By Nathaniel Okoro
President may kindly accept my confession of loyalty to Nigeria my country; and to Mr President as listening President at the time like the present. May I with profound respect, humbly introduce myself as a Railway-spirited Nigerian even at age 90 come February 26, 2021.
My past speaks of me as the railwayman who grew from Ground Zero to Level Zee between 1949 and 1987; and gave my all as I operated, managed and contributed brain and brawn even after retirement, towards scheduled development of the Nigerian Railway System (2002-2027).
I was shocked out of my pants to hear that Mr President has directed the re-naming of railway stations and sections by some names that may make logical, moral, ethical or intelligent sense if hosted in the section mapped out for immortalisation of political gladiators (2015-2023) in the National Hall of Fame.
Mr. President may kindly note that if any of the names announced as replacement names of railway stations were examined in the context of railway growth, progress, success and stability, the selection may be totally indefensible under any light that may be flashed on illustrious persons who added value realtime to railway sustainability and extension; and who should justifiably occupy frontline seats in the naming of railway stations.
None may qualify. My field experience exposed some notable Nigerians whose contributions to Nigerian Railway extension, rehabilitation and modernisation were worthy of immortalisation. They include past heads of state: 1) Prime Minister – Sir Tafawa Balewa. He took over the Nigerian system from the British in fine fettle and kept it on track successfully until politics and military invasion eroded the railway space from 1962 to 1963.
2) President – Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo. He took illustrious decisions to return the Nigerian Railway back on track. To that end, he commissioned the study of the “25 Years Strategic Vision of Railway Development” Plan and Programmes (2002-2027). The on-going Standard Gauge Railway Projects under execution were developed and submitted to President Obasanjo by TEAM of Rome; Natchuks Consult of Nigeria; and Transurb Techni-rail of Belgium.
As a gesture of President Obasanjo’s commitment to the project, he carried out the groundbreaking ceremony at Abeokuta (2006). He also should take credit for the Kaduna-Abuja Railway Extension on the Standard Gauge. In my estimations President Obasanjo qualified for immortalisation.
Mr. President may kindly note, yet further, that history is replete with Federal Ministers of Transport who had served Nigeria with distinction in the supervision of the railway as parastatal of the Ministry Federal Ministry of Transport:
Mr. Raymond Njoku (1957-1964). For 30 years (1927-1958) there was no railway development in Nigeria, but under his supervision as Minister, he kicked-off commencement of railway network extension in 1958 from Kafanchan to Bauchi (238km) and to Maiduguri 1963-1964 (302km).
Brig. Benjamin Adekunle: He masterfully and against all odds wrestled successfully with Apapa Quays Port Congestion (1970). He remains to be immortalised by renaming Apapa Port as Adekunle Port; and without threat to life like no threat or distraction occur by naming airports: Murtala Muhammed and Azikiwe airports. They may qualify for hosting in the Transportation Section of the National Hall of Fame; but not for renaming of train stations.
Mr. President is respectfully invited to note further that right-thinking persons, the world over, may play along if Mr. President was seen to immortalise atomic personalities, the mention of whose names would inspire confidence because by character and disposition they had impressed Nigerians as Living Legends who added value and made larger than life impact in Nigeria and the world.
May I emphasise that the renaming of stations is of negligible interest to Nigerians. The unnecessary heat of disgust and the dust haze which the present distraction may raise, could be seen as abiding assault on Nigerians and can be voided.
To right-thinking Nigerians, the names alleged to have been approved by Mr. President may have unquestionable merit; but in the Railway Transportation Sector, they have merit only to the extent that they may create unnecessary risks and confusion when, for example, a first-time traveller to Abeokuta by Railway passenger train gets to Abeokuta his destination station, but did not identify it by the new name.
The picture that may come on screen may be that of a passenger within certain age bracket, who suddenly awakened to the fact that Professor Wole Soyinka Station he was just passing was his Abeokuta destination station. Chances were that he may react without thinking, by jumping down; and of course to his certain death as the train took off into section. That scenario could not possibly be what Mr President voted for, even with his toes.
Mr. President is invited to please imagine the very small size of a railway passenger ticket and of the goods waybill; and the battle for space raised if the ticket or waybill must convey critical information the railway traveller and client needed; and on the same page, bear the longish name, e.g.: Admiral Augustus Aikhomu.
Additionally, it may be easy to imagine Admiral Aikhomu’s likely reaction to Itogbo station (a halt station) being renamed by his weighty name; and that of Segun Osoba being replacement name for Olodo (Ignorance) station. They (if alive) and their families may not be seen hailing Mr. President for the gift to historical records he made by immortalising the memory of their Idol.
The immortalisation of names already penned down may be appropriate for other institutions but certainly not justifiable in the Railway Transportation Sector. Mr President will etch his name in gold letters if he should take action to commence or complete at least one of the five hotly needed railway new lines projects ready for execution with their feasibility studies completed and sizzling on the front burner of national discourse.
Mr. President may, as a purpose- driven leader, consider a rethink and put the obnoxious decision on hold for in-depth reexamination. Nigeria under his presidential watch must not be seen as the “Land of Free Lunch for the Politician; and the Politically-Correct Prebendary.”
Mr. President may permit me to present the principles which may guide him when engaged with decision-making on naming of national institutions as subject and as way to immortalise individuals. The database of principles for naming street or stations is traditionally framed by word-picture of persons notable by character and driven by inspiration and capacity that created opportunities for national growth, progress, development and stability primarily, in the following areas of national engagement: Health, Security; Education; Transportations; Agriculture; Industries; Communications; Sports and Entertainment.
Mr. President may help your loyal citizen regain my sanity by taking fresh decision to eschew political correctness as insipid justification for renaming Nigerian railway stations with names considered from the perspective of the railway may come true as Nigeria’s second eleven
Mr. President shall stand strong if he should accept the clarion call to revert to right decision made on the basis of an individual’s contributions towards the maintenance of the railway system as national asset of great significance; and as value-adding factor of national cohesion and socio-economic growth and development.
May I commit Mr. President into the Hand of God Almighty with my full understanding that “Kings are by GOD appointed.”
Elder Okoro, former MD/CEO, NRC, wrote from Lagos.