Nigeria has a duty to review, re-assess and diversify her approach to railway expansion and modernisation to make it sustainable, cost-effective and speedily achievable.
This was the core of the submission made by Mr Olawale Rasheed, the Director of the African Railway Roundtable at a webinar organised by the Nigerian Nation Group to mark the nation’s Democracy Day celebration.
Reviewing the railway network agenda since independence, Mr Rasheed noted that the past was marred by untowards handling of multi-naira rail projects while the present is witnessing more aggressive implementation but “with issues of due diligence,project management, monolithic Chinese funding source,obsolete legal framework and near zero local content still pervading the scene.
While decrying the less than one percent contribution to GDP by the railway sub-sector, Rasheed who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the African Railway Consult Limited identified five critical challenges facing the Nigerian Railway sector even as he urged the present administration to work to correct those identified lapses.
“Railway sub-sector is where the present administration recorded giant strides but it is not yet uhuru. Many stakeholders are worried about possible debt trap due to several loans from the Chinese sources. The G2G model raises multiple questions and at times cloud the rating of government in that sector.
“The legal framework is also a source of worry. The 1959 railway act which vests ownership and management of railway in the Federal Government is still in operation. The amendment of that law should be a national priority but we have not seen that sense of urgency. How can you expect foreign investors when the legal framework is against private ownership or participation in the sector”, he queried.
Aside the above, Mr Rasheed decried the low engagement of the private sector in railway field ,noting that “the Japanese railway is for example mostly privately run and owned with opportunities for better funding and innovations.
“Nigeria needs to embrace the private sector and implement international benchmarks on projects management. We need to diversify our rail financing by creating a Railway Finance Corporation that can source money from capital markets all over the world. We need a new national railway policy to set the medium and long term vision for the sector. We need to upgrade the national railway masterplan to include ambitious projects rather dancing around What the colonialists left behind for us.
“We should have high speed bullet train from Lagos to Abuja to Kano. We shpuld have rail line for Trans-West Africa starting from Lagos. We should have line from Maiduguri to Ndjamena in Chad and line from Cross River to Cameroon. We should think big.
“In more specific terms, I recommend that Nigeria ratify the Luxembourg protocol to ease financial burden in the acquisition of rolling stocks. The securitisation of rolling stock will revolutionise development of railway in Africa.
” We also have a duty to enforce local content or localisation. Tanzania and Ghana present good model for Nigeria in this respect. We should insist on production chain for rolling stock within Nigerian border. South Africa has achieved a lot in this respect.
“And lastly ,we should institute a Diaspora Skill Engagement programme in the railway sector. Nigeria has a large pool of rail peofessionals all over the world. They are eager to particioate in Nigerian rail revolution . Government should reach out to them”, he said.
Against the background of Post-COVID-19 recovery, Rasheed reminded policy makers that recession is at hand and all innovations must be looked into to bridge the infrastructural deficit facing Nigeria ,adding that “Railway development for Nigeria as the biggest economy in Africa should a matter of national priority”.