Islamist militant group al-Shabab has taken control of the port city Merca, residents say.
Merca, some 70km (45 miles) south-west of Mogadishu, is now the biggest town under al-Shabab control.
African Union forces who had held the port city for three-and-a-half years withdrew earlier on Friday morning.
The loss is a major setback for the African Union force (Amisom) in its decade-long battle against al-Shabab, the BBC’s Tomi Oladipo says.
The governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region Ibrahim Adam told the AFP news agency that al-Shabab secured control without fighting.
“Amisom forces moved out at midday and the local administration and all other Somali security forces left a few minutes later – and then heavily armed al-Shabab militants entered the town,” local resident Ibrahim Mumin told AFP.
“They have been addressing residents at the district headquarters,” he added.
Another resident, Mohamed Sabriye, told AP news agency that al-Shabab fighters had hoisted their flag over the city’s police station and administrative headquarters.
The withdrawal from Merca comes three weeks after al-Shabab overran an African Union military base outside the southern Somali town of el-Ade, saying they had killed about 100 Kenyans soldiers.
Kenya has not said how many of its troops died.
Al-Shabab was ousted from the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011, but still has a presence in large areas of southern Somalia and often stages attacks across the country.
Analysis: BBC Monitoring Africa Security Correspondent Tomi Oladipo
While the retreat is not happening in battle, it’s clear that the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is having problems securing the region.
Sources within the mission say this is a tactical move. The problem, however, is that as soon as these troops leave, al-Shabab militants are swiftly replacing them.
It’s no doubt a major setback for the regional forces, seeing as they would have to fight their battles afresh to regain these regions.
In January, Kenyan troops withdrew from other parts of southern Somalia after they suffered heavy losses in an an attack on their base in el-Ade.
As al-Shabab fills the void, it will be looking to win the support of the communities – something the regional coalition has failed to do.
And that would be disastrous overall for the regional efforts to bring peace to Somalia. The nations contributing to Amisom are expected to meet in Djibouti later this month to review their campaign.
In early 2014, when the Ebola virus began ravaging three West African countries, it came with an all-shattering venom.
Although Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and the Congo were all affected, the real devastation occurred in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
In these three countries, humans were crushed by the virus. Dozens died long before medics reached an understanding of the intruder they were dealing with. Medical facilities were overwhelmed at an alarming rate, already-lean government purses were stretched to the limits, the courage of health workers was tested to the brim, and normal human life was ruined.
A cry for help
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president, called on the world for help in October 2014. Her country had spent the previous 11 years recovering from its civil war, and she feared that Ebola was threatening to “erase all the hard work”.
“This fight requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help – whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise,” she wrotein a widely publicised open letter.
By that time, 9,191 people across West Africa were suspected to have been infected and 4,546 had died. In Liberia, 4,262 people had been found to infected by the virus, while 2,484 had died. Guinea and Sierra Leone had the bulk of the deficit of 2,062 deaths.
And so the funds started coming in. Within a month of Sirleaf’s plea, money pledged from outside Africa to the Ebola-hit countries was building up. By July 2015, the United Nations announced that donors had promised $5.2bn, which far outweighed the $3.2bn the three countries said they needed to “return to the progress of [their] pre-Ebola trauma“.
In Liberia, the outbreak left half the heads of households out of work, while women – who account for more workers in the non-agricultural, self-employed sectors – were among the hardest hit. Ebola’s destruction of livelihoods sorely needed to be addressed.
This was acknowledged at a UN meeting in July 2015 at which President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, speaking on behalf of the three Ebola-hit countries, said:“Humanity sometimes displays short attention spans and wants to move to other issues because the threat from Ebola seems over … The threat is never over until we rebuild the health sector Ebola demolished, until we rebuild the livelihoods it compromised.”
A month after Koroma’s statement, I was on a plane to Liberia to investigate how the money had been used, courtesy of some civil society initiatives to monitor the situation on the ground. My findings were damning.
