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Ministry of Transportation as a metaphor for why development eludes Nigeria

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By Dele Sobowale

A pessimist is a former optimist who finally got all the facts— Dele Sobowale, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 186

A trip down memory lane: The generational blame game

BUHARI must love failures; he has appointed more of them than any other head of government since 1960. His current team which includes Ministers of Power, Justice, Health, Education, Finance, Aviation – to mention a few includes several people who after almost five years in office, have very little to show for successful completion of any project.

Ethiopian Airlines recently announced plans to build a $5 billion airport in the country in four years. That is more money than the entire Nigerian Federal Government had spent on all the projects embarked on since 2015. None of the mini-projects undertaken by Nigerian officials have been completed in the four and a half years Buhari became President. Renovation and expansion of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which was started by the Yar’Adua administration; continued under Jonathan remains unfinished under Buhari almost five years after.

If you want to know why Ethiopia is growing at six per cent per annum and Nigeria is struggling to reach two per cent, first you look at the President of each country; then go and find out how seriously Ministers take their assignments. Ethiopia has winners; Nigeria is served by losers. All we get from them are excuses after failing to deliver on promises. How many times have we been told that the Lagos-Ibadan road will be completed by Christmas? Another Christmas just passed into history.

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However, if you really want to know which Minister almost brings tears to an economist’s eyes, it must be the Minister of Transportation. He beats even Lai Mohammed and Abubakar Malami. This is one Minister sitting on the greatest potential to unleash great economic development; but who is throwing the chance away and holding back our progress.

Wise scepticism is the first attribute of a good critic — James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891, VBQ, p 222.

I was once a great fan of the Transportation Minister. I sang his praises on this page and everywhere else and at every forum – whether invited to speak or not. Then, my instincts, which never fail me on such occasions, induced me to go and investigate what was happening to the proposed Lagos-Ibadan commuter rail line. I had to travel by rail to Ibadan to see it properly. What I saw was a big lie repeated frequently to the unwary – including the President, the Vice President and other important people who will be mentioned as we proceed.

If any Minister in Japan, Brazil, Singapore or even Botswana had made as many promises about any project as Mr. Rotimi Amaechi has made about the railway projects undertaken by the Federal Government, he would have long been sacked. That he still retains his job is simply a reflection of the sort of team manager President Buhari is. He treasures loyalty over performance or even his own place in history. He spent more time in office between 1984 and August 1985 than Murtala Muhammed but left nothing compared to the late head of state. The difference is clear. Murtala had good ministers!!! No excuses.

Permit me to recall parts of an article published in March 2017. By the time that article was written, I had met the Minister twice. I was actually convinced that he meant it when the promise to deliver the Lagos-Ibadan commuter train service in 18 months. Eighteen months from March 2017 ended in September 2018. No rail line.

“Deliberately, the Federal government of Nigeria under the leaders mentioned [President Buhari and Mr. Rotimi Amaechi] has embarked on a project which, when completed, will serve as a lasting legacy to this administration, and one whose benefits will be enjoyed by generations yet unborn. For the first time in almost half a century, the Federal government has returned to the basics of mass transportation and re-discovered that the railway should be the backbone of transport in such a large country especially for long distance cargo and suburban commuter transport.

“In early March of this year, Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo, representing Buhari, who would have wanted to be present at this historic event, launched the Lagos-Ibadan commuter rail line – with construction to start immediately. Work is expected to be completed in eighteen months. When completed, the Lagos-Ibadan rail line will alter the pattern of life along the Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan route forever.”

From that time till today, the completion date had changed each time Amaechi opens his mouth to talk about it. The first completion date promised was September 2018.

We are now in February 2020. Still no rail line. Among those duped by the minister’s promises was Vice President Osinbajo who was given a “ride” during the campaigns. VP after the ride immediately announced that Buhari will open the line before the elections. Elections came and went a year ago. Still no rail line.

Top journalists including the Chairman of the Editorial Board of a national newspaper and a former managing director of DAILY TIMES were given the same run around in September last year.

Then the service was promised for December. The chair later wrote his usual hyperboles in praise of Amaechi. December came and still no rail.
In October 2019, another group of unsuspecting Nigerians were given the Amaechi treatment by being taken round. This time, a curious thing happened. The Minister who had forgotten promises made to others declared that the line will be “ready in the first quarter of next year.” Then, as an after-thought, added, about April or May. I learnt in St. Peter’s (Faji) Primary School that the first quarter of each year ends unfailingly on March 31. Second quarter starts invariably on April Fools Day. But, here was a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stretching the calendar at will – all in a bid to cover repeated failure.

The last thing we heard from him are complaints about the contractors. They are disappointing him. So, first and second quarters of 2020 will end on June 30, 2020. There will still be no rail service.

Unfortunately, the irrepressive Minister has not stopped making promises on behalf of the FGN. He is now promising Maiduguri-Portharcourt rail line by his government. That must rank among the worst jokes of the new millennium.

The Minister who deliberately forgets inconvenient facts has naturally forgotten that he also promised a Lagos-Benin-Calabar rail line in 2017. Till today nothing has been done about it. If a mere 120 kilometre stretch of rail takes so long to deliver, who, among Nigerians over 40 years, will be alive to ride on the Maiduguri-Port Harcourt line?

LAST LINE: The Next Level is Economic Calamity as we waste one of our best remaining chances to industrialize on some Ministers.

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