The conduct of many Nigeria during the recent dispute between the Executive and the National Assembly over the non-inclusion of the Lagos-Calabar Rail Project in the 2016 budget highlights the fact that we are yet to understand how foundational rail transportation is to nation-building.
The fact that the Appropriation Committees of both chambers of our National Assembly insisted on rejecting the inclusion of the project after the Executive sought to rectify their error of its earlier exclusion, shows our Legislators do not understand the critical need for a good rail system.
The errors and improper approaches by the Executive also indicate that this wasn’t top priority to them. But worse off, we the people who invested a lot time and energy to apportion blame rather than focus on how to quickly resolve the issue, showed that we don’t know the importance of this project.
The Lagos – Kano and Lagos – Calabar rail projects should not only be included in the budget but must be one of the key signature (flagship) initiatives of this administration’s 4 or 8 years tenure.
Why do I say that?
Our Population: For a country approaching 200 million people, we can’t ever build enough roads for our citizens. Not to mention, it will take decades to build the number of roads for at least 30% of population considering how far behind we currently are.
To illustrate this point, Nigeria (at number 7) is the only top 12 most populous country without an effective rail system. Yet, according to a UN report, Nigeria is projected to become the 3rd most populous country by 2050 (34 years from now). This means, we must invest heavily in rail transportation to enable us cope with our surging population.
Though we are an underdeveloped nation, the small percentage of car owners is still high due to our large population. Rail transportation deals with this problem because it transports more people than cars and will help lessen the number of cars we will see on our roads.
Rail opens up access: Manufacturers, farmers, health officials, tourist, etc. will benefit greatly from easy access to ports (for imports and exports), raw materials, agricultural products and tourism attractions which will all significantly improve our local economy and export trade.
Rail is a more reliable means of transporting goods across the country: When businesses can move their products with fewer incidents and on time, it will aid production cost reduction, price reduction and also reduce the amount of goods that goes to waste.
Rail is a better option for industrial transporters: Petroleum products, containers, gravels, cement (especially the Dangote trucks) and all other heavy trucks with goods that weigh tons, can be transported by rail and doing so will reduce the amount of accidents, traffic holdups and damages to our roads.
Many of our expressways can then survive for many more years, giving government the opportunity to increase lanes instead of the constant repairs of the current lanes.
Rail will reduce petrol consumption: Besides trying to increase our local refining of petroleum products, we must also seek to reduce our local consumption. One key way is to reduce the number of citizens who drive or use public road transportation (particularly the long distance ones) by getting them on trains.
Rail will reduce high mortality on our roads: On the 13th of May 2012, the Nation Newspaper reported the then Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, as stating that Nigeria has the second highest road accident fatalities among the 193 countries in the world. The paper stated, “… Nigeria records 162 deaths per 100,000.” With a population of approaching 200million, you do the math to find out how deep the problem is.
Though poor driving skills is a factor, the high reliance on road transportation causes us to lose a lot of citizens on these roads. Rail transportation will address this issue and preserve the lives of many more citizens.
Rail will improve our quality of life and increase productivity: Instead of many citizens encountering the stress and physical pains of sitting in traffic, battling with bad roads and poor driving, worry about no vehicle recovery services in those occasions when vehicle problems arise, etc., we can sit in train coaches and use the time to read, write or even catch a nap. We can arrive at our destinations refreshed, recharged and focused on the purpose of our travel.
What can we the citizens do?
– Write to our representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives to communicate our strong desire to see rail transportation being prioritized and well monitored to ensure swift completion and proper management.
– Regularly study the Executive’s execution of the budget for Rail Transportation and publicly give our feedback.
– Research and make recommendations to the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Transportation.
– Educate other citizens on the relevance of rail transportation and mobilize them to pressure their National Assembly representatives and the Federal Ministry of Transportation.
– Advocate and lobby State Executives and Legislators to prioritize Light Rail System within states.
It is time for us the citizens to identify the critical infrastructures that will make multiple contributions towards nation-building and participate in actions that will ensure such projects are researched, quickly approved and thoroughly implemented.
What other actions should we as citizens undertake to ensure our government consistently invests sufficiently into rail transportation for the next 20 years, to achieve a first class rail transport system?