The much-vaunted “rebuilding of livelihoods ruined by Ebola” was far from happening. The Liberian government, whose task force destroyed the belongings of Ebola patients, was providing no help as survivors struggled daily for decent food, housing and employment. As Josephine Karwah, one of only three pregnant women to survive the virus, told me, the government left survivors “in a limbo”.
No individual has been tried, much less convicted, for their role in the mismanagement of funds meant to save dying lives.
It was enough evidence that none of the dozen survivors I spoke to could pinpoint a single instance when the government offered help. But that wasn’t all. Liberia’s anti-corruption watchdog audited only a fraction ($15m) of the funding, and found that $800,000, most of which passed through the defence ministry, could not be accounted for.
“The conduct of the affairs of the National Ebola Trust Fund [NETF] were marred by financial irregularities and material control deficiencies for a number of transactions carried out by the Incident Management System and the eight Implementing Partners of the NETF,” the General Auditing Commission said in a report published on its website.
Specific instances of corruption included the disbursement of $600,000 for fuel, feeding, daily subsistence allowance, communication, medical training, repair and maintenance, without supporting documents; and the payment of $10,000 to 68 officers in 10 counties who could not be physically seen or whose names could not be traced in the daily attendance records.
In neighbouring Sierra Leone, the situation was no better. The report of the Audit Service of Sierra Leone unearthed a series of financial irregularities, most notably payments to thousands of fictitious health workers, and expenses running into several hundreds of thousands of dollars without supporting documentation.
Up until now the biggest outcry over the gulf between the money donated and that spent on the post-Ebola recovery has been in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but it may well be that the scariest levels of corruption have happened in Guinea.
The Ebola Fund Watch report launched by BudgIT in November 2015 reveals that although Guinea had received donations worth $330m as of November 4, 2015, there is not one audit report on the use of the fund.
The “reports of mismanagement” suggested in this report are given credence by the former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo’s description of Guinea as a country where “contracts aren’t signed and investments aren’t made”.
For a country ranked 139th out of 168 in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, Guinea’s lack of documentation for its use of the funds mirrors the secrecy with which Ebola funds were mismanaged in West Africa.
In all three countries, no individual has been tried, much less convicted, for their role in the mismanagement of money meant to save the lives of the dying. And these are people who – to parody novelist Bangambiki Habyarimana’s words – are still here on earth when they deserve to be sent to hell!
Fisayo Soyombo edits the Nigerian online newspaper TheCable.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Desperate and divided: South Africa has had enough
5 February 2016
Increasingly, South Africans from all walks of life are mobilising for change. Many resort to public protest in the hope of galvanising government to improve its performance and do something about unacceptable levels of unemployment and poverty. Last year saw widespread community-level protests, along with large-scale student protests popularised by the#FeesMustFall slogan.
Are South Africans reaching the end of their tether? Most protest action relates to bread-and-butter issues and inadequate government performance.
For instance, half of the 2 322 incidents of protest and industrial strike action recorded between January 2013 and December 2014 by the Institute for Security Studies’ public violence monitor related to community services (25%) or labour matters (23%). A further 11% of gatherings related to protests against crime or bad policing. Mob justice or vigilantism constituted 161 incidents or 7% of public violence reported. Last month, the severity of vigilante action was illustrated by events in the town of Parys, where four farmers were charged with the murders of two suspected farm attackers.
This year’s local government elections will reveal how dissatisfaction affects voting patterns
Similarly, in September last year, community members in Etwatwa killed three teenagers suspected of criminal activities. These cases demonstrate ordinary South Africans’ high levels of frustration with rising crime and what they perceive as the police’s inability to keep them safe.
The extent of public violence is arguably also linked to broader factors, such as high levels of unemployment and inequality, the weakening rand and a protracted drought, which has brought many rural communities to their knees. Confidence in politicians – notably President Jacob Zuma, members of parliament (MPs) and local government leaders – has also been declining. The 2015 Afrobarometer survey released at the end of November on South Africans’ confidence in the president shows that two thirds of adults polled distrust President Zuma.
