How government can overhaul railway in Nigeria, by Akpoviroro
James Akpoviroro, the Managing Director of Jeerea Nigeria Limited, also doubles as the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner, James Salmon and Partner Limited, U.K. He formed railway engineering solution companies after his years of experience with the London Underground. Considering current efforts by government to revive the railway sector, he spoke with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH on crucial issues that will make the plan a success.
The nature of coaches in Nigeria are far behind global standard, yet government stakes huge amount of money acquiring them, why is this so?
We need to first appreciate where we are. The train system has been down so we must thank government for trying to revive it. One thing with railway is experiential. If a new product comes, you don’t just throw it away, you adopt it to see how it works in your environment. Now the world is moving towards green train, we see these new inventions every day and we should also key into it. But this is more than what government alone can do. Individuals and companies need to come in. It is not impossible for us to buy the latest coaches too.
How do you rate government’s plan to revive the collapsed rail system in the country considering the economic slump and diversification effort?
The move by previous administrations and the present government’s interest to revamp the railway system is good. It is key to economic diversification and indeed, a way of diversifying the economy. This will bring in a lot of money and help to boost every other sector. the railway system was dead but now that they are trying to revive it, it remains a very good option. My appeal to government is not to relent. If the effort is sustained the system will be able to generate money and stand on its own. But all these require good management.
Another paramount issue is for government to seek the involvement of locals. Foreigners would leave someday and if that happened the system will collapse. Government should not drive us away.
Nigeria is losing a lot by leaving the rail lines the way they are. There is a master plan for Nigeria to be linked in 25 years, which was put in place by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. That is a good master plan. When you look at the other transport options just like the situation is in every economy, there is no one option to the result. One should be able to travel and move goods through different options. Once the railway is totally developed in Nigeria, the pressure on the road network will ease. The kind of money government spends on road construction yearly is too much. The volume of transportation on the road is too much. If there is a good rail line, the roads will last longer. I must commend that government is making serious moves now, but like I said earlier, local companies must be involved because the foreigners are not going to be there always.
Is the Federal government on track in the attempt to privatise the railway sector?
What you need to know is that by putting money, investors are not buying the rail lines. I think the Chinese company is bringing in 85 per cent and the federal government is providing the remaining 15 per cent. This does not mean privatisation. It is until the lines are being built that government may decide to sell it out for people to manage. I don’t think the government is doing that now. What I think the government is doing is to build the railways. The Chinese company is getting the funding from a Chinese bank through their government.
What will eventually happen is for the system to be privatised. Whether the people ask for the money they staked in or they will eventually buy it, is another matter entirely. What is important is that the Nigerian government should involve all. Nigerians also need to be involved in the contract and process. We have Nigerians, who are rail expatriates across the world and other businessmen; this does not mean that you are driving the foreigners away. Nigeria is open for business to everybody but they should involve the indigenes.
The privatisation itself should be open and not be owned by one man. Privatisation is a good option.
We have seen challenges with continuity; do you think government can sustain the current effort in the sector?
Government may not sustain the plan, the best option is privatisation. Private owners are business people, who will do everything to protect their investment and make profit. The only way they won’t lose is to get the best hands to manage the investment. In Europe and other places across the world, if you are a good manager of people, who can turn nothing to something people would always, want to hire you. People won’t just say he is my brother and just put him there. Nigeria is also moving away from this lifestyle, we are moving into a system where people deliver results. This thing must be done once and for all. But government is not a good manager. Government must restrict itself to making the infrastructure available and allow people to manage them and they can get taxes.