By Rowland Ataguba

Rowland Ataguba

This paper reviews the implications of the constitution amendment for the Nigerian railway industry. It reviews the historical performance of the sector and posits that the reform and restructuring of the industry and the prioritization of railfreight is a sine qua non for its turnaround and long term sustainability.

A watershed moment was reached in the Nigerian railway on 3 March 2023 as the then President Muhammadu Buhari assented and signed into law, the railway constitution amendment also known as the Constitution Amendment 5th Alteration (No.16) Act. It is described as an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to move the item, “railways” from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list and for related matters.

Schedule of the railway constitution amendment

It was a moment of triumph for campaigners and advocates of railway reform in Nigeria. The journey to the railway constitution amendment act began in a rather innocuous way. Advertisements had invited memoranda for the constitution amendment exercise and I obliged with a “Memorandum for a constitution amendment to transfer railways from the exclusive to the concurrent legislative list” dated 14 September 2020 to the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) of the National Assembly, a joint committee of both houses of the legislature chaired by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege. The outcome of my memorandum is the constitution amendment that we celebrate today.

The process for the amendment of the Nigerian constitution is complex and rigorous and this would be the 5th amendment exercise on the 1999 constitution, perhaps the most significant for the railways. Considering also that transferring the railways from the exclusive list to the concurrent list was first muted about 20 years ago, it has certainly been long in coming. History had indeed been made.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) is a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Transportation and was created in 1912 by the merger of the Kano-Baro railway and the Lagos Government railways. It became an autonomous corporation established by the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act 1955 and its  objective was  “the carriage of passengers and goods in the manner that will offer full value and quality of service, ensure safety of operations and maximum efficiency, meet social responsibility in a manner that will meet the requirements of rail users, trade, commerce and the general public’’. The enabling Act therefore provides for the conduct of a viable and sustainable railway business by the Corporation. The Nigerian Railway Corporation has sadly not lived up to its objectives as its fortunes went into steep decline from about 1964 when it stopped recovering its operating costs. By 1978, railway revenues covered only 40% of the operating costs and by 2004, this was down to 14%. Indeed rental income from its extensive property assets exceeded revenue from railway operations. The Corporation had indeed become a glorified property holding!

Nigerian Railway Corporation Headquarters, Ebute Metta, Lagos

Its operating ratio currently hovers around 23% which means that it earns just  N23 for every N100 expended in operating costs. This is against an international benchmark of 75% for efficiently run railway systems. The Nigerian railway has more or less been unsustainable as a business since 1964 even going bankrupt twice.

At a railway stakeholder’s forum in 2008, the then Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the Nigerian privatisation and commercialization agency, Mrs  Irene Chigbue, told the gathering that, “Railway under public ownership and management in Nigeria has not proved to be viable in the last 30 years”. That, “Rail has a valuable role to play in the economic future of the country as an essential part of the logistics chain”, and she talked of the “need to revive the railways through institutional reforms”. 15 years on, the institutional reforms have yet to materialise. The government of President Obasanjo had in 2002 developed a blueprint for the railways known as the “25 year strategic vision for the Nigerian railway system”. This has become the development plan adopted by the Nigerian government. A 25 year plan that provided for emergency rehabilitation of the existing railway, expansion of the network to create more routes and the conversion of the narrow gauge system to standard gauge. It also provides for reform and restructuring of the railway environment to attract private investment and management best practices to the industry through public private partnerships. The 25 year strategic vision is recognised in the railway bills that were considered during the 8th National Assembly as the “Masterplan”. The plan was to be delivered in 3 overlapping phases running albeit concurrently.

Map of the amended  Nigerian railway 25 year vision

After a delay of about 4 years, implementation began during 2006 under President Obasanjo though not in strict compliance with its prescriptions. President Yar’Adua’s government would further vary the vision, with contracts for full (as against emergency) rehabilitation and adopting a phased approach to the $8.3bn Lagos-Kano standard gauge railway modernisation contract thereby prolonging it. Nearly 17 years on, less than 25% of the original scope of the supposedly 4 year contract has been achieved.  President Jonathan’s government compounded the deviations by his interventions, awarding the coastal railway in a rush in the twilight of his tenure without financial justification nor clear funding plan.

