A regional railway advocacy group, the African Railway Roundtable has defended the need for the unbundling of Nigerian Railway Corporation, declaring that breaking the corporation into relevant sub-agencies is not the same as privatisation.
In a statement by its Director, Olawale Rasheed, the group said the recent statement of the Nigerian Transportation Minister was largely misconstrued by the rail labour leadership. “Beyond all threats and others, the government only re-emphasised the need for the unbundling of the corporation to ensure its sustainability.
“In this sense, the minister, Mu’azu Jaji Sambo was only restating existing government policy to break the NRC into at least four groups in line with international best practices. Previous leadership of the ministry had set up an unbundling committee under the leadership of the then Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki. The committee could not go far before the cabinet resolve.
“The terms of reference of the committee include studying and making recommendations for the unbundling of the Nigerian Railway Corporation into four separate companies namely operations, infrastructures management, regulations and marketing. There was never a place where the question of privatisation was raised.
“The minister only repeated what everybody knows that the Nigerian Railway Corporation cannot be the owner, operator and regulator at the same time, noting: “The private sector is the engine of growth. Let someone else operate your lines efficiently”. As it is the 1958 NRC Act is an impediment to the growth and development of the sector. The law is not only antiquated but the NRC itself is a colonial structure incapable of meeting the needs and expectation of modern railways industry. While we agree that labour union should be part of the unbundling committee, it is important for the labour leadership to get the message right as running away from reform of NRC is itself an anti-labour stance.
“Today workers of Nigerian Railways are the most poorly paid. Career prospect is low and the agency itself is so archaic in almost all sphere. Reforming the NRC will not lead to sack of workers but a better way to open up upward mobility, better pay and improved career prospect. How can NRC be against reform without which it cannot progress? Why will labour be in support of a system that currently pauperise her members and block career progress for many patriots? Why will labour be supportive of killing all bills designed to bring new structure and methods to better the lots of union members.
“The fact is that Nigeria needs a national transport commission law that will repeal the colonial NRC act. The NRC itself needs to split into a regulatory agency, a national operator to compete with other operators and a national rail infrastructure agency. How can NRC remain the operator, the regulator and infrastructure manager? It is not just unsustainable but against national interest.
“Labour should also be aware that all presidential contenders are in support of unbundling of the Nigerian railways. Whoever wins 2023 presidential race will surely push for the passage of the National Transport Commission bill. That is the only route to revolutionising the Nigerian transport sector.
“One can only implore the Minister of Transportation to energise the unbundling committee and include a labour representative. Unbundling the NRC is a national imperative. If telecommunication, aviation, maritime, power and oil and gas can be reformed, why not the rail sector?”, the group queried.