The railway system is one of the oldest and still surviving modes of public transportations in the world. In India, China, Europe and America, the railway system is so developed that it is patronized by not only the ordinary citizens, but also the elites in those countries. In fact, we must give credit to the leaders of the First Republic for making the railway system relevant as a major and cheaper mode of public transportation. It was the most affordable mode of public transportation for the ordinary Nigerians.
The end of the Second Republic caused by the January 15, 1966 military coup also marked the progressive decline of the Nigerian railway system. Although the Nigerian Railway Corporation survived the coup, it continued to face challenges, despite the efforts of the Gowon military administration to keep it alive. In fact, the number of coaches and wagons kept going down year after year.
No government can afford to ignore the railway system because it is the cheapest means of transportation for poor Nigerians. Unfortunately, the railway system suffered relative neglect from successive governments in Nigeria. The manner railway coaches are overloaded shows the extent this mode of transportation is patronized by the ordinary Nigerians. Sadly, many governments merely paid lip service to the railway system.
One must acknowledge, however, that the first real initiative to revive the Nigerian railway system was started by the late General Sani Abacha. Worried by the sorry state of the Nigerian railway system, General Abacha invited the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company to rehabilitate and modernize Nigeria’s moribund railway system.
The rehabilitation of the Nigerian railway system is one of General Abacha’s enduring legacies. Many Nigerians were excited that our trains were being put back on track. General Abacha was truly determined to give Nigeria’s railway system a shot in the arm after many years of apparent declined.
Hate him or loathe him, no sincere Nigerian can pretend that Abacha didn’t mean well for Nigerians. He knew the critical role of the railway system in the economy. Within a short space of time, railway tracks started springing up in Nigeria to link major northern and southern cities. The successful start of the rehabilitation restored hope to our public transport sector.
Unfortunately, the death of Abacha had also affected the pace of work on the rehabilitation of the Nigerian railway system. When former President Obasanjo came to power in 1999, he seemed determined to frustrate projects initiated by the late General Abacha, and it didn’t matter to him whether those projects were relevant o desirable.
Obasanjo’s antipathy towards Abacha was so intense that he didn’t care sacrificing public interest in order to spite Abacha’s memory and discredit his legacies. The railway rehabilitation project started by Abacha became a victim of former President Obasanjo’s vindictiveness.
Which wise leader should let his private grudges against another leader become the official policy? But that was exactly what happened. Obasanjo pretended that there was no money to continue the railway project started by General Abacha. As a result, these good projects were suspended.
As a result of this suspension and the attendant delay associated with the resumption, the railway projects suffered significant set backs on account of Obasanjo’s vindictiveness. Surprisingly, towards the end of his tenure, thanks to public criticisms that trailed the suspension of the railway projects, Obasanjo re-awarded the contracts for the same projects at a staggering cost.
When the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua succeeded Obasanjo, he found himself in a fix. He didn’t know what to do because the cost at which Obasanjo re-awarded the railway projects was so astronomical. Once again, the railway projects suffered another avoidable delay. It was not Yar’adua’s fault; the problem was caused by Obasanjo’s myopic attitude. How on earth should any President sacrificed public interest to gratify private grudges against another deceased leader? In fact, the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), despite its significant successes within a short time, had suffered the same hostile treatment at the hands of former President Obasanjo.
The Petroleum Trust Fund was scrapped by Obasanjo on the grounds that it was operating “like a government within a government.” The deeper and unstated reasons, however, was that Obasanjo apposed PTF because his hostility to anything started by Abacha. Even the National Hospital Abuja (formerly Family Support Hospital) would have suffered the same fate at the hands of Obasanjo in order to spite Abacha’s memory. He however, realized that even absurdity has its limit.
Abdulrahaman, No. 58 Old Karu Abuja