More significantly, half of those who consider themselves African National Congress (ANC) supporters also mistrust the president. The survey found that public approval of Zuma’s performance decreased dramatically from 64% in 2011 to only 36% in 2015. The president’s shock dismissal of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene not only spooked the markets and crippled the country’s economy, but also provoked further dissatisfaction with the president – as evidenced by the #ZumaMustFall campaign.
The Afrobarometer survey also found that approval ratings of local councillors have dropped by 10% since 2011. Overall, only 39% of South Africans approve of their elected local government leaders and 42% approve of MPs.
Many South Africans see public protest as the only way to try and affect positive changes
Afrobarometer’s poll on perceptions of government’s performanceshowed that 80% of people feel government is performing ‘fairly badly’ or ‘very badly’ in fighting government corruption, narrowing income gaps (78%), reducing crime (77%), creating jobs (77%) and keeping prices down (76%). Given the deterioration of public trust in political leaders, it is not surprising that levels of community protest and public violence have been on the rise in recent years.
This year’s local government election results will reveal whether or not increasing frustration will affect voting patterns. For many, protests are a way to express dissatisfaction with their elected party without voting differently. Although the ANC achieved 62% in the 2014 national elections, this comprised only 35% of the voting-age population who cast their votes for the party, down from 58.3% in 1994.
Two out of three voting-age adults either did not vote, or voted for an opposition party – while only one out of three voted for the ANC. Yet, if the 2014 national elections are anything to go by, more people may start articulating their disapproval through voting for political parties other than the dominant ANC. For many people, however, voting is not seen as an effective way to improve government service delivery, and public protest is viewed as the only way to try and affect positive changes.
In their campaigns in the upcoming local government elections later this year, one should expect political parties to explain how they will create jobs, improve services and reduce crime at a local level. The Afrobarometer shows that 71% of respondents believe that unemployment is the largest challenge that government should address. A quarter of respondents believe that housing and crime (both 27%) are the most pressing issues; followed by education (22%), poverty (19%) and corruption (17%).
Political party leaders must take a strong position against any forms of prejudicial or hate speech
Arguably, many local power elites are not focused on improving conditions of the communities they are supposed to serve – as shown by the state of disarray of most local government finances. Rather, some local politicians are more likely to try and distract voters from their own governance failures. One way of achieving this is by blaming marginalised groups such as foreign nationals for local problems, which may then erupt into violence, such as xenophobic attacks and vigilantism.
Given that many local-level politicians see government primarily as a means of self-enrichment, rather than serving communities, it is expected then that competition will be fierce and levels of electoral violence will be higher than that experienced in the 2014 national elections.
It is therefore important that political party leaders are seen to take a strong position against any forms of prejudicial or hate speech. If not, suspicion and divisions will flourish and we can expect to see further rises in violent public protests, xenophobic attacks and vigilantism.
The EFF has rejected Zuma’s Nkandla proposal and accuses the president of trying to influence the Constitutional Court judges.
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema is not prepared to accept President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla settlement proposal unless he agrees to the party’s terms.
“We not going to agree to any settlement until he reaffirms the powers of public protector, and two [reaffirms that] the remedial actions of public protector are binding and three that President Zuma agrees in the settlement that [by] failing to implement the remedial action he was in breach of the Constitution and his oath of office,” Malema told reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday.
“We will not agree that he had all the right to behave in the manner he did. We are not going to be party to any settlement which does not speak to those three points.”
On Tuesday, Zuma sent a letter to the court to suggest that it order the auditor general and finance minister to determine how much he should pay back for the multimillion-rand upgrades to non-security features at his home in Nkandla. Zuma was prepared to pay for the visitors’ centre, the amphitheatre, the cattle kraal, chicken run and the swimming pool. There was a “need for finality”, Zuma’s lawyers said.
However, the Constitutional Court responded on Wednesday saying it was up to the parties to decide on the settlement.
“The settlement proposal is a matter for the parties to decide and calls for no directions from the court at this stage,” the registrar said in the letter.
