WHEN the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris A. Umar, was appointed in July 2011, he made it very clear that President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda would be the major anchor of the transport sector.
He, therefore, pledged to promote intermodalism of the sector, restoration of railways, maritime safety and security, enhancement of water transportation, completion of existing projects and human capital development in the transport sector.
True to his pledge, there are many transformation indices that are witnessed in the transport sector. The railway sector which was comatose for many years is now revived and restored for the benefit of the masses with over 3,000 kilometres of rail lines being rehabilitated across the country. The Lagos – Ibadan – Ilorin passenger train services kicked off last year.
There are inter- city passenger train services in Minna-Kaduna route, Kaduna-Kano route and Kano-Nguru route while intra-city service is operational in Lagos, Kaduna and Kano states. There are excursion and freight train services in some parts of South West while arrangements for the kick-off of such nation-wide services have been concluded.
With the rehabilitation of Akeri bridge in Niger State, the Lagos-Kano train service will soon commence while rehabilitation works have commenced for the restoration of Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail service.
The Lagos-Kano train service would have taken off by now if not for the sudden upset of a pillar of the Jangane rail bridge in Niger State which is receiving accelerated rehabilitation by the Federal Ministry of Transport and the Nigeria Railway Corporation.
The Nigerian Railway Act of 1955 which hitherto restricted the ownership and operation of train services to the Federal Government is now being amended for local, state governments and private sector participation in the ownership and operation of the train services.
Feasibility studies for high speed rail line from Lagos to Abuja, and to open up some other routes on PPP arrangement are in process while new rail corridors to be developed will criss-cross the six-geo-political zones.
There will be the procurement of modern coaches to ply these new rail lines as a modernization strategy. The Minister of Transport has in many public fora expressed optimism that when the speed trains which, for example, will ply Lagos-Abuja route in four hours begins operation, the railway transportation will compete favourably with air transportation in the country.
In the area of in-land water transportation, the lower River Niger from Baro in Niger State to Warri in Delta State with 572km covering many states has been successfully completed with necessary infrastructure such as buoys, navigational aids installed and most maintenance dredging equally completed, thereby making the channel open and accessible for vessels to convey their cargo through the dredged water ways.
The Onitsha Port was commissioned by the President on August 30 while other ports and jetties to enhance inland water transportation are nearing completion.
The process for the dredging of the River Benue is about to begin to expand in-land water transportation in the country. Similarly, the dredging of the Orashi River to link the Oguta Lake to Degema in River State and the Atlantic Ocean is on-going.
The Port reforms carried out by President Goodluck’s administration has generated tremendous improvement in the sector with the achievements of 24hours port operations, especially in the Lagos ports; reduction of government agencies operating in the ports from 14 to seven thereby minimising delays, costs and corruption; removal of over time containers and improvement of traffic on Port access roads.
There is intermodal initiative through the development of in-land container depots in Abia, Borno, Katsina, Oyo, Kano states under Build, Own, Operate and Transfer arrangement with the private sector. The Federal Government is to develope deep sea ports under PPP in Lekki, Ibaka in Akwa Ibom, Olokola and Badagry.
The President, Minister of Transport and DG NIMASA have been carrying out sensitization campaigns against the oil theft economic sabotage through the media. The Federal Government is using NIMASA, NAVAL and private sector security platforms to fight this economic crime. An anti-piracy bill to give legal teeth to this fight is in the offing.
While the Cabotage and In-Land Shipping Act is being amended at the National Assembly, the Federal Ministry of Transport in collaboration with NIMASA is processing the release of Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund which stands at about $140 million for eight screened indigenous shipping operators to empower indigenous ship owners to operate effectively in the maritime industry.
Human resource development is equally receiving serious attention in the last one year. Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology Zaria is collaborating with ABU Zaria for professional training of transport stake holders. NIMASA is to establish an Institute for Maritime Studies in the University of Lagos, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Niger Delta University, Bayelsa State and IBB University Lapai, Niger State.
The Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, CRFFN, is collaborating with some tertiary institutions in the country for professional training of its members in line with international best practices.
The Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron which has been in human capacity development for the maritime industry is undergoing upgrading and transformation as a degree awarding institution.
The Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme, NSDP, moderated by NIMASA is programmed to train cadets for skillful and professional manpower to operate in the maritime sector. Presently, there are about 247 cadet trainees from different states in the country undergoing professional maritime training in UK, Egypt, India under the programme.
Mr. INNOCENT EBIRIM is the Media Assistant to the Minister of Transport.