‘Diesel, insecurity challenges for Lagos-Ibadan, Kano operations’
Augustine Arisa is the District Manager (Lagos) of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC). In this interview with journalists, he spoke on the operations of the district and the low turnout of passengers on the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge, among other issues. BENJAMIN ALADE was there.
The minister last week said standard gauge haulage would begin in July. Have you started marketing to potential clients?
We have a lot of people that have been coming for it. A lot of Nigerians are really interested in the standard gauge movement of cargo to Ibadan. From the time the minister made the announcement, there have been a lot of enquiries concerning the movement on the standard gauge.
What is the update on the passenger traffic between Lagos and Kano?
Because of the security situation, we have put on hold the long-distance haul between Lagos and Kano. The security agencies are working seriously to ensure we resume operations both here and in the Abuja line. They are trying to give us assurances of safety. We are only trying to make sure that we don’t have a repeat.
It has not been steady as it used to be. Sometime during the last Easter, it picked up on the passenger’s side. After a while, it started coming down.
On the freight side, the container traffic has been moving well on the narrow gauge. The narrow gauge goes from Lagos to Kano, until recently, when we had security issues within Kaduna and Minna. So, most of the time, we just lift cargoes between Apapa port and Ebute Metta. There is transhipment here.
Are you still running three shifts on the Lagos-Ibadan route?
No. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, we were doing three trips then but we have reduced it to two trips. This is because of the passenger flow and the cost of diesel. The cost of diesel is affecting all. What we use to run the train is diesel. So, we had to go down on the passenger traffic between Lagos and Ibadan. It is now 8 am and 4 p.m. Except on Saturdays, when we have 6p.m and 9 a.m.
The aftermath of the Abuja incident affected our passenger flow everywhere within the railway network. Meanwhile, we have been making some improvements in terms of security. Security-wise, the South is a little bit safer compared to the North. But on our own, we are doing a few things like the scanners that were installed. That of Agege is functional, at least, to check the luggage and what people are coming with. By Monday, that of Mobolaji Johnson station is going to be functional as well. We are discussing with the Chinese to step up security within the corridor.
What is the revenue generation profile for the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge train?
Formerly, we were making up to three to four million naira daily before the Abuja incident, but now we are making N1.2 to N1.5 million daily. That is on the Lagos side on the standard gauge, which applies to the Ibadan side. So, we can now say we make N2.2 N3million as against the seven or eight million naira we were making before the Abuja incident.
On the freight, because of the security situation at Kaduna and Niger states, our long haul has been reduced. So our concentration has been within here and the Apapa port, the APMT, ENL, GDNL and ABTL.
How many metric tonnes do you lift from Apapa daily?
What we carry is a 19, 40-feet container exported to APMT almost on a daily basis. Sometimes we do more than two rakes. A rake is a locomotive and the wagon that it is carrying. For each rake, we have 19 containers at a go with a locomotive pulling it. So, for each rake, in a day we make just one rake, sometimes, we make more than a rake going to APMT. So instead of 19 trucks going into the APM terminal to load, thereby congesting the road, we just carry it once to the APMT. They offload it, if you have import, we can bring it to the hinterland. We have about four terminals within the railway premises here. We have the Beverly Hills container terminal at Ijoko, we have the Oyingbo container terminal, we have the Ajuba terminal, which the Chinese use so many times to ferry most of their containers both in and out of the port, and we also have the Niger rails at Iddo. So, we use these terminals to carry export to the port and now carry imports from the port to these terminals, so that truckers can now carry from these terminals to wherever they are going, which helps to decongest the Apapa gridlock. We are also servicing the inland container terminal at Kaduna. We also have some other terminals springing up at Kajola and some other areas at Ijoko.
What about the mass transit train?
The mass transit is the one we are running between Iddo and Ijoko, and Iddo and Kajola. It is operational and it is working fine.
How much do you generate from the mass transit scheme?