Malema accused Zuma of trying to influence the Constitutional Court judges by sending the letter.
“In his typical way of trying to control everything and influence institutions of the state, unduly so, he then took a copy of the proposed settlement to court in an attempt to influence judges.
“Zuma being Zuma writes to us and copies judges so that he can influence judges, so that when we arrive at court the judges already see him as a reasonable man,” he said.
But Malema said the judiciary had always rejected “ANC control”. “I’m happy we were able to see this crook even before he is attempting to do things [which are] unacceptable.”
The EFF and Democratic Alliance were due to argue in the Constitutional Court next Tuesday that Zuma needed to comply with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations and repay a reasonable part of the R246-million spent on renovations at Nkandla.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane told the Cape Town Press Club on Thursday morning that they would not accept Zuma’s proposal. The DA wanted the matter heard in court so it could make a ruling on the public protector’s powers.
Gupta’s propaganda machinery? Meanwhile, Malema also warned that Gupta-owned media such as ANN7 and The New Age will not be welcome at his party’s events.
“Gupta must leave the country. We tired about talking about [the] Guptas. We going to take practical action,” Malema told reporters in Johannesburg.
“Gupta media must no longer come to EFF events. We don’t want to see The New Age and ANN7.”
Malema accused them of being products of corrupt activity, used to perpetuate corrupt actions.
“It’s… propaganda machinery.”
He said protectors of corruption would not be tolerated.
Addressing the reporters from The New Age and ANN7, Malema cautioned them to “move out the way”.
“Sisters and brothers in Gupta firms we love you and don’t want you to be casualties.
“We cannot guarantee the safety of those printing New Age and ANN7.”
Malema said the Gupta’s would be dealt with the same way apartheid was.
The Guptas are said to have a close relationship with President Jacob Zuma and other highly placed ANC leaders.
ANN7 earlier promoted on their Twitter page that they would be carrying the EFF press briefing live on Thursday.
Shortly after Malema’s comments, the broadcast was stopped. – News24
After a prolonged neglect of the nation’s railway, recent efforts by the government to revive and modernise the transport mode have not yielded the desired results, RASHEED BISIRIYUwrites
Fifty-five years after independence, Nigeria still struggles to operate part of the 3,505km of railway inherited from the British colonial masters amid failed numerous contracts.
There are high expectations that a weekly train from Lagos to Kano will be doubled after the rehabilitation of its dilapidated track, which costs the Federal Government over N24bn to fix. But this turns out to be a dashed hope as only the single train resumes operation after three years of inactivity. The train still suffers intermittent breakdown.
The Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, after undertaking a visit round some agencies under the ministry, including the Nigerian Railway Corporation, shocks his audience when he declares that he does not know a functional train really exists in Nigeria.
Amaechi obviously speaks the minds of many people who have never had a ride on the train within the country.
But trains still run in Nigeria, although they are irregular and unattractive.
Investigations show that available few trains are mainly used for either short-trip excursions or mass transit by peasant farmers, rural traders and junior workers.
Only recently, the corporation deployed its latest refurbished rolling stock in the weekly Lagos-Kano route. And this expectedly attracted a number of curious passengers, some of who shared their experiences with our correspondent.
Alimah Omodele, a self-employed lady, is on a visit to Ilorin. She is encouraged by her mother-in-law, who resides in Ilorin, the Kwara state capital, to travel by the train.
She says, “My mother-in-law told me it would be fun and promised to pick me up at the railway station in Ilorin when we arrive. But I’ve not seen any fun except the AC.”
Omodele is not sure of taking the train back to Lagos, saying she is not really impressed.
Yomi Goncalves, a student of the Federal Technology Minna, pays N3,000 to secure a seat in the first-class section of the Lagos-Kano train. He is happy, having saved about N1,000 by not using the road travel option. But he has to endure spending more hours on the train. It is his first experience on the train and hopes to take it again if it will be regular and timely.
