Sun, 5 Sep 2010

It would have however provided more balance, if an official response from the NRC or Transport Ministry was contained as opposed to just the comments of an unnamed NRC official who preferred to remain anonymous.  Other than this, your article presented a graphic account of the challenges faced by the users of an apparently ill thought service and the disappointments inherent in a policy that is seemingly lacking in strategic coherence.

As you have highlighted, the Kaduna Mass Transit service is the brainchild of the Kaduna State government and was heralded under H.E Alhaji Namadi Sambo as its then Governor. It would appear to be a landmark piece of political opportunism that has helped to endear him into the hearts of his constituents with its moving billboards and N20 fares. It also appears to have been so politically successful, until now that is, that the NRC and some other state governments have jumped on the bandwagon and are seeking to roll out similar services in every zone of the federation regardless that such services may not be financially viable or consistent with the 25 year strategic vision for the railways that was drawn up at some substantial cost. It may also be that the Kaduna model is being seen by some other state governments as potentially good populist measures and useful for politicking as the “Jirgin Namadi” slogan depicts. They should however be wary that it could be a double edged sword given that a “jirgi” that is going nowhere fast or stuck in the sidings may also be making a statement of political stasis or incontinence.

Further, while the detailed terms of the partnership between the NRC and the Kaduna State government are not public, it is assumed given the provisions of the NRC Act 1955, that the responsibility for the maintenance of the fixed infrastructure and provision of motive power and rolling stock and other operations infrastructure resides with the NRC with the Kaduna State government funding and promoting the service. The corollary is that the Kaduna State government may soon find, if it has not already, that it may have underwritten a bottomless pit of ever increasing costs. Available information indicates that the Kaduna State government’s investment in initiating the service was upwards of N200m. I suspect that a lot more may have since gone into it.

The mass transit services to my mind are not consistent with the short nay longer term strategies for achieving the vision. Further and I do not know if anyone has told the users that these mass transit services are supposed to be temporary until the wholesale infrastructure rehabilitation is complete in readiness for concessioning of the railway operations which we now hear will take place at the end of this year. A timeline that has been shifting since 2009. I doubt though that any self respecting concessionaire would undertake to operate such uneconomic mass transit services in the absence of cast iron and well funded guarantees of subsidies, what we call a public service obligation (PSO). We of course know from experience of the African concessions, that governments are usually not able to meet such funding commitments in a timely manner anyway hence the reluctance of private sector operators to factor them into their business models.

Rowland Ataguba, Managing Director, Bethlehem Rail Infrastructure Limited, London NW7 4RS

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