Reporter : CHRISTIAN NWANGENE
Some concerned residents of Enugu State have expressed worry that the Eastern District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation NRC, has not witnessed rail services for some years now.
This is largely due to vandalism of railway track materials and non availability of the required rolling stock for effective train operations.
Also, rail tracks, bolts, and slippers are being vandalized at will by hoodlums almost on daily basis and it appears the security agencies, whose duty it is to protect these facilities are being overwhelmed.
Rail transportation is considered one of the best means of transportation globally.
In the post-colonial era, rail was the pride of the nation, and the sector generated a lot of revenue for the country.
Going forward, in the seventies, train was regarded as the major means of transportation, especially in conveying coal, agricultural produce, petroleum products and heavy equipment.
However today, due to the non functionality of the rail system, most of these cargoes are transported by road resulting sometimes in road accidents and terrible fires by fallen fuel tankers with the attendant loss of lives and property.
Train services in the country had not been steady for reasons ranging from inability of the government to upgrade rail services by providing modern trains, and other infrastructure necessary for rail operations.
In the meantime, while rail services are being revived in many parts of the country, the Eastern District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation seems to have been forgotten.
The Eastern District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) for instance has not witnessed rail services for some years now as available infrastructure, including rail tracks, bolts, and slippers are being vandalized.
The Eastern District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation covers rail services in Ebonyi, Rivers, Abia, and Imo States with headquarters in Enugu State.
A visit to some facilities of the Nigerian Railway Corporation in Enugu shows the level of rot and decay that it has undergone over the years due to neglect.
A district that was once famous and in competition with districts such as Lagos in terms of high revenue generation, cannot boast of a single train movement presently.
While most of the rail tracks have been vandalized, the old coaches that litter the surroundings now compete for spaces with wild shrubs and grasses.
The ticketing point at the Enugu station is deserted, the station’s loading point, and waiting bay have also been overgrown with bushes.
An Enugu based Lawyer, Mr. Chukwunonso Ogbe, said he was disappointed with the level decay of infrastructure in the zone.
Mr. Ogbe was concerned with the barrage of court cases bothering on destruction and theft of the rail infrastructure.
He blamed the stealing of the facilities on the abandonment and moribund nature of the rail system.
“Most of the railway routes in the old Eastern region have been converted to residential and commercial apartments, owing to the collapse of rail transport in this part of the country.
“Furthermore, it has become a common scenario to witness the arraignment of criminal suspects in courts, who are alleged to have tampered with, and stolen the facilities as well as equipment of the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
“The cases of theft of equipments of the Nigerian Railway Corporation would not have been on the increase, if the establishment is still alive in this part of the country.
“This heartrending state of our railway in Eastern Nigeria was not the case when the exploration of coal in commercial quantity held sway in the present day city of Enugu, in which cargo trains were used in conveying coal from Enugu to Port-Harcourt, for onward export to foreign lands, he noted sadly.
Mr. Ogbe expressed dismay with the huge revenue loss, job loss and inability to create more jobs due to the non functionality of the railway.
“Moreover, government generated reasonable revenue from the Railway Corporation when the railway stations were functional in the Eastern part of the country, considering that many Nigerians of the Igbo ethnic group are known to be people who travel a lot. The beehive of economic activities usually witnessed in many railway stations is now a thing of the past.
The Enugu based legal practitioner further blamed the constant damage and failure of roads on overweight arsing from use of numerous articulated vehicles to convey goods that trains would ordinarily have transported.
“Many people now travel by road in Eastern Nigeria, with the attendant adverse effect same has on our federal and State roads.
“The ease of moving goods, especially farm produce from Eastern Nigeria to other parts of the country has stalled the growth of economic activities.
“Some people are deterred from travelling by road, save when inevitable, because of the bad state of many roads in Eastern Nigeria, which would not have been the case if the rail networks were in a functional state, as rail transport is safer.
“Many of the heavy goods which are conveyed by heavy duty commercial vehicles on Eastern roads, do take a toll on our roads, with the attendant weakening of roads in Eastern Nigeria.
“This unfortunate development is at variance with what obtains in other parts of the country, as railway transportation is beginning to breathe the air of life under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari in many other parts of the country.
“It is hoped that the railway networks in Eastern Nigeria, which has become moribund, would be reinvigorated to help create a regime of ease of doing business, as well as economic diversification,” Mr. Ogbe prayed.
Similarly, a public affairs analyst, Mr. Abuchi Anuenyiagu, said it was unfortunate that the eastern flank, which was the hub of rail transportation in Nigeria, had been allowed to suffocate.
Mr. Anuenyiagu stated that the country had lost huge revenue due to the neglect of the sector and this had adversely affected the economy of the areas.
“It is nothing to write home about as it is in the present circumstance, then which organization is loosing? It is Nigeria that is loosing; loosing revenue, loosing in everything as it concerns rail transportation,” he stated.
Mr. Anuenyiagu called on the Federal Government to resuscitate the sector.
“They should look towards the East and do the right thing, and reactivate and revive the old thriving business of rail transport in the Eastern flank of the country.
“Think of Enugu, think of Portharcourt-Enugu linking Maiduguri linking even Kaduna, Jos, Otukpo, Makurdi and all these other places.
“It is a huge massive revenue point that they are neglecting,” Mr. Anueyiagu remarked.
The District Manager of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Eastern District Headquarters, Enugu, Mr. Olusoji Osidipe, told Radio Nigeria that the major challenge hampering rail services in the area was vandalism of its property by criminal elements.
Mr. Osidipe said over eighty percent of rail tracks scattered in different locals in the district had been carted away by the marauding vandals.
Mr. Osidipe, however revealed that the Federal Government was making a move to revive operations in the area with the expected ground breaking ceremony for the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri line in March 2021, while rehabilitation work would commence on the 120 kilometer narrow gauge line up to Umuahia, Enugu, down to Makurdi, and Kafanchan.
According to Mr. Osidipe, the ground breaking ceremony in March would give fresh impetus to rail services in the eastern zone, but maintained that, relevant stakeholders in the zone must take steps to safeguard facilities in their domains.