Need to repeal colonial rail monopoly law

Railway transport occupies a significant role in the transport system of a country because the development of trade, industry and commerce largely depends on the development of an effective railway system.

Rail transport facilitates long distance travel and transportation of bulky goods which are not easily transported through motor vehicles. It is a quick and more regular form of transport because it helps in the transportation of goods with speed and certainty.

Railway is the safest form of transport. The chances of accidents and breakdown of railways are much lower when compared to other modes of transport.

The carrying capacity of railway is extremely large. Moreover, its capacity is elastic and can easily be increased by simply adding more wagons.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) is responsible for operating the railway in Nigeria. The country’s poorly maintained rail system has 3,557 kilometers of 3 feet 6 inches gauge track.

The country has two major rail lines: one connects Lagos on the Bight of Benin and Nguru in the northern state of Yobe; the other connects Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta and Maiduguri in the northeastern state of Borno.

In recent years, the railway network has progressively fallen into a state of disrepair. At present, the only operational segment of Nigeria’s rail network is between Lagos and Kano. Passenger trains take 31 hours to complete the journey at an average speed of 45 km/h.

Years of neglect of both the rolling stock and the right-of-way have seriously reduced the capacity and utility of the country’s rail system. Couplings of the chopper kind, vacuum brakes and non-roller bearing plain axles are also obsolete.

A project to restore Nigeria’s railways has been underway since 1996. In 2006, the government contracted China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to build the Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge Railway. It was later decided to complete the project in segments due to a lack of funds. After many delays, the segment from Abuja to Kaduna is expected to begin operations this year. Construction work has not commenced on other segments.

In order to remedy the poor condition, efficiency, and profitability of the nation’s railroads, the government is seeking to privatize the Nigerian Railway Corporation. Under the privatization plan, the railways will be split into three concessions, each to be awarded for a period of 25-30 years.

There is however an urgent need to repeal the colonial railways law which confers monopoly on the NRC and which has stifled the development of the rail system. Towards this end, the House of Representatives recently opened a public hearing on a Bill for an Act to Repeal the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) Act of 1955.

It was during the hearing that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, dropped the hint that the Federal Government needed roughly $166 billion in the next five years to meet the country’s energy and transport infrastructure needs.

In 2012, the federal government said it had pieced together an executive amendment bill (to repeal the law) for the approval of former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke and, thereafter, endorsement by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), before the bill would be sent to the National Assembly for consideration as law. By January 2014, however, nothing tangible was done to facilitate the passage of the bill.

There is an urgent need to repeal the law best fitted for the archives to free railway transportation from the monopolistic stranglehold of the NRC.

The colonial law prohibits state governments and the private sector from constructing rails and providing rail transportation services; and the near-moribund Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) is quick at citing it to put a wedge on any attempt to develop railway transportation nationwide.

Trapped all this while with the non-repeal of the monopoly law was the recommendation by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) at a time that the NRC be unbundled for the purpose of attracting private sector investments. The BPE had suggested that NRC functions be split across three separate entities, namely a national body for the development of rail; an agency to regulate the rail sector; and another entity for rail concessionaires. The idea is to ensure that the NRC provides rail services in competition with other service providers in the sector.

It is ironic that Nigerians enjoyed more of rail services and the attendant benefits during the colonial era than when local leaders took over governance.

Without any doubt, movement of goods and persons will become a lot easier across the country with an effective rail system.

The lawmakers and the executive arm of government must therefore work together to ensure passage of the bill before the end of this year. The federal government must also immediately begin to develop modalities for the involvement of the private sector in developing the railways.

 



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