But an employee of the Nigerian Navy, Yakubu Abdullahi, who is heading for Zaria in Kaduna State for a medical checkup, cannot hide his disappointment in the first-class sleeper coach. “What I saw on the NRC website fascinated me. It gave an indication that the train is next to the airplane experience. But I’m seeing a different thing now. The AC, the toilet, the bedding and the whole place looks old-fashioned and unattractive. It is not worth my N6,050.”
Mr. Kayode Agboola is from Offa in Kwara State. His mother is travelling to Kano after paying him a visit in Lagos and she opts for the train.
“When I heard about the train going up North, I decided my mum should take it and she agrees because it is cheaper and safer,” he says.
Mr. Mike Itseghosimhe, a health consultant, says it is his sixth trip on the Lagos-Kano train in the last one year. To him, it has been a mixed feeling of excitement and frustration.
The excitement, for instance, comes from the opportunity it offers to relax maximally and the fascination of touring several cities and villages that are along the Lagos-Kano railway in one journey without having to leave one’s seat on the train.
He, however, recalls one nasty experience when a coach was detached from a train in motion in a remote village near Offa. It caused a delay of about 24 hours, he says.
“Sometime, the gas supply to the AC on the train will be cut off; the train is delayed at the departure and this affects its arrival. And no announcement or information is given. They just leave everyone in the dark,” says itseghosimhe.
The development of railway began in Nigeria with a 32km line of 1067mm gauge from Iddo (Lagos) to Ota (Ogun). This was in 1901 extended to Ibadan, a distance of 193km, according to ‘Facts and Figures’, a handbook produced by the NRC in 2006.
“Subsequently, railway construction experienced continual extension from Ibadan to Jebba (295km) 1901-1910; Kano–Baro (562km), 1907-1911; Jebba–Minna (252km), 1909-1915; Port-Harcourt-Enugu (243km), 1914-1916; and Kafanchan-Jos (17 km), 1922–1927,” it states.
For 31 years, from 1927 to 1958, there was no railway development. It was the construction of Kafanchan-Bauchi rail line (238km) from 1958 to 1961 and the Bauchi-Maiduguri line (302km) in 1961–1964 that brought the total rail route of the Nigerian railway network to 3,505km.
Many Nigerians were excited by the establishment of the NRC in 1955 with an Act of Parliament. And indeed the corporation is credited to have performed reasonably well between 1955 and 1979.
Analysts also credit the Nigerian railway as playing a pivotal role in increasing the tempo of commercial activities in the many towns along the rail routes. It has also boosted inter-ethnic marriages, acquisition of new dressing habits, food and languages and caused the emergence of mega towns referred to as railway towns such as Lagos, Umuahia, Zaria, Kano, Kafanchan, Jos, Enugu, Aba and Port Harcourt.
But a steady process of decline was said to have crept into its operation in the late 1970s. This, according to experts, became worse with the systemic decay of the corporation’s entire infrastructure and manpower.
For instance, statistics on passenger and freight traffics from the corporation show that in 1964, the NRC carried 11,288,000 passengers and 2,960,000 tonnes of freight. Ten years later, the figures dropped to 4,342,000 and 1,098,000, respectively.
Before the rot set in, a former President of the Nigeria Union of Railway Workers, Mr. Ado Maigoro, recalls, “In those good old days of the railway, we had trains moving on a daily basis from Lagos to Kano; Kano to Lagos: Port Harcourt to Kano; Kano to Port Harcourt and Jos to Port Harcourt; while Lagos-Maiduguri train ran four times weekly, apart from the mass transit in Lagos and other towns.”
Although successive governments have shown concerns about the parlous state of the nation’s railway system by allocating funds to turn around this all-important transport mode, analysts lament that this has not really translated to the desirable improved train services.
They attribute this to lack of maintenance, policy inconsistency, corruption, management inefficiency and inadequate marketing.
In the late 1970s, the military regime headed by Olusegun Obasanjo had to invite the Rail India Technical and Economic Services to manage the NRC. The Indian experts met only 20 functional locomotive engines in the system. By the time they were leaving in the early 1980s, the number had increased to 173.
