“The revival, resuscitation, development and modernization of 21st century rail system is a sine qua non to the liberation of the country from the shackles of primitive and outdated rail system we presently operate. Until very recently when some works were carried out on the almost abandoned Nigerian rail lines, most Nigerians no longer remembered that railway even existed in the country! Such was the extent of the neglect the rail system suffered in our dear country”.
By Afe Babalola
IN the 80s Nigeria, owing to certain global events, experienced a huge spike in revenue from Oil exports. However as subsequent events have shown, what was regarded as an “Oil boom” has become an “Oil doom”. This as so as all tiers of government developed a total dependency on oil revenue accruing to the Federation as the only source of funding.
Overtime, with the fall in the price of Oil and failure of successive governments to make adequate savings or investments, critical infrastructure were denied much needed funding for their development or maintenance. There are now numerous Ill-equipped schools and hospitals.
I have as a matter of fact discussed on several occasions, the problems associated with poor funding of education by government. However another critical sector of the economy which has suffered greatly is transportation.
Roads which were once the pride of the nations are now almost impassable. Until recent efforts to rehabilitate them, the railway system had become comatose. Yet it is a well known fact that no country can develop without adequate investment in its transportation sector.
TRANSPORTATION AND DEVELOPMENT
From the beginning of time, transportation or movement has always been of paramount importance to man. Man has always been in search of a means to move himself from one point to the other. In ancient times, animals were the primary means of transportation. With the invention of the wheel, things took a turn for the better.
The invention of the wheel had a profound effect on almost all aspects of human endeavor including agriculture as large expanses of land could easily be tilled with horse or cattle drawn ploughs. Later trains and cars came along. The rapid industrialization of America is easily traceable to the efficient operation of the rail system in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Thousands if not millions of Americans could move from one part of the vast country to the other in search of the proverbial golden flee. With efficient transportation facilities, people did not need to live very close to their places of work as they could live in the suburbs while working in the cities. The motor car particularly brought rapid development to areas otherwise thought to be remote. In a nutshell, an effective means of transportation is a sine qua non for development.
THE PROBLEM OF TRANSPORTATION IN NIGERIA
Over a century ago, the British constructed two major rail lines. The first one connected Lagos on the Bight of Benin and Nguru in the Northern State of Yobe. The second one connected Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta to Kaura Namoda in the north eastern state of Borno. Interestingly, the aforementioned two major rail-lines were constructed in such a way that goods could be moved from all parts of the country regardless of the distance and taken to the nearest railway station. For example, goods from the present Ekiti and Ondo States were expected to be transported to Osogbo which served as the nearest railway station. The same thing applied to other part of the country that did not have the benefit of rail line.In the same manner, goods coming from Europe and other overseas countries were expected to be transported to the hinterland thorough the two major ports of Lagos and Port Harcourt. They were then dispatched through stations such as Abeokuta, Osogbo, Offa, Ilorin, Jebb, etc. The goods were then conveyed from the rail ports to the hinterland.
As at 2003, it is on record that Nigeria’s rail system had 3,557 kilometres of track. Out of this 19 kilometres were dual gauge while the remainders were standard gauge. As stated earlier, Nigeria has just two major rail lines serving the entire country. Rail links with neighbouring countries such as Niger and Cameroon still remain a subject of discussion till date. Expansion of the rail system even within the country continues to be the dream of successive administrations.
The revival, resuscitation, development and modernization of 21st century rail system is a sine qua non to the liberation of the country from the shackles of primitive and outdated rail system we presently operate. Until very recently when some works were carried out on the almost abandoned Nigerian rail lines, most Nigerians no longer remembered that railway even existed in the country! Such was the extent of the neglect the rail system suffered in our dear country.
When the the rails system fell apart, Heavy goods which were hitherto moved by rail had to be transported by road. This in turn had a devastating effect on the roads. Nigerians in the recent past have had one sorry tale or the other to tell about their experiences on such roads such as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Sagamu-Ore-Benin Road and the Onitsha-Awka-Enugu Road.
Virtually all the Federal and State roads are death traps. However with good roads and rail networks people could live in neighboring Ogun and Oyo States while commuting daily to work in Lagos. Many of those who currently live and work in Ibadan would gladly chose to live in the serene environments existing in towns like Iwo and Ikire if they had adequate means of commuting to work from those places.
The present decay is however such that continues to take its toll on the nation. The current high cost of cement has been partly attributed to the huge cost of transporting it by road. Some months back, a major manufacturer of the product announced that the cost of the cement would drop for the simple reason that it succeeded in transporting a huge consignment of cement to Ibadan by rail.
The lamentations of Nigerians have always succeeded only in getting a never fulfilled commitment of the Government to attend to the sorry state of these roads. In most cases, a ministerial visit to the roads is often followed only by half-hearted measures aimed only at bringing about temporary reprieve to motorists.
To be continued.