The Buhari government that succeeded Jonathan’s did not do much better in its compliance with the vision as contracts were awarded for billions of dollars without clear funding plans. The net result is that a 25 year programme has achieved less than 10% of its objectives after nearly 21 years. The railway remains underperforming and there are issues of poor capacity and business strategy in the operation of the railway. It is therefore no surprise that the desired impacts are hard to come by. Restructuring of the railway environment which was to take place during the first phase of the vision has not been touched either. While billions of dollars may have been committed to the development of new railway infrastructure and the acquisition of new equipment, it would appear that political expediency has largely dictated interventions with contracts awarded contrary to the spirit and letter of the vision.

In 2012, the Corporation approached the board of SURE-P, a fund established by the government of President Jonathan to manage the savings from the removal of fuel subsidy, with  a capex shopping list of about N23bn ($192m). It anticipated that the investment would enable it earn an implausible N20bn (circa $167m) per annum in railway revenues from the next year (2013). It  projected hauling 4.3m tons of freight and 12m passengers in 2013, 4.3m tons and 15.4m passengers in 2014 and so on as a consequence. In the event and in the period 2012-2014, the railways received a total of N77bn (about $513m) of financial support from SURE-P aside from the annual appropriation for recurrent and overhead expenditure from the government treasury. Yet the Corporation earned less than N2bn ( 10% of its forecast) in railway revenues in each of the years. In 2013 it hauled a mere 100,000 tons of freight (3% of forecast) and 4.5m passengers (37% of forecast). It didn’t do any better in 2014.

Whereas the demand for transportation across Nigeria is estimated at about 5bn passenger trips and 250m tons of freight per annum. On current form, the railway is unsustainable and does not make an impression on the demand or the competition. Its strategic impact remains negligible with a share of the transportation market of under 1% while its main competitor, the roads sector has a market share of 98%. This contrasts starkly with 1964 when railway had 60% share of the transport market.

Two main reasons are advanced for the railway’s historical underperformance. First is strategic, the NRC Act vests exclusive authority in the Corporation to construct, own, operate and regulate railways in Nigeria for the public carriage of goods and passengers. The law shuts out other traditional participants in the sector such as sub-national governments and the private sector. It creates conflicts of interest which do not enable the NRC to be accountable, transparent and competitive. The second reason is operational. The Corporation is not able to compete for business with the dynamic and privately operated roads sector which controls about 98% of the market. As a government agency of bureacrats, it lacks a commercially oriented culture with little or no incentives to be efficient and effective.

In 2003, railway revenues revenues were nearly N600m on the back of operating costs of N3bn with an operating ratio of 20%. The Corporation was virtually bankrupt again expending as much as N5 for every N1 of revenue earned. In 2003 and 2004 the FG provided the NRC with subsidies of N3.9bn ($32m) and N1.6bn  {$13m} and its ballooning debt profile was now in excess of N10bn ($80m). As at July 2006, the NRC’s facilities were in such a dilapidated state as a result of poor maintenance and lack of spares that only 13 of its 225 locomotives were in serviceable condition and those that were available could not be deployed for reasons as mundane as lack of working capital to purchase fuel.

Since 2009, the railway has received significant support for renewals, rehabilitation and building new infrastructure, acquiring new locomotives and operations and maintenance of way assets, its results have remained uninspiring. In 2010, it reported 139,000 tons of freight hauled and 1.5m passengers.

In 2011, it reported 340,000 tons of freight and 3.4m passengers. In 2012, it reported 180,000 tons of freight and 4.3m passengers. In 2013, freight hauled was 100,000 tons and 4.5m passengers. In 2014, it reported freight hauled as 211,000 tons and 4.7m passengers. This is a railway that required a minimum threshold density of 2m ton traffic units per annum to justify investment in rehabilitation? In any case the bulk of freight hauled was ballast for its contractors carrying out rehabilitation of the track. There is therefore no gainsaying that the railways in Nigeria has not played its natural role in the transportation sector of the Nigerian economy. Locomotive availability as at today is about 12 % in comparison to about 75% in Africa and 85-90% in more efficiently managed railways elsewhere. The availability of wagons (30 %) and passenger coaches (35 %) is also low in comparison to international standards of 95% and 90% respectively.