Maigoro says, “The Indians did not perform any magic. They succeeded only because they received adequate funds from the government to put things right. What the railway needs even now is adequate funding to replace and repair obsolete rolling stock.”
The administration of the late Gen. Sani Abacha must have heeded Maigoro’s advice when it awarded a $528m railway contract in 1995 to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation for the rehabilitation of rail infrastructure, supply of 50 locomotives and other rolling stocks, as well as the training of critical NRC personnel.
Although this project is not listed among the N1.68tn railway contracts currently under probe by the House of Representatives, the continued breakdown of the supplied locos and the furore generated by the outcome of the project almost led to a diplomatic row between Nigeria and China.
The CCECC’s alleged shoddy execution of that contract became a bad publicity for the company. For instance, a public affairs analyst, Dr. Mutali Musa, in a report, urged Amaechi to avoid the CCECC if he must move the railway forward.
But other analysts have argued that the same company is currently handling the construction of a light rail along the CMS-Mile 2-Okokomaiko route for the Lagos State Government.
The Director of Public Transport, Lagos Area Metropolitan Transport Authority, Mr. Gbenga Dairo, says the CCECC has successfully executed a number of road projects in many parts of the country and is involved in other more complex railway projects in and outside Nigeria. So far, the firm has not been found wanting in the Lagos light rail project.
So, what went wrong between the Chinese company and the Abacha regime concerning the N52bn NRC revival project remains shrouded in mystery.
The civilian administration of Obasanjo was applauded when it conceived the idea of a 25-year strategic vision for the railway in 2002. This was meant to be a systematic development of the railway system. It was specifically designed to provide a global framework and benchmark for rail expansion and modernisation for over 8,000 kilometres linking all state capitals and major centres and industrial areas in the country. And the government reportedly paid a princely sum to a panel that delivered the package.
A report by an author and journalist, Tokunbo Oloruntola, describes it as an ambitious plan for the nation’s railway expansion projects whose funds are expected to be sourced from the private sector and multi-lateral bodies.
“Among others, it will involve the conversion of the nation’s narrow gauge rail tracks to a standard gauge and the construction of new 4,984 kilometres of rail lines to link the West and East of the country,” the report states.
It was, however, at the twilight of that administration (November 28, 2006) that Obasanjo inaugurated the construction of a new Lagos-Kano standard gauge line, spanning 1,315km at the Kajola Railway Station, Ogun State. The contract was awarded to the CCECC.
The project was later abandoned by the Umar Yara’adua administration after the Chinese firm had pocketed the sum of $250m, being the initial payment made by the government for the job.
Giving reasons for the suspension of the project, an erstwhile Minister of Transport, Ibrahim Bio, says, “The Chinese government was able to stimulate the interest of the Federal Government by proposing to give a soft loan of $2.5bn and that attracted the government. When we went in for it, they retracted and said they only had $500m and that we should go and source for the balance from Chinese banks at their prevailing interest rates.”
Another project, a new Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line, was awarded to a Korean firm at a cost of $10bn then. But it was never executed.
The appointment of Alhaji Waziri Muhammed as the NRC chairman in 2001, an influential and wealthy member of trustees of the then ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, by the Obasanjo administration brought some hope to the industry.
Waziri was obviously passionate about the railway and wanted its transformation to be accelerated. He took the risk of taking a nationwide tour on the train, just to get firsthand information on the state of railway facilities and get the support of state governments, irrespective of their party affiliations. He was said to have given the railway a new hope, bringing the transport mode to national limelight.
His death in the Bellview plane crash on October 22, 2005 literally halted the development programmes lined up for the Nigerian railway, according to Maigoro.
Romanian railway experts came after the Indians and were reportedly paid $17m to supply wagons and workshop equipment. The supplied facilities are still reportedly gathering dust at the NRC workshop in Lagos, uninstalled and may never be installed due to what an official calls ‘manual blunders’.
The Goodluck Jonathan administration also gave a considerable attention to the railway, making it one of the cardinal points of its Transformation Agenda. It received funds in essence of N1tn, which is currently under investigation at the House of Representatives.
