20-2020 WITHOUT LOCOMOTIVES!
By Adeolu C. Alupogun-Iran
I have taken considerable time to ponder on the many issues that grossly affect my beloved nation. This self-sojourn has been a very traumatic experience laced with bloated mental burden and unthinkable depression. Though depressive, it offered a profound insight into many areas of anomaly and equally proffered appealing solutions to them. After considering the many facets of the Nigerian system infected with the ineptitude virus causing dysfunction and unfathomable damage to the nation’s economy, I chose to break my long silence with the transport sector.
Long before the advent of civilised society, we have heard tales from history of how man moved from one end of the earth to the other on foot without the mechanical aid of cars, buses, trains, aeroplanes, even bicycles! This is a pointer to how crucial mobility is to mankind. Listening to those tales would make you feel that there is a modicum of hyperbole in them because you cannot reconcile then and now, but the bitter part of it is that, it is all true! They embarked on such journeys and returned with few hazards. However, it usually took months before they could undertake the next trip.
A great relief came with Blaise Pascal’s invention of the first horse-drawn public bus in 1662 and with this breakthrough, other better inventions followed. The post-world war II era changed the face and lot of transportation in history, consequent upon the height of technological advancement displayed during the war. A lot of effort was now diverted to making transportation of people, goods and materials easier and faster during the industrial revolution period.
This diminutive history lesson is pertinent to providing an understanding of the points to be raised here. It is crystal clear that the compelling drive for all inventions championed by man is to bring ease, convenience, improvement and efficiency in doing things. The colonial period is an important phase in the life of Nigeria; apart from the many evils perpetrated by the task masters, they were also responsible for quite a number of astute achievements, which we will see as we proceed.
Prior to Nigeria’s independence in 1960, there were many options readily available to commuters, air, road or rail; the choice was yours to make. But today, the questions agitating the mind of several Nigerians are; what happened to Nigeria’s rail service? Why is our road too congested today? Why is the air flight too costly for average Nigerians? What is the effect of this on Nigeria as an emerging world economy? These questions beg for answers.
It is on record that Nigeria is one of the first African countries to use rail system as a means of transportation in Africa. Way back in 1895, considerate effort and resources were committed to building the rail system in Nigeria. This effort paid off in 1901 when the first railway line was commissioned to connect Lagos with Ibadan. Bauchi Light Railway had its own route: Zaria-Jos-Bukuru which opened in sections between 1912 to 1914; Jos-Bukuru in 1927, and Wushishi Tramway, Zungeru-Wushishi-Bari Juko, in 1902. It is quite shameful to note here that more than a century after this superlative feat was achieved in Nigeria, what we have left are the remains of several locomotives and coaches preserved close to the zoo at Jos for school children during excursion and tourists to behold.
The absence of a functional rail system in Nigeria as available in most African countries has spelt doom on the country’s economy and quite opprobrious is the recent World Health Organisation statistics on traffic-related death rate which placed Nigeria 13th in the world. The moribund rail system in the country has put too much burden on the poorly maintained road networks available. This unnecessary burden has resulted in a huge carnage on our roads as many families’ bread winners have either met with sudden death or the entire families have lost their lives. This is absolutely unacceptable for a country with such great potentials and enormous wealth. The passive state of Nigerian rail system spurred the need to transport goods and services by road. The presence of heavy duty trucks on the nation’s highway brought numerous hazards to lives and the poorly constructed roads; most painfully, it is an utter wastage of tax payers’ money on renovations that are mere respite.
It is a known fact in Nigeria today that an average Nigerian family cannot conveniently afford a flight ticket if they choose not to travel by road. The absence of more alternative options to road or air transportation in Nigeria removes healthy competition which is one of the intrinsic factors that drives a nation’s economy towards quantifiable growth and development.
