Thursday, 28th September 2023

At 61, a patriot’s passion for railway’s growth

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
22 July 2016   |   1:06 am
In the last one year, the 8th session of the Nigerian National Assembly has been in the eyes of the storm ranging from controversies surrounding the emergence of its leaders, the handling of the budget passage and the litigation against its leadership.
Senator Gbenga Ashafa

Senator Gbenga Ashafa

In the last one year, the 8th session of the Nigerian National Assembly has been in the eyes of the storm ranging from controversies surrounding the emergence of its leaders, the handling of the budget passage and the litigation against its leadership.

But despite all these challenges faced particularly by the Senate, a day like this affords one the opportunity to single out from among the pack, an individual who has been exceptional in his legislative responsibilities by concentrating on the tasks of giving his constituents excellent representation and engendering the needed legislative support towards galvanizing the Nigerian economy.

This man is none other than the gentleman Senator representing the good people of Lagos East Senatorial District, Olugbenga Bareehu Ashafa.Ashafa is a second-term Senator of the Federal Republic. He is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport and also a member of the Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs, National Security and Intelligence, Establishment and Public Service and Water Resources.

After the budget of CHANGE which was presented to the National Assembly by the executive had finally been lost and found and all committees had concluded their oversight duties, the news went around town that the Lagos to Calabar light rail project had not been included in the budget by the executive. Not long after that the executive retorted that the said project had been included but was however removed by the legislature. This bickering over a project of that magnitude had gone on and on and had degenerated into another messy scandal and war of words between the executive and the legislature.

Recall that at the period when the news went viral, Mr. President had just led a delegation to China to seek economic assistance towards the execution of capital projects. But for the timely intervention of Senator Ashafa, who against all odds came out boldly to state that the Senate Committee on Land Transport had indeed recommended the inclusion of the project in the budget, probably the said project would have had to wait till another budget cycle.

After leading his team on oversight functions to most of the critical railway infrastructures across the country and hosting interactive sessions with the major stakeholders in the sector, Senator Ashafa’s Committee now spearheads the advocacy for a total and complete overhaul of the sector through the instrumentality of the Nigerian Railway Bill, 2016.

It is their argument that there has to be a separation between the operations and the regulatory aspects of the Nigerian Railways as against what operates now, whereby the NRC is both the operator and the regulator. The reason for this argument according to Ashafa is that they observed from their interaction with stakeholders that by giving the NRC that status, the existing legislation had inadvertently killed the possibility of a level playing field in the sector. Hence the sector has remained unattractive to private sector participation over the years.

In a speech delivered by Ashafa at his second town hall meeting/empowerment program in this administration, he stated in reference to the Railway Bill as follows: “The Nigerian rail sector remains a largely untapped sector in the sense of the huge economic potential attendant thereto. When the Muhamadu Buhari Administration succeeds in delivering the requisite infrastructural component which include construction and modernization of new and existing rail lines respectively, there would be an urgent need to open up the sector to active private participation, predicated upon both state and private sector participation on a level playing field.”

In the same vein, a paragraph from a recent article written by the Senator, which was published in the dailies encapsulates the entire essence of the activities of the Senate Committee on Land Transport under his leadership to wit: “Now, to achieve this change in disposition of any critical sector, there has to be a critical change in the legislation that drives the sector. Legislation forms the fulcrum of human, government and business interrelationship in every society. Hence what we need to and seek to do, is to drastically change the legislation that guides the Nigerian rail sector to ensure that we maximize the full yet untapped potential inherent therein. For the sake of emphasis, the legislation that guides the Nigerian Railway Corporation was promulgated in 1955 (61 years ago).”

I am glad to note that for this man, it goes beyond talking the talk and delivering flowery speeches as has now become the trademark of our politicians. For Ashafa, he is indeed walking the talk. As I write, the Nigerian Railway Corporation Repeal and Reenactment Bill 2015, which has metamorphosed the Nigerian Railway Bill 2016, is currently undergoing its 3rd and final reading in the Senate. This includes a clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill and the committee’s recommendations as regards same.

I share in the optimism of this man, that once the rail sector is opened up to private sector participation, we would have achieved two principal things, which are; creation of millions of jobs on one hand and solving the challenge of inter/intra city mass transit.

Further to the above the distinguished Senator has remained a staunch supporter of the government of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos. Last year, the Senator worked tirelessly in the National Assembly to ensure that the last tranche of $200 Million World Bank Loan for Lagos State to complete developmental projects all around the state was released.

In his constituency, within the past year, Senator Ashafa has also carried out some major empowerment projects that had empowered at least a thousand constituents in the area of small and medium scale business support. As a philanthropist, his GATE Foundation has equally continued to sponsor the education of indigent constituents and indeed Lagosians, while also paying for medical bills of many and providing financial support for worthy small-scale businesses.

As this easy going positive force, gentleman, father, grand father and husband of one wife, Mrs Folashade Ashafa, adds another year, it is my prayer that his dreams and aspirations for the Nigerian state, particularly in the rail sector come to fruition as this would be of great benefit to millions of Nigerians.