On the mass transit, we generate daily one million naira to a 1.5million naira, depending on the days. Like on Thursdays when they usually have their cleanup, it gets less like N800,000 up to N1 million. But on ordinary days like Mondays, because we have people that are living in Lagos here, they come here on Mondays and go back on Fridays. Between Mondays and Fridays, it gets up to N1.5 to 1.8 million naira daily.
What exactly are you doing to ensure mass transit is attractive to the public?
We have started working on the coaches; we are taking them in batches. If we carry the whole rake and start working on them, it will make the masses suffer. If you go to Iddo now, we have three coaches that have been working. If you look at them, we have about 10 fans in each coach. We have started working on the coaches; we are taking them bit by bit. As I am talking to you now, we have three of them already refurbished at Iddo, the other three are at carriage and wagon, where they are working on them. We have also started work on the locomotive; Loco 2215 is being worked on. With the coming up of the red line, it is going to make the traffic a little bit more competitive. So, we are not resting; we have already started something, so our customers would have coaches that are more attractive, presentable and habitable.
The rooftop riders have been a challenge over the years. What efforts are in place to solve the problem?
The issue of rooftop riding has been a problem for us, but if you notice recently, you don’t see them again. Most of these rooftop passengers join from Oshodi and then climb to the roof and then go straight to Agbado, Ijoko, Itokin and Kajola and they drop off. Most of the time, it is not that they are ticketless people, sometimes, some of them have tickets, and some of them are just social miscreants.
We have also observed that most of the criminals too that wouldn’t want to be identified would also go there with their guns. So, it has been a problem for us. If you have noticed, we no longer stop over at Oshodi en route from Iddo to Agege. We only stop at Oshodi when we are coming from Ijoko in the morning to allow our passengers alight to serve Ikeja and Mushin, but not in the evening. Immediately we stopped doing that, rooftop riding was reduced.
Has there been any case of arrest of the rooftop riders since you assumed office?
The issue of rooftop riders have been a menace and we have been using our police and Civil Defence to make an arrest and find a way of stopping them from climbing the roof because it is suicidal. It is something nobody will encourage. We have made several arrests and most of the time, they were charged to court. There are situations where they have been charged to court, the court will sentence them. Because we have seen that sometimes it is not just for the fun of climbing there, we have also seen the criminal aspect of it. There are sometimes when they climb up, they go there with guns, weapons and a lot of things that are not good for the passengers. So, that is why on our own, we went all out to make sure that we don’t have such things.
At least, for the past few months, we have not been having issues with rooftop riders. There was a time we went to Lagos State Police to assist us, the State Command here went to the Lagos police. We have been making arrests; sometimes we apprehend like 20. The moment you stop to arrest them, most of them run away. If you chase them, there are Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) that will say we want to kill people. So, we are neither here nor there. It used to be a problem. But most of the time, what we do is to stop and see if we can catch at least a good number that you can take to court and sentence them to serve as a deterrent to others. We have been doing that, before this time we have arrested up to 20 or more. Within the 20, some pleaded guilty, the police will caution and release them, and the other ones would be taken to court and be sentenced.
There was a time the railway invested in wet cargo containers for the purpose of lifting fuels. Is there any demand for it now?
Yes, people have come from time to time to use our tank wagons to ferry both diesel, Petroleum Motor Spirit (PMS), and so on, but they will just come and go. The kind of wagon we have is not just like the tankers you see on the roadside. What we have is a pressurized tank wagon. So, even when there is an accident, it does not spill. That guarantees your product to take to your destination. The pressurized tank wagon is most suitable for the haulage of most of these petroleum products.
Do you still have a loading bay?
Of course, we have. Formerly, we were loading PMS, Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) and bitumen but unfortunately, recently, most of the customers would come and go. Maybe they don’t understand the volume of things that we can deliver at their end at a time. But in terms of safety, we have the best container for the product because of the pressurized tank wagon, which you don’t see on the roadside.