With the December 2018 completion date of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail project being handled by the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC) no longer feasible, the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) has called on local engineers to understudy the different standards and designs in countries that have modern railways to revolutionize Nigeria’s rail transport.
It would be recalled that Rotimi Amaechi, Nigeria’s transport minister, had in September during his monthly inspection tour of the Lagos-Ibadan railway project expressed dismay with the slow pace of work along the corridor.
The $1.6 billion project, which is a deal with the Chinese government, is expected to be commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari this month. The Federal Government has already paid N72 billion counterpart funding for the project.
When completed, the Lagos-Ibadan-Kano 1,800-kilometre distance standard gauge rail line is expected to hasten movement of goods and services between the northern and southern parts of Nigeria, improve commerce, reduce the pressure on roads and boost economic and social activities along the corridor.
Meanwhile, the NSE has called on the private sector to take advantage of the huge investment opportunities in the rail sector to increase local earnings, create jobs and ensure rapid industrialisation.
It urged the engineers to always insist on quality during contract awards and project execution to ensure durable infrastructure in the country.
Members of the society disclosed that more Nigerian engineers needed to go into politics so as to evolve the right policies to ensure rapid infrastructure delivery.
They spoke against the backdrop of the 2018 Annual Dinner and Induction of new members by the Apapa branch of the NSE, recently.
Anthony Onyokoko, director, Civil Engineering/New Lines, Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Lagos, said there was need for local engineers to understand the designs running the railway system in order to make impact.
Onyokoko said there were huge investment opportunities in the rail sector, which government could not handle alone and therefore, local engineers must understand the various design standards.
He said all the designs could be used together irrespective of their ages, arguing that, the sector was ripe for investments in various aspects, which the private sector should partner government to harness.
The NRC official explained that when the corporation was established in the 18th Century, it started with the British technology and along the line, other countries made inputs, contributing new designs. Nigeria was currently using the Chinese standard for its ongoing new rail projects.
“The only thing is that there are multiplicity of standards, what we need to do as engineers is to adapt to these standards and see how we can come out of the woods without having too much problems in the operations.
“Through Private Public Partnership (PPP), they could try to remodel the stations. We have a lot of stations and they need to be updated,’’ he said.
While delivering a lecture, entitled “The Nigerian Railways: Challenges and Prospects,” Onyokoko, who was guest speaker, said the Federal Government had a 25-year plan to resuscitate the railway, saying the Olusegun Obasanjo administration began the implementation, which had been sustained.
The director recalled that railway services started in Nigeria 1898, and after the exit of the colonial masters, the challenges of the NRC was compounded because British standard was used and they left when there was not enough skilled railway engineers, leaving a vacuum.
Musiliu Agoro, chairman, Lagos branch of NSE, urged engineers to go the extra mile to study and understand all the standards of the British, European, Chinese and other countries’ designs running the rail in Nigeria to be able to take over.
“There can only be technology transfer if we take the bull by the horns to know all the standards. We cannot wait for them (expatriates) because they want us to keep depending on them,” he said.
Sunny Ejeje, chairman, Apapa branch of NSE, said the branch was passionate about resolving issues of gridlock in Apapa causing huge revenue losses, hence, its decision to evolve discourse around improving the rail transport.
“NSE has been going round to see how the politicians can have trust in Nigerian engineers. If local engineers are well paid, they will perform, if they are given the kind of leverage given to their foreign counterparts, they will do well.
“Bringing in the foreigners here is a political thing, engineers are being told to move into politics to shape policies in the right direction,’’ he said.