Nigerian Railway Corporation Freight Performance (1964 – 2022)

The railway is caught in the proverbial conflict of needing to grow to seize market opportunities but lacking capacity to fund and manage growth. It is burdened by a cumbersome government administrative and regulatory system and its own conflicts of interest in operations and regulation conspire to hinder its performance.

In 2015, freight hauled was reported as 243,000 tons while passengers ferried were 2.6m. In 2016, freight was 103,000 tons and passengers were 3.2m. In 2017, freight was 141,000 tons whereas passengers ferried were 2.6m and in 2018, freight was 329,000 tons while passengers were about 3m.

In 2019, freight hauled was reported as 200,000 tons while passengers ferried were 2.9m. In 2020, freight was 87,000 tons and passengers were 1.02m. In 2021, freight was 142,000 tons whereas passengers ferried were 2.7m and in 2022, freight was 118,000 tons while passengers were about 3.2m. It is like the more that is sunk in the NRC, the more its performance stays the same.

Its financial results show that the NRC continues to lose money hand over fist. In the last 10 years, its best relative performance was in 2014 for passengers of 4.7m and 2011 for freight of 341,000 tons which is quite mediocre. This compares starkly with its performance in 1984 of 15m passengers and 3m tons of freight in 1964. In the last 10 years, its personnel costs have more than doubled in naira terms from N2.4bn in 2009 to about N7bn in 2019 and N11bn in 2023. Yet its performance has remained uninspired. What makes these comparisons all the more galling is that the growth in traffic volumes nationally have been phenomenal and gone entirely on the roads while the trend for rail has been downward. As at today, the NRC remains practically insolvent spending about N3-5 to earn N1. Without the feeding bottle from the government, it will shut down. It does not appear to understand its business or its markets. It cannot compete with the roads sector which is privately run. It’s potentially profitable freight business which underpins railway viability and sustainability has continually remained in decline while its focus appears to be on its loss making passenger business which is coasting at the bottom of the chart regardless of how much public money is supposedly ploughed into the sector. The 80/20 rule is clearly applying here.

Nigerian Railway Corporation Passenger  Performance (1964 – 2022)

The railways are an integral part of the logistics chain. It competes with and compliments the other modes of transportation. It is energy efficient and provides key economic benefits in enabling mobility and public safety in the movement particularly of freight over medium to long distances and loose cargoes such as mining products over short distances. One weakness in  traditional transport provision is the absence of a structure of incentives that aligns supplier and consumer interests. It is now widely accepted that one of the most powerful ways to cause suppliers to respond to the requirements of consumers in competitive markets is the threat of loss of patronage. Indeed, Michael Beesley, a leading architect of British  utility regulation, argued that competition is the most important mechanism for limiting monopoly power and optimising consumer benefits. The essence being in competitive rivalry and the freedom to enter and exit  markets. Competition serves the public interest when it induces suppliers to greater efficiency and offer more choice to consumers at competitive prices. When there is competition in a market-based economy, different suppliers compete against each other to offer their goods or services to consumers. These are the lessons that appear lost on the Nigerian Railway Corporation.

The options for suppliers in competitive markets include offering lower prices or  better products and services to attract customers. Individual suppliers lack “market power” as they are not able to dictate market terms but must respond to the rivalry of the competition to stay in business. The threat of rivalry from other suppliers would enhance the contestability of the market across all its dimensions including – price, quality and innovation. So the goal of competition policy should be to promote, protect and preserve competition as the most appropriate means of ensuring the efficient allocation of resources. The railway industry in many countries have therefore undergone reforms to open them up to competition. These reforms have involved the introduction of competition and private participation in finance, operation, management and sometimes, the ownership of the railways. Indeed, the railway industry in some countries have now been transformed from a poorly managed public utility with mounting financial losses to an efficient market driven industry with a more commercial outlook.This is why the Nigerian railway must embrace reform or die. The railway constitution amendment is therefore a necessary first step in reform.

