States get to improve transportation infrastructure; that creates economic development, puts people back at work and, most important, enhances safety and improves local communities –Corrine Brown
Transportation infrastructure improvement as advanced by Corrine Brown is crucial to the revitalization of the Nigerian railway system if economic transformation would be experienced in the Africa’s most popular nation.
The railway transportation was once one of the most popular, effective and efficient means for transporting passengers and cargoes in Nigeria.
Railway transportation system which begun much before road and air modes is pregnant with advantages that is evident everywhere in the world because of its cost effectiveness, high haulage capacity, comfort, convenience, safety attributes with minimal accidents and ability to endure long distance and several hours of movements without challenges.
Today in Nigeria, the mode only exists in the shadow of its past glory due to the numerous problems surrounding it such as bureaucratic diseconomy, inefficiency, marketing myopia, corruption and many others that most Nigerians do not even know that a functional railway means of transportation still exist in Nigeria.
Despite the Federal Government’s claims to be fighting tooth and nail to revive it by purchasing new locomotives, loan grants, removal of corrupt officials, technical partnerships and Nigeria-China bilateral pacts for revitalizing of railway, the railway sector still suffers major setbacks as it offers very poor services which is close to non-functionality.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC, 1990:4) is saddled with the responsibilities of Carriage of passengers and goods in a manner that will offer customers full value for their, meet costs of operations, improve market share and quality of service, ensure safety of operations and maximum efficiency, and meet social responsibility but NRC seems to have fallen short of these responsibilities along the line.
MMS Plus on a tour to the facilities at the corporation noted that most of the efforts of the government to revitalize the Nigerian railway transportation industry have failed to make any meaningful impact because none of the efforts have addressed the fundamental problems of the railway industry.
The physical structure of the railway network, coaches, and others need to be completely overhauled and the staff needs to be reoriented completely. As it stance, the public relations department which ought to give necessary information to the public has failed this role.
The Public Relations Officer, Mr. Mamood Yakubu seems to be bereft of ideas on operations and activities of the agency. Upon over three to four scheduled visits by MMS Plus, Mr. Mamood couldn’t give any clue to the running and activities of the agency. “Look! I cannot say anything, just go there, look around and write whatever you see. Nobody will talk to you on anything. Nobody authorized me to speak on any issue, if you need information, go to Abuja. Please I don’t want anybody to query me” Mr. Mamood told MMS Plus reporter.
MMS Plus findings after the tour and interactions with some workers revealed that to revive the railway industry in Nigeria, the government has to put a lot of things into place, and the Nigerian Railway Corporation itself needs to sit up, purge itself of corruption and adjust to the situation of things in the modern transport industry and try to find a place for itself.
The federal government needs to increase the subsidy allocated to the Nigerian Railway Corporation with proper monitoring in order to make it possible to offset its deficits and embark on capital projects that would enhance its services and revenue.
The present narrow gauge should be phased out and a broader one installed while new rail lines should be constructed to serve the entire country through new commercially relevant cities like Onitsha, Owerri, Nnewi, Abakaliki, Abuja, Asaba, Benin City, Akure, Ado Ekiti and others.
In order to bring in new ideas and encourage innovation, it is necessary to inject new blood into the corporation’s top management.
The quantity and quality of the services offered to customers when they or their goods are in transit should be improved upon. This would enhance their satisfaction and lead to improved patronage.
NRC should develop some of its properties located in strategic places by converting them to stores, guest houses/hotels, offices and workshops, among others, and lease or let them out to members of the public. This will help to bring in some much needed revenue and prevent encroachment on those landed property.
Efforts should be made to manufacture locomotives, coaches and wagons locally.
Above all, a genuine concession of the NRC and Rail Transport Services can go a long way to help matters. But this can only really work after the standard railway gauge has been installed and these require bold steps and huge investment on the part of the federal governments.