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Consolidating Buhari’s gains in the railway sector



While answering questions on Channels Television programme, “Hard Copy” last week, Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, ever chatty, was in all his elements as he regaled Nigerians with President Buhari’s achievements in the area of rail development. The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) he proudly announced, rakes in “N300million per month from the Abuja-Kaduna train, currently running Lagos-Ibadan from the money we are making from Abuja-Kaduna rail service, and paying back over N100 million monthly to the Federal Government.”


An unsolicited clarification from the Debt Management Office that loans from China to Nigeria, which presently stood at $3.59bn, constitutes only 9.4 per cent of the country’s total foreign debt stock of $37.9bn and that the loans did not require any national asset as collateral since they were largely concessional, secured for Amaechi some relief from critics who believe we are on a path to replacing British neo-colonialism with China’s.


But no one can begrudge Rotimi Amaechi for his wild celebration of President Buhari’s achievement in rail development. Nigeria railways which started in 1898 with its first 96km Lagos Abeokuta portion has been haunted since the end of the civil war in 1970 by twin problem of government mismanagement and inadequate manpower which found expressions in lack of maintenance of rail and locomotive assets and rapid decline of NRC which employed up to 45,000 Nigerians between 1954 and 1975. Buhari changed that narrative.


As it turned out, Babangida’s ‘railway revolution’, widely promoted by the then NRC sole administrator, Chief Samuel Ogbemudia and a captured section of the media, was nothing beyond repainting of old coaches. Ogbemudia was to later in 2005 admit he and Babangida took the nation for a ride when he told AIT that the poor state of the corporation was due “to the activities of a clique in the road transport sector who had urged him not to revive the rail sector because they had invested heavily on the purchase of trailers. (This Day, 21 August 2005). That perhaps explains why although the 327km Warri-Ajaokuta-Itakpe line was launched by Babangida in 1987, while he and the military politicians that succeeded him, according to Mazi Jetson Nwakwo, one-time acting managing director of NRC did nothing including replacing some of the wagons dating back to 1948”, it was to the credit of Buhari that the project was completed some 31 years later.


It was the same story with the 168km Abuja-Kaduna line, conceived by Obasanjo and started in 2011 by Jonathan. It remained a dream until it was also completed in 2016 by Buhari. We can add the 157km Lagos-Ibadan line also conceived and launched twice by President Obasanjo. It also remained a dream for 12 years until Buhari reactivated it in 2016 and completed it in 2020. It was also to Buhari’s credit that the 44.7km Abuja Metro line, whose contract Obasanjo awarded May 2007 and President Yar’Adua started in 2009 was completed by his government in 2018, some 12 years later


Resourceful Rotimi Amaechi, the face of President Buhari in the above string of success stories deserves appreciation of Nigerians. No one should downplay the commitment of one of the few round pegs in round holes in Buhari’s administration that successfully midwifed the implementation of our rail development national policy thrust that had defied the valiant efforts of six previous presidents.


Ironically, it is precisely on account of Amaechi’s successes that if I were asked by President Buhari who hardly listens to anyone because of his mind-set, I would readily advise he be redeployed from the Ministry of Transportation. Amaechi cannot manage success. He has the proclivity of squandering away his own hard-earned victories because he is deficit in human relations management. There are already bad omens.


But before then, let us look at how Amaechi managed his past victories starting with Peter Odili, his godfather who made him Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly following his successful management of Rivers militant groups despite Obasanjo’s capturing of a faction he used as a balance of terror to secure his presidency. Amaechi was to later become governor through the judiciary, the Uzordima’s Imo State way. He went on to become a powerful, jet-flying performing Rivers State governor. Then he fell out with Odili his godfather who allegedly sponsored, Nyesom Wike, Amaechi’s own godson and the new head of the militants against him, reducing Port Harcourt, our once beautiful garden city into a city of blood in the run up to the 2015 election.


APC, the once the dominant party in Rivers has been in disarray since 2015 following Amaechi’s leadership tussle over the control of the Rivers APC apparatus with former Senator Magnus Abe group that had accused him of playing ‘politics of exclusion’. They have spent the greater part of six years moving between appeal court and supreme court with occasional dose of violence as was the case in July this year when Abe faction accused “members of the APC loyal to Rotimi Amaechi of unwarranted and senseless attack on members of APC in Ogba Egbema Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) of Rivers State,”


It is the same story with NPA. After the initial success we were told was recorded with the appointment of Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director of NPA , she was suspended, following the minister’s March 4, letter to President Buhari alleging that the yearly remittance of operating surpluses by the NPA from 2016 to 2020 was “far short of the amount due for actual remittance”. Nine months on, the report of the probe is yet to see the light of the day apparently because of disagreement between Amaechi over his ministry advertisement to select qualified audit firms to conduct the exercise” and the auditor general who insisted “reputable professional audit firms are already being engaged by the Board in line with the enabling Act”.


Now back to the current ill-omens. Shortly before Amaechi’s last week celebration, precisely on November 17, Nigerian Union of Railway Workers (NURW), after accusing the minister who they claimed walked out on them during a meeting, of high-handedness shut down railways across the country in what was termed ‘a warning strike’, for three days. Their grievances according to Innocent Ajiji, their President-General: They are the most poorly paid among all the parastatals in the Ministry of Transportation with a take home of N26,000 a month; While passengers and goods they ferry in their trains are insured, they that operate the train are not insured; Their conditions of service, they claimed was reviewed last in 1983 among other complaints.


Of course, we must not succumb to the blackmail of workers especially in a nation where with the exception NNPC, PPMC that earned humongous salaries and our National Assembly that cornered 25% of our annual budget, most government workers including university lecturers who according to their spokesman now double as cab drivers will admit their monthly pay cannot take them home. But I am not sure if anyone including the highly paid lawmakers, the major beneficiaries of the Kaduna Abuja rail service who allegedly turned down ministry of transportation budget twice, can fault the above listed demands of NRC locomotives drivers.


Happy workers are productive workers. We can therefore not wait until we start to experience sabotage from exploited locomotive drivers before coming to the aid of resourceful but loquacious Amaechi who is not expected to give what he does not have. The president I am sure can also not afford allowing Amaechi to squander what will probably be his most enduring legacy.



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