For instance, a total of 25 new locomotives purchased by the Federal Government from the General Electric Transportation South America at a cost of N114bn were delivered to the NRC between February and October 2010 and deployed to boost train services across the country’s railway routes.
But a recent survey of all the fit locos at the corporation, according to the Secretary General of the NUR, Mr. Segun Esan, shows that less than 30 engines are still standing.
Apart from the locomotives, 366 coaches and wagons were refurbished for the NRC’s use.
It also procured two sets of diesel multiple units (trains) with a capacity for 640 passengers and six modern air-conditioned coaches with a seating capacity of 68 passengers each.
As follow up to the supply of locomotives, the GE also got the offer to assemble 200 locomotives for the NRC over a 10-year period at a plant to be established in the country. It is, however, not clear if the project has taken off.
The Managing Director of the NRC, Mr. Adeseyi Sijuade, who admits the industry still suffers from the criminal neglect of over two decades by the government, says the corporation has had to look inwards to bring back some grounded rolling stocks by way of cannibalisation.
He says, “The railway sector is one sector that has benefited from the programme (SURE-P of the Jonathan administration). Without the SURE-P intervention, there was actually no way the Lagos to Kano line would have been completed in 2012.”
In 2013, the Jonathan administration specifically promised to invest N1.6tn in the railway in two years. About 15 different railway projects were penciled down for completion by 2015.
And 13 of the projects were listed for attention in the capital projects of key federal ministries for that year.
Although the old Lagos-Kano rail line was inaugurated in December 21, 2012 after its rehabilitation, it received a vote of N1.4bn in the 2013 budget for maintenance purposes. The breakdown shows the Lagos-Jebba end and Jebba-Kano end got N700m each.
The rehabilitation of the narrow gauge Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line (an ongoing project then) was allocated N67bn; it approved N225bn for the construction of a rail line from Aba to Ajaokuta, linking Enugu, Asaba and Agbor. The government also pledged an initial sum of N48bn for the construction of the 360km rail line from Ajaokuta to Abuja through Jakura and Baro.
Similarly, the government voted N5bn for the commencement of the East-West rail line construction, expected to Lagos to Calabar.
Another long stretch of rail line, spanning 650km, received N97bn. It is a standard gauge line to cover Lagos, Ife, Ilesha, Owo, Benin, Onitsha and Enugu.
It indicated about N50.9bn would be spent to construct a 604km rail line linking Zaria-Kaura Namoda-Sokoto and Ilela.
The Abuja mass transit trains, Lot 1 & 2 projects, got N85.7bn; while the construction of the Abuja light rail received N66.3bn.
Six stations being constructed between Itakpe and Warri were allocated N475.7bn.
But the Centre for Social Justice, in its analysis of the development projects, faults the allocation of funds. For instance, it notes a difference of over 50 per cent between what was proposed in the Transformation Agenda for the railway in 2013 and the amount prepared for this in that year’s budget.
It also gives some examples of the performance pattern of government in railway project execution.
It states, “The rehabilitation of the rail track from Lagos to Jebba commenced in October 2009 and was expected to end in October 2010 at a cost of N12.29bn. There was a time overrun but despite the new completion time of July 2011, as of September 2011, only 90 per cent of the rehabilitation had been completed.”
It recalls that N1.09bn was allocated to the project in the 2011 budget; N626.69m was released but only N195.47m was utilised at the end of the third quarter of 2011.
“That it was listed in the 2013 budget suggests that it will not be completed in 2012. The impact of inadequate releases and poor utilisation of released funds on this project, as in others, informs poor implementation, leading to time and likely cost overruns, which unduly inflates the cost of projects.”
Similarly, CSJ recalls that the Jebba-Kano track rehabilitation commenced in December 2009 and was expected to end in February 2012.
It says, “N7.6bn has been committed to the project since inception and had N2bn allocation in 2011 budget with N1.6bn released as at end of the third quarter of 2011, achieving only 67 per cent level of completion.
