In spite of the progress witnessed in certain sectors within the nation in recent years, the railway systems in Nigeria have largely remained inactive for an extensive period, even though they were intended to enhance the transportation of individuals and commodities across the country. Throughout the years, several administrations, particularly since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, have made pledges to rejuvenate the non-operational railway infrastructure. Despite certain areas experiencing progress in this regard, the aspiration remains unattainable in other regions, even as numerous Nigerians hope for a standard railway system.
While President Muhammadu Buhari’s previous administration attained some merits in the revival of the Nigerian railway sector, recent investigations have uncovered a concerning state of disrepair across the country’s railway infrastructure. Older generations, specifically those in their 70s and 80s, fondly reminisce about the countless benefits that the railway system once provided in efficiently transporting goods to different destinations. Families often favored the rail system as a reliable and safe mode of transportation owing to its efficiency.
All the railway projects listed under plan amounts to $21.3 billion.
The groundwork for the 25-year railway development master plan was laid during the Obasanjo government. However, despite commissioning a comprehensive report, none of the highlighted projects were executed during his term. This railway modernization program encompassed a range of projects aimed at establishing a link throughout the states of the federation. An evaluation reveals that the total cost for all the railway projects listed amounts to $21.3 billion (approximately ₦16 trillion). It is worth noting that many of these projects are still in their early stages, despite the looming 2025 deadline for their completion as outlined in the roadmap.
Various factors have contributed to the sluggish progress in the railway industry, as acknowledged by individuals well-versed in this field. Inadequate funding, abandonment of commitments by Chinese investors, bureaucratic hurdles, and numerous other elements have been attributed to the lack of momentum. The potential benefits of a proficient railway network are thought to include decreased business expenses and an extended lifespan for overburdened highways due to heavy trucks. It is said that the China Exim Bank, responsible for financing the Lagos-Ibadan railway and other infrastructural ventures in Nigeria, is hesitating in granting additional loans to the nation.
Reviving the outdated railway tracks poses a financial burden.
During a recent meeting with the Senate Committee on Land Transportation, Sa’idu Alkali, the Minister of Transportation, emphasized the crucial requirement of enhanced financial support to propel the imperative modernization of the rail infrastructure within the nation. Reviving the outdated railway tracks in the nation poses a significant financial burden, with the removal of tracks and slippers by vandals across the railway network. The managing director of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) Fidet Okhiria, an engineer, highlighted the considerable challenges faced by the Corporation during his discussion with reporters in Lagos. Okhiria noted that NRC has encountered a loss of 100,000 clips on both the Lagos-Ibadan and Abuja-Kaduna train services.
Reports have it that the suspension of the Lagos-Kano train was prompted by the prevailing insecurity along its route and the vandalism of its tracks. To address this issue, the NRC has assembled a dedicated team to repair the damaged sections of the tracks, with a particular focus on areas in Kwara and Minna. Okhiria, confirming this development, stated that the NRC would resume the Lagos-Kano railway project as per the minister’s directives. Additionally, efforts are underway to reconstruct the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway route. In terms of expanding the revenue stream for the railway, he mentioned the NRC’s intention to reintroduce Port Harcourt and Apapa and collaborate with Funtua and Kaduna dry ports.
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Ndubisi Nwokoma, an Economics professor, highlighted the longstanding challenges in managing Nigeria’s past loans. He said seeking counterpart funding remains the optimal solution, urging the government to engage in discussions with China to finance a wider array of projects through build, operate, and transfer arrangements. Nwokoma further suggested that exploring public-private partnerships could serve as a viable means to fund certain railway initiatives. He said the government should explore commercially sustainable areas when seeking funds to commence the various projects.