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Transport, education and the rule of con men

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Having won the elections, it means that the same government will work hard to finish the project— Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi

The Minister was on yet another inspection tour of the work being done on the Lagos-Ibadan railway project – which as everybody now knows has missed so many deadlines promised for its launching by the Federal Government. In another example of the con games they play with Nigerians, the Vice President visited the project during the campaigns and after being driven through a hastily prepared portion of the railway line promised Nigerians that the line would be inaugurated before the elections.


If only Osinbajo, a professor of law had interrogated the minister, he would have discovered the lies told about the project. Now a new date has been fixed. Nobody should expect the Ministry to deliver on its promise. It will most probably fail again. I have my reasons.

Below are the first few paragraphs of an article published in April 2017 after Minister Amaechi had promised Nigerians that the Lagos-Ibadan railway line would have been almost completed by the end of that year.

Amaechi, Bello, Iheanacho to attend League Lecture, Awards

Amaechi starts a lasting revolution in the Southwest “Lagos-Ibadan rail project to start this month” News Report.

When Buhari announced his cabinet members and granted the Ministers portfolios, nobody could have selected the Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi as the minister most likely to succeed in the first term. Compared with appointees from the Southwest and Southeast who had received rave reviews as governors of their states or prolific national publicity secretaries, Amaechi apparently had no chance to top the class of 2015 Ministers.

To make matters worse, the controversies over the 2015 budget, the frustration over power supply and crazy bills, exchange rate which seems to be flying higher like a kite, loan requests, security issues, and now officially acknowledged food scarcity have all combined to make Nigerians forget the fact that transport is still one of the three most vital services governments provide and it is the second most powerful glue (money is first) binding all economic activities. It deserves more attention than it is getting from most economic and social commentators. Starting today, transport will receive the attention it deserves.

Fortunately, not all of us have lost focus. When the Buhari administration clocks its second year in office on May 29, 2017, one Minister will be able to beat his chest that his Ministry has made significant progress. More than that Amaechi and Buhari are about to leave one of the longest lasting legacies in the Southwest and South-South corner of Nigeria – starting with the West.”

I never met Amaechi before that announcement; but like a lot of South-westerners, I make frequent trips to Ibadan I have several friends for whom the rail line would constitute a “God-sent” gift.

We need $40bn to interconnect Nigeria by rail — Amaechi

You cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest—Louis M. Howe, 1871-1936. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 192.

But, although I am not a journalist, after co-habiting with those rascals for almost thirty years, as well as having regular tutorials from Area Boys, I soon got hold of myself. I promised to monitor the project and that was what happened. Despite my abhorrence for Nigerian rails after one dreadful experience, I got on them in order to observe first hand the progress of the rail project that would transform our lives in the South West. Then, I saw the lies unfolding. By the time Vice President Osinbajo came to make his false promise on the line, it was clear that it is indeed true that politicians cannot be believed.

By May last year, a full year after I had earlier thought we would be celebrating President Buhari’s legacy project, it was clear to me that Nigerians had been swindled. Every leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, who had accepted the Minister’s assurances regarding the progress of the project had been cruelly deceived. USSR leader, Josef Stalin,  would have had the Minister shot.

The story in PUNCH of Saturday, March 30, 2019, on page 44, by Okechukwu Nnodim was aptly titled “Lagos-Ibadan railway project won’t be abandoned – FG, NASS”. So now, we had descended from a project launched with high hopes and which was used to gather votes in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states facing the possibility of being abandoned.

Senator Gbenga Ashafa, APC, of Lagos State, Chairman of Committee on Land Transport, spent the last three years without demonstrating concern for the project which would benefit his people. Now a lame duck senator, he wants to guarantee a promise which had been turned into a con game by the APC government. Meanwhile, Nigerians continue to suffer and die on the Lagos-Ibadan highway and goods by the billions perish as well. How on earth can we have rapid economic growth when we can’t complete 130 kilometres of rail line in 36 months? Obviously, next time Amaechi or Osinbajo or Buhari makes a promise about Lagos-Ibadan rail line, nobody should believe him.

Against stupidity (of Nigerian government officials) the gods themselves struggle in vain —Fredrick Von Schiller, 1795-1805.

One rule of thumb you can adopt for judging the quality of a man’s intelligence and grasp of the issues in the discussion is to listen to or read his recommendations. Those who have had the opportunity to watch the British Parliament in session over BREXIT would be impressed by the depth of knowledge of all the members, irrespective of position, on the matter.

Here in Nigeria, we have a disaster on our hands which can easily be summarised this way. Thirteen million school-age children are not in school. Nigeria not only has the largest number of kids in that category; our kids constitute forty-two per cent of the world’s present and future illiterates. For comparison readers need to be reminded that China has a population 1.2 billion; India 1.1 billion and Nigeria only 200 million.

We did not reach 13 million in four years; so nobody is holding Buhari responsible for the entire number. In fact, during Obasanjo’s second term, it was disclosed that 10 million kids were out of school.

The Minister of Education then, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, said she doubted the estimates. I offered to drive her through all our 36 states within three months to show her where they were. The offer was naturally not accepted. Otherwise, it would have been global news.

Minister of Education in 2019, Malam Adamu Adamu, wrongly posted to the Ministry, does not dispute the claims. He instead offered a solution. According to our former colleague in the newsroom, parents of the kids should be jailed. It required a third reading to convince myself that this was a Nigerian minister’s solution offered soberly (I know he does not drink alcohol) in full expectation that it would be considered. Offered on April 1, (and today is April Fools’ Day), it would have been received as the “Joke of the Day”.

The idea is so ridiculous, it summarises why we cannot develop when jokers are in charge of serious ministries and agencies of government. Two reasons are sufficient to point to the futility of expecting much from our education sector when the ministers posted there are ignorant of the major causes of our biggest disaster and how to tackle the problem.

To jail, the parents of out of school kids will call for constructing prisons for at least three million adults. Where is the money? To arrest the parents, you have to, first of all, apprehend the kids and hold them. The minister will be shocked to know that close to half of those in the Northern states, who account for almost ten million, cannot locate their parents. The same invitation is extended to him as I sent to Dr Ezekwesili on this matter. I will show him several parts of his own North where millions of kids roam the streets without a parent in sight.

Transport and Education, two vital ministries, have revealed how development is retarded because we don’t have ministers in the real sense of the word. One minister continues to shift the deadline; the other offers an asinine proposal to solve a major problem. How can we develop with people like these?

Buhari promised to appoint people based on merit. What is “merit” to him? From what we have now, four years have been wasted.

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