Railways: Back on track in North East

By Modu Abba

One of the major achievements of the Buhari Administration that is often underrated is the unwavering commitment to the restoration and modernization of the nation’s railway system. It was most unfortunate that the rail service across the country suffered decades of neglect in callous disregard of its strategic relevance to economic development and national integration.

Even when the Yaradua/Goodluck Jonathan administration decided to retrieve the railways from oblivion it was widely regarded as its own version of empty promise rather than a sincere effort to revive rail transportation. It was therefore a welcome departure from such a deplorable derailment of strategic development infrastructure when the Buhari Administration, which could have simply ignored the project of a predecessor, not only continued but elevated it to top priority.

Nigerians have since been reaping this dynamic dividend of the Buhari Administration, especially from the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge which has become a vital alternative safe corridor for thousands of commuters on the bandit-besieged road, the cross-country narrow gauge rail lines being rehabilitated and the Warri-Itakpe line.

Evidence of the government’s relentless determination to restore nation-wide efficient and dependable rail service was recently unveiled with the conduct of in depth review of the environmental impact assessment on the proposed overhaul of the narrow gauge Port Harcourt—Maiduguri rail line’s Segment 3 accessories, Goniri-Gashua Railway Branch Lines covering Bauchi, Gombe, Borno and Yobe States, by a panel of environment experts and regulators under the Chairmanship of Alhaji Isa Ozi Salami, an accomplished and versatile management guru.

During the team’s working visit to Bauchi, it was learnt that issues that would come under focus include the fears and concerns of stake holders, benefits of the project to the economy and the adequacy of mitigation measures proposed in order to advise the minister of environment appropriately to prevent avoidable future obstructions to the project. The panel review is in conformity with extant laws to ensure environmental sustainability, good health and well being of host communities by minimizing adverse consequences and keeping incidences of noise, erosion and vegetation decay within permissible levels.

This positive development in the laudable railway restoration and modernization programme of the Buhari Administration is also a pointer to the tremendous preparatory activities that take place prior to the visibility of project implementation that usually gets the attention of anxious members of the public. Though Nigerians will be eager to access the indisputable advantages of rail transportation in terms of safety and haulage costs compared to roads, they cannot forsake the critical importance of review of environmental impact assessment as enumerated in the assignment of the Isa Ozi Salami panel of experts which has since submitted its recommendations to the Minister of Environment.

A remarkable outcome of the expert review is the elimination of the old level crossings which have been notorious causes of accidents involving vehicles and trains in the past but are now to be replaced with overhead or underground facilities as a technical alternative that conforms with modern international traffic safety standards.

International best practices in project conceptualization and execution emphasize such preliminary considerations in order to safeguard the sustainability of existing human and other resources in areas earmarked for major projects both during and after the implementation processes. Such investigations provide requisite data and other indicators which can be factored into the project execution to forestall avoidable adverse impact or minimize consequences.

Considering the increasing tendency for neglected competing interests and survival factors to provoke conflicts and pose threats to helpless communities and endangered species on account of normal growth in population or industrialization, the significance of embarking on environmental impact assessments as an integral part of project design and implementation cannot be over-emphasized.    

It is therefore a value-added strategy in the rail restoration and modernization project to pre-empt the eruption of such mishaps and conflicts in the planning stage as being expertly carried out by the Isa Ozi Salami panel of environmentalists and regulators because it is a quality assurance factor on the long-term sustainability and eco-friendly features built into the railway system.

The location of the ongoing work of the environmental impact assessment review in Bauchi, Gombe, Borno and Yobe States is an encouraging sign of the gradual but assured restoration of peace and cessation of terrorist attacks in the troubled North East zone as well as the readiness of the Buhari Administration to promptly bring meaningful development to the people of the states.

In this context it is pertinent to point out that railway transportation as a mass transit option that the generality of our people can afford across the length and breadth of the country while also having the capacity to carry huge consignments of cargo such as agricultural produce and other commercial goods conveniently and economically, is an important promoter of unity and development. It will also significantly divert heavy haulage traffic from our roads which already faced annual degradation due to weather conditions that was worsened by collapse of the railways.

While looking forward to the successful completion of all the necessary preliminary work and smooth commencement of the next level of project execution and commissioning of the nation’s railways, we should urge the Buhari Administration to increase the tempo of such progressive development strides across the national transport sector.

MODU ABBA wrote from Damaturu