the only one that involves cash is the passengers train.
Even the freight trains that run into millions of naira are done through the TSA and I have no control over the account. My own is to make money and put it there but I cannot take from it.
The tickets are being obtained in another office and they are numbered. So the only extra money that could come as cash is that of the penalty tickets from those on board and what percentage of the earnings do you think that would be that would make someone say half of the money NRC generates goes to the NRC top officials and half goes to the government?
On concession, how far have you gone?
 
Government has been on discussion and they are still on discussion with GE and I hope the discussion will be concluded. For me, I don’t see anything wrong with that because railway is capital intensive and for how long will government continue to spend on it when we have people that are ready to bring in their money to revive it so that it can serve us better? Why should we be against it? All we hope for is a better railway. I have said it that we are not at our best. The government is doing its best but there are other sectors that also need attention like education, defense, and others. So, what’s wrong with GE bringing in funds, expatriates, rolling stocks and others that will help us move forward?
Government is only trying to concession the narrow gauge while the standard gauge is expected to be managed by the government. So it’s a welcome development.
Don’t you think that the management problem which leading to concession might still persist?
You are the one saying it but I don’t think so. Why do you think it’s a management problem? Who appoints the NRC management? Is it not the government? So, how is it a management problem?
My understanding of concession is that somebody who has experience, funds and expertise on railway operations come in to do better what we are not doing well. Do you think anyone will invest and appoint unqualified persons because he is his kinsman? Definitely, you cannot invest and want to make loss. There is a popular saying that government has no business in being in business. In government you talk of quota system but that doesn’t apply in the private sector. It has to do with if you are qualified.
 
What is your message to NRC workers and the general public?
Railway workers are excellent irrespective of whatever you might have heard. They have given their best in any occasion.
And for the populace, their patience with us is something we are not taking for granted. We hope to do better and with their cooperation, we will definitely get there.
I am very sure the future is bright as far as railway transport is concerned in Nigeria. The opportunities are numerous for customers and investors.

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