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu Train Station, Apapa,  Lagos

The import of the old constitutional provision which placed railways in the exclusive list was that only the National Assembly could make laws for the initiation, construction, operation and regulation of railways in Nigeria for the public carriage of goods and passengers. In this regard, railway is deemed to include other guided transportation systems such as metro, monorail, rapid transit, trams and cable cars.

Whereas, the “concurrent legislative list” in the constitution is the list of matters set out in the second schedule of the constitution in respect of which the National Assembly and a State House of Assembly may make laws to the extent prescribed. So transferring the railways to the concurrent list enables any of the 36 States of Nigeria to initiate, construct, own and operate railways without requiring the permission of the NRC.  Regulation of railways however remains vested in the Federal Government and will provide for some restraint and consistency in the railway systems developed by the sub-nationals and other investors.

The benefits of transferring railways to the concurrent list includes, to attract wider participation by sub-national governments and private investors to the sector,  increase the quantum of investible funds available to the sector and expand the coverage of railways across the country, enable contestable markets in a critical sector of the economy and to act as a catalyst for economic development and growth. Finally, the current provision has largely been observed in the breach and hence has been overtaken by events.

The constitution amendment also endorses the restructuring of the railway industry as it mandates the creation of “a national railway agency for the regulation of railway operations throughout the Federation”. It further mandates the establishment of “a national railway carrier for interstate transportation throughout the Federation.”  The separation of railway regulation from operations that has been canvassed by railway stakeholders for years has thus finally been resolved by this constitution amendment. It is however imperative that the railway regulator when established is independent not just in name but in reality. In this regard, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission(NERC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission(NCC), the utility regulators are perceived to be more independent than the state run self-regulating operators which characterized historical utilities provision. Such should provide a template for the new Office for Rail Regulation.

Whereas the constitution amendment limits sub-national government’s participation in railways to their territorial jurisdictions, there is nothing that prevents neighboring states for instance from collaborating and allowing their railway systems to integrate with each other. It may well be that they could build a railway connecting their states thereby creating an inter-state railway which ordinarily would not come under the national asset manager/infraco or the national carrier as it would belong to the relevant states. In such circumstances, the national carrier would need access rights from the states to run trains on  their network.

Another potential outcome of the liberalization of the sector is that states may in due course become operators or even investors in the national carrier which if the consensus in the industry holds, would have a private core investor with a controlling stake. The Federal Government would hold a minority stake which could later be sold on the stock market while other investors could fill in any gaps and there are quite a few institutions that fit the bill such as railway workers trust funds etc. While such an outcome may be further down the road, there are states like Lagos that have been developing railway systems over many years and may become the “tigers” of the future Nigerian railway industry.

The next steps that must be taken urgently are in the repeal and re-enactment of the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act. The constitution amendment has voided sections of the existing Act while the Act has long been cited as a major obstacle to attracting private investment to the rail industry. For instance section 29 of the existing NRC Act provides that “It shall be unlawful for any person without the consent of the Corporation, to construct or operate a railway for public carriage of passengers or goods within Nigeria”. This has now been overtaken by the constitution amendment.

Other aspects of the NRC Act that will require attention is in the separation of regulation from operations by the creation of the independent regulator, constitution of the governing boards of the successor companies and ensuring related professionalism as the yard stick for membership among others.

The new Railway Bill to repeal and re-enact the existing NRC Act could therefore be an omnibus law that would establish the regulator, the asset manager/infraco and the national carrier thus negating the need for 3 separate establishment bills. This is especially given the cumbersome process of law making and the passage of bills. This new law is pivotal to the formalization of the reform and restructuring of the railway.

Mobolaji Johnson Train Station, Ebute-Metta Junction, Lagos

There are however differing opinions among railway stakeholders over the shape of the desired restructured railway environment. While some opinions favour a combined passenger and freight operator, my preference is for separation of the businesses. The logic is simple, railfreight and passenger rail are very different businesses. They serve different customer types, use different equipment, need different organization set ups, serve different markets etc. Rail freight operators are a breed apart from passenger rail operators and it is important that we encourage specialisation. Experience has shown that when combined, the passenger business can be a huge distraction for a freight operator, lead to cross subsidisation and ultimately to the underperformance of both businesses. More importantly is that it is easier to obtain private investment for rail freight business standing alone than a passenger business or a combination as the passenger rail business increases the riskiness for investors. Of paramount importance must be the need to keep the railway consistently working and open, not operating in fits and starts as it has done for nearly 60 years.

The Bollore African Logistics’ story at Sitarail, Camrail and Benirail provides a case study for the Nigerian railways. That Bollore is selling these 3 African railway franchises to MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) for a reported $6.2bn is indicative of what value can be created in railway concessions when managed by businessmen rather than bureaucrats, though it takes a lot of hard work and consistency. Railway thrives on reliability, consistency and certainty and when integrated with a port operation, it makes for seamless freight movements and enduring returns. In contrast a recent revelation during the budget presentation by the then Nigerian Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, was that the Nigerian Railway Corporation with its huge bank of underperforming assets and property is valued at a mere $10m in the assets register of the government. This may be reflective of its current business prospects as a going concern. With an operating ratio of about 23%, it is perhaps among the poorer performing railways in the world. Yet in the right hands and environment, it has enormous prospects for a turnaround because the market is there.

Nigeria with its size and population provides some of the best prospects for railway business notwithstanding its other environmental challenges in insecurity, poor infrastructure and a weak regulatory environment among others. These challenges may present opportunities and not necessarily weaknesses. With freight movements estimated at about 250m tons per annum, 98% of which are on the roads, a rail freight operator hauling a mere 5m tons per annum can sustain the railway but will need support from government in asset renewals. Keeping the railway open and taking some heavy goods traffic off the roads for long distance haulage must be the overriding imperative.

The Canadian National Railway (CN) is reputedly one of the most profitable railway operators in the world. Comparatively, about 70% of all intercity freight movements in Canada is shipped by rail making it the highest modal share in the world. In Nigeria conversely, this is less than 1%. Whereas 50% of Canada’s exports are by rail, Nigeria has no current rail connections with its neighbours though this will change with the Kano-Maradi rail line into Niger Republic. 

Canada’s rail network is 49,422 km long with about 43,000km used for freight. Nigeria’s rail network is under 4,500km long built over nearly 100 years. Since independence over 60 years ago, Nigeria  has added  less than 2,000km to its railway network. That’s about 30km per annum and that includes the 879 km Maiduguri extension of 1964 which was initiated by the departing colonial govt. Meanwhile, China adds an average of 5,000km of high speed rail every year to its network.

In 2019, Canada moved more than 332m tons of freight by rail with a valuation of about $320m cad producing a unit rate of about 3.5c cad per ton per km. Nigeria moved a paltry 350,000 tons by rail out of a total freight traffic of 200m tons. So Nigerian roads have remained congested with truck induced traffic, road maintenance costs are high, green house gases emissions are high, road traffic accidents are high and the negative impacts on productivity is high. Conversely, the US has a network of about 257,722 track km moving about 154bn tons per annum equivalent to 40% of its freight market.

Bollore’s Sitarail is  mainly a freight operator running about 40 freight and 12 passenger trains each week hauling 900,000 tons of freight and 200,000 passengers per annum between Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Its sister railway Camrail however hauls 1.8m tons of freight and 1.6m passengers per annum in Cameroon. The reality which appears lost on the Nigerian railway is that a credible rail freight business underpins railway sustainability.

The takeaways from the Bollore and other stories for Nigeria include that:

  • Rail freight underpins railway sustainability
  • Railway concessions attract competent investors
  • Adequate provision must be made for the infrastructure prior to signing the concession agreement.
  • A concessionaire committing to infrastructure investment may need government support so a mechanism for government financing of infrastructure investments could form part of the concession agreement.
  • Government needs to fully fund its public service obligations for passenger services and on time

For these reasons the Nigerian national carrier could have two or more subsidiaries but principally, a freight company and one or more passenger companies perhaps offering horizontally separated services. The track would be controlled by the national freight company who would be responsible for maintenance and grant user access to the passenger companies with the infraco/asset manager possibly and independent regulator managing the network code and arbitrating disputes or differences. While this creates the potential for more complex relationships in managing user access, it keeps the railways healthier and happier. What needs to be broken is the stranglehold of one public enterprise on a sector brimming with commercial opportunities for market segregation and specialization. This would energize the economy, improve choice and reduce road mortality.

A rail freight operator may in such circumstances wish to ring fence its exposure to the passenger business but this is a matter for negotiation. The rail freight concession model should be vertically integrated while competition will be for the market, so bidders will compete to provide a monopoly rail freight service. This makes it imperative that the procurement is credible as it would attract good operators rather than buccaneers or political patrons seeking opportunity for asset stripping. The World Bank and other multilaterals have quite good facilities for supporting credible efforts at railway reform and restructuring.

The failure to consummate the GE concession of the narrow gauge railway was a set back for railway development in Nigeria. Time was lost in abortive negotiations and with it came losses from track vandalisation that left an almost fully rehabilitated track in ruin. The complexion of the concession deal changed from GE’s original unsolicited proposal where it had approached the government with a proposal to run a rail freight business on the legacy Western line (Lagos-Kano) only. It also committed to building a locomotive assembly plant in Nigeria but the government insisted on the inclusion of the Eastern line (Port Harcourt-Kaduna and Maiduguri), passenger services as part of a public service obligation and the donation of  a Transportation university in Ubima, Rivers State as corporate social responsibility.  The scope also widened to include housing estates on prime surplus railway land, shopping malls and hotels. The government’s concession approach was clearly at variance with GE’s. While the government wanted a single integrated concession, where the Concessionaire would be primarily responsible for transport services, infrastructure upgrades and real estate management, GE wanted a split structure whereby the operations is separate from infrastructure ownership and management, allocated to a special purpose vehicle. 

Another sticking point was Nigeria’s development of a standard gauge line on the same alignment in parallel and potentially in competition. This potential deal breaker is likely to dog any effort at attracting private capital to railway concessions in the future. Shortly after signing a Concession Framework Agreement around November 2018, GE commenced negotiations to sell off its Transportation division that was negotiating with the Nigerian government. By February 2019 when it was sold off, Wabtec, the new owners did not seem to have the appetite for investment in an emerging economy. Though Transnet of South Africa which was a part of the GE consortium would step up to the plate to continue from where GE left, the Nigerian general elections of 2019, and the xenophobic furore that stirred civil unrest in South Africa, dampened the momentum for the concession.    

Perhaps the final straw was that the Minister was the main driver on the government side while the NRC was unenthusiastic about letting go of its prized though underperforming asset. The NRC disposition has not apparently changed and may prove a major disincentive to private investment.

The absence of reliable rail infrastructure may also have had an impact on the growth of the mining sector. Nigeria with its abundant mineral resource endowment has not been able to evolve production processes that integrate optimal logistics solutions. The lack of success with Ajaokuta and its associated steel value chain of NIOMCO Itakpe, Delta Steel Company, Aladja-Warri, and the rolling mills in Oshogbo, Katsina and Jos, has neither helped the railway nor the mining industry. Indeed the central line railway linking Warri to Ajaokuta and Itakpe was for many years stalled until the Buhari government finally completed it for use for passenger services. There is however a question mark as to the completion of the signaling system. The central line corridor has a lot of promise for rail freight business but the line needs to connect to Abuja, the Kaduna-Kano portion of the standard gauge completed and the Warri port dredged and connected to rail for it to have optimum utility. The corridor brims with major industries such as the Dangote and Bua cement plants, ceramics industries and Geregu among others. If or when the steel plants in Ajaokuta and Warri start or resume production sustainably, then we are likely to see a corridor begging for track dualization as it would offer a standard gauge connection to port. It may therefore be just as well that it is single track laid on double formation. The steel production value chain requires coal from the Kogi East and Enugu fields to feed Ajaokuta and the other industries mushrooming around that axis. The proposed rail line between Oturkpo and Ajaokuta serves this purpose. Indeed a railway bridge was built across the Niger between Ajaokuta and Itobe for this purpose and awaits the construction of the line from Itobe to Oturkpo. A secondary loop from Itobe through Dekina and Abejukolo linking Ankpa through Okobo, Enjema and Okaba where significant coal deposits are currently being mined and shipped in an incoherent manner may also help. Limestone and dolomite are also required inputs in large volumes for Ajaokuta.

Nigerian solid mineral distribution map

The standard gauge railway from Itakpe also needs to connect to Oshogbo to bring the rolling mill there into the standard gauge mix with the Kano – Maradi line connecting the Katsina mill. This would leave the Jos mill outside the orbit of the standard gauge connection for the time being. Notwithstanding a transhipment facility can be developed in Oturkpo to enable transfers from standard gauge to narrow gauge to serve the Jos mill.

The  Buhari government must be congratulated for its railway achievements. It initiated passenger services on the standard gauge lines Abuja-Kaduna, Lagos-Ibadan and Warri-Itakpe. It persuaded the Chinese to build a wagon assembly plant in Kajola and a Transportation university in Daura as corporate social responsibility. It also trained some young Nigerians in China for railway engineering etc. but finding appropriate utility for them upon their return remains a question as long as there is little or no expansion in railway provision. The greatest credit for railway under Buhari must be the constitution amendment which though not his baby, was signed  into law by him. There is however much else that it could have achieved besides.

The Buhari government built about 320 track km of standard gauge in 8 years as against Jonathan’s government’s 200 track km of standard gauge in 5 years. Buhari bought some equipment for only the standard gauge lines for passenger services while Jonathan bought equipment for passenger services for the standard and narrow gauge lines. Jonathan also carried out the rehabilitation of about 3,000 km of narrow gauge.

Jonathan’s government also relaunched passenger services on the narrow gauge railway and managed built the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge to 95%. The rehabilitation and completion of Warri-Itakpe line which it had initiated was reported as 85% complete when he left office in 2015. The NRC under Buhari did not manage to sustain the long distance services on the narrow gauge lines launched under Jonathan which have remained epileptic and unreliable. Indeed trains stopped running on the Eastern line between Port Harcourt and Kano no sooner that the Buhari government took office.

Where both governments score particularly low is in championing railway reform. The Jonathan government only managed to present the executive’s transport sector reform bills to the National Assembly in the twilight of his tenure. The Buhari government did not manage to push through the Railway Bill nor did he assent to the National Transport Commission Bill when it was passed by the National Assembly. It is therefore to the new government of President Tinubu that we must now look for the reform of the railway.

The Tinubu government must prioritize the reform of the railway and not pay lip service to restructuring as others before it have done. A new orientation is required at the Nigerian Railway Corporation and the Federal Ministry of Transportation that is disposed to reform. The management of the railway must appreciate that reform and restructuring is in the railway industry’s enlightened self interest. That while fear of change is natural, preserving the status quo or some minor tweaking of the organization breakdown structure would not be sufficient to sustain the railway in the long run. The “unbundling” of the NRC commenced by the Federal Ministry of Transportation needs a fresh impetus with the committee reconstituted and expanded to bring in more stakeholders with clear terms of reference. While it is good that it has espoused a commitment to completion of outstanding railway infrastructure projects, it must recognize that it would require nearly $20bn to do so and that it has only about 4 years or 8 years maximum to construct and rehabilitate about 4,000km of track. Sounds like a tall order given the record of his predecessors.  It must however first recognize why railway infrastructure is dilapidating and under utilized, and this is in the failings in operations.

All told, I celebrate the arrival of the new dawn for railways in Nigeria. I congratulate all those who have remained true to the cause of reform with advocacy and others. We have pulled off a feat inspite of the hesitancy and resistance of the NRC. There is still work ahead not only to reform the railway but implementing the restructuring of the railway environment will task us all. Keep sleeves rolled up. Salut!

Rowland Ataguba                                                                                                                     5 June 2023

Managing Director,

Bethlehem Rail Infrastructure Limited

London NW7 4RS.

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