Half a century after freedom from the task masters, no phenomenal achievements have been scored, in fact, we have failed to sustain what they left behind as a footprint for posterity to judge them appropriately. The dearth of rail system in Nigeria saw many jobless because of outright laxity and high levels of corruption that took place in Nigerian Railway Corporation [NRC]. There is an endless list of what Nigeria has failed to do as a nation but that is not the crux of this work. There have been conscientious efforts channelled towards the nation’s transition from emerging economy to one of the leading world economies, Vision 2020-20 if you care. The reckless act of lip servicing and public propaganda will not take us anywhere. Our leaders have been chasing shadows leaving unattended more critical aspects of the economy which need salvaging.
There is gross unemployment rate in a land with many potential areas for creating more gainful employments than imagined. According to a UN statistics more than 75 per cent of Nigeria’s population is unemployed and out of this about 51 per cent are youth. Nigeria is the only country world over with the highest percentage of man-power redundancy. You can hardly imagine the impact this has on the economy. A functional rail system will engage the service of so many Nigerians, apart from the employment opportunities, it will reduce to a great extent the rate of accident on highways as goods and services that ordinarily could have been moved by road will be transported by rail in a cost effective manner.
An effective rail system possesses a high tendency of luring potential investors into the economy. The benefit of functional and effective rail service on the economy is beyond imagination. We cannot be projecting to be one of the 20 leading world national economies without this essential part of economic development being resuscitated. Besides, the government seems to have forgotten that an improved standard of living of its citizenry is also a yardstick for transition into the world industrialized economies’ club, and a nation whose citizens live below $2 per day is certainly not a candidate to be considered. A virile rail service is one of the many fields capable of achieving that for the government.
For many decades in the history of this nation, statistical records of massive rural to urban migration is appalling, of course every man want the best for himself! Why should I stay in a place where my dreams and aspirations cannot be met? The rural pasture could be made greener, if government implement policy geared at providing better living condition at this place. Government generated revenue from agriculture will greatly increase. Research has shown that rail service lure more people to the rural community, therefore increased their productivity. Functional rail sectors has been recognised to bringing a huge turn around in the economic life of the rural community and also curb the rate at which labour required in agriculture moves out. This will in return, boost the entire nation’s economy significantly. If a farmer could get the same value for his product at the point of production what is the need transporting!
A definite alternative to road and air transportation has been argued by pundit to be an essential factor for an improved way of life. The fact that rail service afford travellers additional options on how to get to their destination, notwithstanding, it is most cost effective, it will also reduce the cost of transportation by road drastically. The presence of functional rail system as more options to pick from in Nigeria will remove unnecessary burden placed on the economic might of individuals through the cost of transportation. With this facility in place, you may live in Osun State and work at the Lagos Island without necessarily residing in Lagos State; this is what an active and effective rail service can do. One of the reasons traffic gridlock has become intractable in Nigeria apart from the ones caused by accident and bad road is basically for the non-availability of affordable and effective means of mobility apart from road and air.
Taking a cue from Prof. Bamiro during the recent University of Lagos convocation lecture where he said that “…in the last two decades, higher education worldwide has moved from the periphery to the centre of governmental agenda in most countries. Universities are now seen as crucial national asset in addressing many policy priorities…, sources of knowledge and innovative thinking; provider of skilled personnel and credible credentials; contributors to innovation…’’ Nigeria government must change his lackadaisical attitude toward university funding in the country and this sector to come out with novel innovations and ideas geared at transformation as prescribed by the distinguished professor.
As essential as mobility is to the survival of mankind, the re-introduction of rail transportation is long overdue in this country. Countries like United Kingdom, United States of America have benefitted immensely from this critical infrastructure. Through this, a proper planning can be engineered not only with people of great skills in this area; the rail development will certainly be sustainable. The 21st economy works better through synergy. Our civil engineers collaborating with transport experts in rail system development, the nation’s roads will have a respite and be better for it. The benefit of this is better experienced than imagined.
In this tumultuous phase of economic hardship no country will solely survive its hazardous impact without synergizing with its ivory towers, this fact, the western countries had learned earlier. Just at our back yard here, South Africa, tasked all her tertiary institutions and also gave all the necessary support, this worthy sacrifice is being reaped now; South African economy is just like the proverbial beautiful bride for foreign investors. This feat, I am optimistic, is achievable here in Nigeria if we align with transformation necessities and deviate from quick fix approach.