“A time overrun is noticed in this project, which was supposed to have ended in February 2012 but still receiving budgetary allocation in 2013.”
One of projects in that year’s budget was the construction of new Lagos-Ibadan rail line on standard gauge. It received a vote of N8.6bn. The plan is to take the new line to Kano. The contract for the new Lagos-Ibadan line was later awarded to the CCECC at the cost of $1.5bn. Construction work has, however, yet to commence.
The government also provided N3.56bn in the year’s budget for the completion of the Abuja-Kaduna rail line. A total sum of N243bn was voted for the project under the Transformation Agenda.
In 2014, the Federal Government and the China Railway Construction Corporation Limited signed an $11.9bn contract to build a coastal 22-stop railway that will stretch for 1,402km linking Lagos to Calabar with the maximum speed of 120km/hour. It is said to be the China’s single largest overseas contract.
But the announcement does not appear to elicit the desired applause and excitement from the citizens, according to a public affairs analyst, Akinwumi Adedoyin, while contributing to an online report on the project published by ‘Economic Confidential’.
He says, “Nigerians have become immune to celebrating further announcements of activities aimed at the resuscitation of the rail transport due to disappointments in the past.
“Railway transportation in other parts of the world contributes immensely towards the attainment of economic and social goals but for a long time, that has not been the case for Nigeria as the sector is suffering from monumental neglect and corruption.”
Renowned economists, including Dr. Ayo Teriba and Prof. Pat Utomi, express worry about the deplorable state of the Nigerian railway despite the huge sums reportedly sunk into a number of projects meant to improve the system.
They wonder why elected leaders and government appointees have chosen to play politics with an all-important infrastructural facility like the railway that should have been the springboard for the transformation of the economy.
Teriba says no nation with the population of Nigeria can ever hope to attain economic development without an efficient railway system.
He expects the government “to do to its rail transport sector what it has beneficially done to its telecommunications sector, and has recently done to its power sector; namely, end government monopoly, carve out the country into zones and allow private firms to bid for the rights to build and/or operate rail lines under the oversight of a new regulatory body. Not just rail, but pipelines, gas, and refineries.
“If these are successfully done, manufacturing should be expected to become spontaneously competitive and manufacturing exports should grow. Not just manufacturing will benefit. All other sectors will benefit from the competitiveness and scale that functioning cargo rail transport system will afford.”
The President, African Railway Workers’ Union, Mr. Raphael Okoro, blames the Federal Ministry of Transport for preparing contract terms and executing the execution without the imput of relevant experts from the NRC.
“All railway contracts are initiated and executed by the Ministry of Transport. For instance, you go to purchase railway locomotives and leave out NRC engineers. Lack of proper monitoring has been largely responsible for the failure of many railway projects,” he says.
The Secretary, NUR, Segun Esan, also says, “As a union, we’re not in the know how the railway rehabilitation package is put in place. But whenever we notice that something is wrong in the execution of any project, we raise a query through the NRC management.
“There is a need for the government to always carry the workers along in the planning and execution of vital railway projects.”
Like Okoro, Esan urges the government to constitute a high-powered team made up of respected railway experts, trusted opinion leaders, human right lawyers and workers’ leaders that will be saddled with the task of assessing railway project proposals and monitor the execution of the job.
The multi-billionaire light rail project of the Lagos State Government cannot be operated unless the Railway Act, 1955 is repealed or amended. This Act gives the NRC the exclusive right to run railway services in Nigeria. A bill seeking an amendment to the Act has reportedly undergone the second reading at the Senate, many years after it was sent there by the Executive.
Okoro advises the state governors across the six regions in Nigeria to pool resources together for the establishment of regional railway using the vehicle of Pubic Private Partnership for effective delivery and management. For instance, he advises that the new Lagos-Ibadan rail line can be funded by the South-West governments since the line will pass through states in this region.
The governors are also enjoined to lobby the National Assembly to speed up the Railway Act amendment process. Copyright PUNCH.