The presidency explained that the purchase of the locomotives, which would take about eight to 10 months to deliver, was key to the revival of the nation’s railway system.
This development is to enliven the nation’s rail system, preparatory to its concession in June 2010.
This is also regarded as a starting point in fashioning a sound master-plan for the nation’s transportation system.
Getting an overall master plan for transportation in Nigeria has been a major concern of several of it’s past political actors.
An attempt was made by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, through the then minister of transport –current Minister of Foreign Affairs — Chief Ojo Maduekwe.
Maduekwe claimed to have masterminded the first integrated master plan for transportation in Nigeria when he caused the Federal Ministry of Transport to enter a contractual obligation with Julius Berger Nigeria Plc. in 2002, to design a world-standard transportation network for the country.
His argument then was that Nigeria, with a land area of 924,000 square kilometres and more than 140 million people, deserved a befitting transportation network.
He observed that past administrations did little to sensitise the public on the importance of a standard transportation Master Plan and many Nigerians did not even see a reason for it.
Maduekwe reasoned that a comprehensive transportation master plan would serve as a guideline and statement of intent for the government.
So, in conjunction with the Nigerian Institute of Transportation Technology (NITT), Zaria, Julius Berger would design and develop a Master Plan for an Integrated Transportation Infrastructure (MITI), consulting Albert Speer and Partner — a German firm.
Maduekwe described the project as “a well researched study which outlined all necessary measures to be adopted towards establishing an integrated nationwide transportation infrastructure”.
He said that the project would “guarantee a safe, sufficient, comfortable and sustainable inter-regional traffic flow across the nation by the year 2020”.
He spoke in consonance with the target, as presented by the consultant: “To present a guideline towards developing the nation’s transportation infrastructure, thereby providing inter-regional connectivity among the major activity centers”.
Generally, MITI seeks to support the government policy of regional and sectoral development, increase the average travel speeds and reduce trip duration.
The project was to be completed within 25 years, with modern developments in all modes of transportation.
The plan involves the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) as regards the transportation of petroleum products; road transportation; Nigeria Inland Waterways; railways and any other modes.
As laudable as the project appeared, critics picked holes in its implementation regarding the expectations of Nigerians, the quality of the project and its benefits.
Alhaji Adamu Bello and Chief Anthony Anenih, former ministers of Agriculture, Works and Housing, respectively, protested certain sections of the master plan, bordering on the adoption of narrow as against standard gauge in the rail system.
They raised concerns on the absence of feeder roads, as well as strategic grains reserve that were incorporated in the proposal.
The then chairman of the Senate committee on Marine Transport, Senator Martin Yellowe and chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Transport, Okey Udeh, said the master plan for Integrated Transport Infrastructure (MITI) as proposed, would facelift the county’s transportation system.
However, the duo asked that the project would not be abandoned by subsequent administrations.
Yellowe, in one of the sittings of the Senate Committee on Transport said: “The master plan is excellent but the problem will be the Nigerian factor which is lack of continuity.
“Once a new government comes in, the master plan will be jettisoned.
“The other issue to be addressed is the interest of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc in the master plan.
“They have done a good job and should leave the implementation to others and not wait to implement. I hope they do not have a permanent interest in the project.”
While defending the MITI in the National Assembly, Maduekwe convinced Nigerians that the project would develop every aspect of the economy.
He said the government would ensure the implementation of the transport master plan and justified the interest of Julius Berger in the project as “legitimate”.
“Berger has an interest and a legitimate one at that. If the system fails, they will be the casualties. They made their contributions responsibly”, he said.
Though, MITI provided a coherent and data based multi-modal plan for the transport sector, the present government has yet to show interest in the project.
With a budgetary allocation of N35.2billion to the transport sector in the current fiscal year, it is not certain if the ministry would be able to implement part of the project.
A source in the Ministry of Transport said that though the project was not popular in the present administration’s agenda, it had taken the “rail transport more seriously, rather than embarking on the whole project”.
“Not much about the master plan in the Ministry and of course, no monetary provisions for any long-term project”.
Mr Clement Iloba, Public Relations Adviser to Julius Berger Nigeria Plc., said that the company conceived an idea to provide a workable master plan for the country gradually for a period of 25 years.
Iloba added, however, that but since the administration that initiated it left, nothing had been heard of the project.
He said the master plan would have developed all modes of transportation in the country, so much so that the country would be able boast of being one of the best countries with reliable transportation system in the world.
Iloba stressed that Julius Berger, with other partners, would be ready to undertake the project, if backed by a strong political will.
He said the Federal Government was also desirous of improving the Inland waterways, to facilitate the movement of goods and services in the country.
But analysts say there can be alternatives to providing master plan on transportation without necessarily making recourse to the government.
The current Minister of Transportation, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio, said that a bill to amend the Nigerian Rail Act would be presented to the National Assembly, to enable private sector participation in the operation of rail transportation in the country.
He said the rail system would be liberalised to facilitate private sector participation, adding that Yar’Adua had set a 44-week target for the rehabilitation of tracks and delivery of the locomotives.
“We don’t want the Nigerian Railway to be run by government any longer, because past experiences had shown that if you use the same management system, it will still collapse”.
Bio said the Federal Government was also desirous of improving the Inland Water Ways Corporation, to facilitate the movement of goods and services in the country.
Dr Kabir Mato, a political scientist and senior lecturer at the University of Abuja, suggested a presentation of a bill before the National Assembly, seeking the removal of the provision of rail transportation from the exclusive responsibility of the Federal Government.
Citing Kaduna State as an example, he said it was only the State that was running intra-state railway services to the masses.
Mato said if state governments and private investors could emulate Gov. Mohammed Sambo of Kaduna state, there would not be need for the Federal Government to undertake a costly master plan for transportation.
“The only thing that would be left for the government would be to regulate the activities of the investors and within a short time, a credible world-standard master plan would be in place,” he said.
Kaduna State runs intra-city railway services to the public in collaboration with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC).