By By Dirisu Yakubu | 22 November 2023

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Mr. Fidet Okhiria, has confirmed ticket racketeering by members of staff in the corporation.

He however added the NRC identified those responsible and promptly sacked them while those involved in lesser offenses were demoted.

Okhiria stated this while appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Finance on Wednesday at the 2024–2026 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) interactive session in Abuja.

The chairman of the Committee, James Faleke had asked the NRC MD, saying, “Social media clips show how your staffers are engaging in ticket racketeering,” to which Okhiria responded, “This is true, and the solution to that is e-ticketing, and the government has approved that.”

He said the corporation was working with the security agencies to arrest the menace.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Accountant General for the Federation has accused the NRC of remitting only N345 million in revenue for 2023, adding that the remittances covered January to September.

Faleke, however, expressed worry about the revenue generated, adding that “our concern is that if we expect so much revenue from NRC and we aren’t getting it, then there is a problem.

“I think we should take the decision that the railway should self-fund and take care of their costs and remit to the government the surplus,” he said.

Comment:

Ticket racketeering is not new to the NRC. It has been a recurring decimal since the initiation of the Lagos mass transit service over 10 years ago. Official indifference and the failure to tackle it head-on over the years has fuelled suspicion of management complicity.

E-ticketing however, only offers a part of the solution as it doesn’t stop passengers from boarding trains without tickets given that there are no ticket barriers. Installing gatelines and the full wrath of the law are the required complement to offer a deterrent, as clearly the threat of internal discipline is not enough to stop the racketeering by staff.

Government approval is also only effective when diligently implemented, and we know the NRC story of impunity and obstruction.

Asking this NRC to be self-funding is as good as folding it up because it cannot function without the feeding bottle of government appropriation. It would have been hilarious if it weren’t so serious. The last time the NRC had a financial surplus was in 1964 and the last time its appropriation was withdrawn, it promptly went bankrupt. It is indeed a surprise that the NRC did not ask the Reps why they too were not self funding.

The NRC’s so called “remittances” to the government in the name of contributing to Chinese debt repayment is a ruse. This is a public enterprise that annually receives about N10bn for its recurrent budget as well as tens and sometimes hundreds of billions for its capital expenditure from the public purse but returns zilch to government. It earns few billions annually from its operations which it adds to its appropriation to meet its opex. It claims to provide an essential social service that perhaps less than 1m of the 200m Nigerians that own it benefit from, and that is being generous.

But here is the perfidy in its finances. The NRC opex per annum is about N15bn. This is funded by roughly N10bn from the annual appropriation and N5bn from its IGR. So it makes no profit and in most years, it runs a deficit as its IGR undershoots the mark. According to this report, it has returned N345m to the Accountant General this year as remittance towards debt repayment. Pray where did it get it from? The same Accountant General that earlier gave it N10bn in appropriation? A critical examination may suggest that it is the earlier appropriation that has simply been recycled as debt repayment rather than railway earnings because the NRC does not have any surplus earnings. Perfidy simplicita! The Accountant General might as well have given them just N9.5bn in appropriation rather than N10bn. In other words, the NRC is making no real contribution as it is pretended.

Notwithstanding the total railway debt repayment by the FG is about $120m per annum and the NRC, the sole beneficiary of the debt’s supposed contribution to the repayment is less than $1m per annum? Isn’t that a joke?

The panacea to all the rigmarole is the unbundling of the NRC. This is the imperative of the Constitution amendment 2023, and the sooner we grasped the nettle, the better. Open up the railway space to sub nationals and the private sector. The establishment of an independent regulator, the creation of a railway asset manager, and a national railway operator will start to address the strategic incoherence that has defined NRC underperformance since independence. Importantly, to stop the hemorrhage!

All told, the reform and restructuring of the NRC was approved by the government since 2002. Diligent implementation remains outstanding while the annual ritual of storytelling continues.