By Ochereome Nnanna
THERE is an old, simple way of defining the news for fresh journalism students. “When dog bites a man, it is not the news. But when man bites a dog, that is the news”. It is also held that bad news sells.
But for me, bad news has become very tiresome. There is too much bad news in the media. It has become too monotonous, especially these days when extreme wickedness has become the daily fallouts of extreme poverty.
It is no longer shocking to read about a man setting his octogenarian mother ablaze and threatening neighbours who wanted to rescue her from a burning house; men impregnating their own daughters and fathering children thereby; children conniving with kidnappers to abduct them with a view to sharing the proceeds extorted from their parents; hotel owner serving human meat to lodgers in his hotel; young man beheading his son in a farm for money rituals; terrorists massacring preteen students in a boarding school; state governments deporting fellow citizens to their states because they are poor and non-indigenes.
The list goes on
When I open the papers, I am now looking for something to cheer me up and give me hope for a better tomorrow, if not for me but at least for my children and their fellow “leaders of tomorrow”. As I write this Friday, August 23rd 2013, I have one right in front of me telling of the first international flight to land at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. Aha! That’s the stuff. This is more than a mere international flight. It is a historic leap for the capital of the defunct Eastern Region that has been starved of federal presence since the end of the war.
It was this starvation of federal amenities and opportunities that forced Igbo people and easterners in general to migrate in large numbers to other, more favoured parts of Nigeria, such as Lagos and Abuja. It was also this denial of opportunities that led to the avoidance of that part of the country by other Nigerians, thus denying it of the impetus that the presence of non-Igbo Nigerians would have contributed to its development as the Igbos are doing in other parts of Nigeria.
Akanu Ibiam International Airport will be the first international gateway to the world out there. It will lead to the establishment of a major international market and industrial parks within that area, which will attract Igbos, other Nigerians and internationals. It was an opportunity that successive administrations at the centre have denied the former secession protagonists and their homeland theatre of the civil war. It is a giant step away from the shadows of our bitter history.
On this same day (August 23rd 29013), another epochal news unfolded. Unfortunately, because it is “good” news, few media houses are paying it quality attention. I am referring to the resumption of cargo freighting from Lagos to the North by rail!
Managing Director of the Nigerian Railways Corporation, Mr. Adeseyi Sijuade, had informed the media that the first cargo of twenty wagons carrying between twenty to forty containers would be transported in the maiden voyage, while within a short time the frequency of the Lagos – Kano freight services would be increased to thrice weekly.
It is also certain that by the end of this year, the rehabilitation of the eastern flank of the rail system would have been completed up to Makurdi from the Port Harcourt Terminus. The NRC informs that already, 34 bridges along the rail line have been rebuilt and tracks refurbishment has reached about 48%.
Nigeria is one of the most railway-backward countries of the world. The British colonialists established our railways in 1898, mounting them from the ports in Lagos and Port Harcourt to the hinterland up north for the evacuation of goods and human cargo. The British colonial masters left us with 3,505 kilometres of single-track narrow gauge rail network. We only managed to add another 277 kilometres of standard gauge line from Warri to Itakpe, which is hardly operational. Thus with only 3,880 kilometres of railway network, Nigeria is a dwarf compared to Egypt (5,150), South Africa (20,192), Brazil (23,538), Canada (46,552) India (63,974), China (86,000), Russia (87,157) and USA (244,792).
Bearing in mind that until a couple of years ago Nigeria was totally railway immobile, the resumption of aggressive railway transportation and the very promising master plan the Federal Minister of Transport, Alhaji Idris Umar unveiled during the Ministerial Platform, Nigeria is, indeed, on the march again.
The railway system was a great symbol of our nobler past. Since the system collapsed in the early 1990s Nigeria’s economic and social status imploded. The rails were the primary movers of our agric-driven economy signposted by the groundnut pyramids in the North, the produce boom in the East and the Cocoa power in the West. With the coming of oil boom in the 1970s and the shift of preference to import dependency, the railways started losing its relevance. The final nail on the coffin was the sabotage of the railways by the haulage mafia, who leveraged their connections with the military government to kill the railways in connivance with the Indian contractors brought in to manage it after the civil war.
Thus was born the phenomenon of thousands of trucks, trailers and tankers littering our highways and destroying our major trunks nationwide. The collapse of the rails threw the local economies along the tracks out of commission and millions of Nigerians lost their economic means of livelihood. Some of the most heinous crimes are taking place among the 19 states where traversed by the railways, and these include violent robberies, kidnapping, terrorism and vandalisation of public utilities.
We must encourage the federal government to proceed at full speed with its current efforts not only to bring back the trains but also to modernise them and rapidly broaden the network to other areas not currently covered by the archaic network.
When next you hear the sound of train horns, smile. It is the sound of promise.
Congrats to Glo at ten
COME Thursday, August 29th 2013, Nigeria’s foremost indigenous telecom giant and second national carrier, Globacom, will be marking its ten years anniversary. Part of the success story of this company is that it has enabled you, my readers, to reach me through calls and text messages, a sponsorship that has endured for seven years with the magic number on this column’s logo.
Congratulations, Glo, and many more happy returns to the ebullient Chairman, Dr. Mike Adenuga (GCON), his hardworking managers and general staff. Please, don’t stop.