THERE’S no gain saying the fact that no government in Nigeria has invested in rail transportation like the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. The government has invested massively in the sector with a view of leaving it as one of its biggest legacies.
Regrettably, insecurity is becoming the grave in which the gains made in the sector in the last six years would be entombed.
It is an irony of happenstance that the Abuja-Kaduna corridor which the President want to leave as most profound game-changing legacy is the most affected. The corridor which is responsible for the soaring image of the railway is most affected. One of the most historical facts of the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge rail line is that it is in accordance with the 25 year Railway Development Roadmap initiated in 2002 which is now being witnessed by a new generation of Nigerians, 124 years after the colonial masters began the Lagos-Ibadan railway in 1898.
It is necessary to point out here that apart from the Shehu Shagari administration that started the construction of a standard gauge industrial line for the Ajaokuta Steel project in 1983, sustained rail construction stopped in Nigeria in 1964. Within the six years of resurrection and transformation of the rail transportation by the present administration, the National Bureau of Statistics in it’s 2021 Transportation Full Year Report stated that the country made N2.41 billion in revenue, while 2,890,111 passengers were carried. The report further stated that last year, 2,714,458 passengers travelled via train compared to 1,020,368 passengers recorded in 2020, representing a 166.03 per cent rise. Similarly, 168,301 tonnes of goods were transported in the same year as against 87,440 recorded the previous year, showing a growth rate of 92.48 per cent.
Total revenue generated from passengers in 2021 was N5.70 billion, which was 226.44 per cent higher than the N1.75 billion recorded in 2020. Huge sums of money were generated from cargo freights etc.
It is on record that rail transportation is among the big revenue earners for countries like Canada, United States, Japan, United Kingdom, China and India. That informed the reason why the federal government wants to change the paradigm and make rail transportation a a big revenue earner.
Unfortunately, the spate of insecurity in the country is fast eroding the gains made so far in the sector. Security experts had at different fora made it clear that insecurity is posing great danger to rail transportation. They cited the Abuja-Kaduna incident where the train carrying 900 passengers was hijacked by bandits and the passengers kidnapped, many killed, maimed, while many are still in captivity. This incident created fear and anxiety in other individuals who may have been eager to try rail transportation. The resultant effect of the ugly episode is the drop in patronage for the railways and according to Mr. Olayinka Dosumu, a security expert, if nothing is done fast to arrest the situation, Nigerians will soon wave goodbye to the huge investment in the sector since no one would want to risk his or her life by traveling by trains.
Federal government through the security agencies have a lot of work to do here. A lot needs to be done to restore the confidence of passengers in rail transportation. This could be done by beefing up the security apparatus at the rail stations and inside the trains. Not only that there must be adequate security officers to protect rail passengers, they must be equipped with sophisticated weapons that would match, if not better than the ones held by the hoodlums.
Use of drones and helicopters to patrol the rail lines across the country to ensure that insecurity along rail areas are reduced to the barest minimum if not stopped entirely is necessary.
Since most railway lines are located in the bushes and forests, joint operations between security agents, local hunters and vigilante groups will be beneficial to the fight to safeguard lives and property of rail passengers.