Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, has said that an overhaul of the rail transportation system is crucial for successful diversification of the nation’s economy and increased earnings from non-oil investments.
Amaechi made this known at a one-day Agri-produce and Solid Minerals Rail conference held in Abuja to highlight the role of rail transport in guaranteeing food security and diversification of the economy.
According to him, the rail system supported the Nigerian economy in the mid-70s to harness solid minerals such as coal, iron ore, granite, limestone, tin, kaolin, uranium, among others, These includes agricultural produce like groundnuts and cocoa which were used to sustain the economy.
Amaechi who was represented by the ministry’s Director of Rail, Mr. Mohammed Babakobi, stated that Nigeria’s rail sector began to suffer collapse from 1972 when the mining sector was privatised, leading to massive disinvestment in the sector.
He further stressed that shift from agriculture to newly-found oil and gas business led to eventual setback of the nation’s rail system of transportation, adding that by 1984, the railway system had been grounded to a halt. He said that it was in 2002 that the Federal Government began processes to revive the sector.
Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello said rail transportation is key to economic growth of any nation, saying that Nigeria cannot be an exception.
He said that revamp of the rail system and construction of new ones would create room for healthy competition among the various seaports, even as the six dry-ports will come into active use all year round.
Meanwhile, representative of Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF), Vidhi Mohan, a DFID-funded infrastructure consulting organisation, said over-dependence on government for funding of rail sector and other modes of transport is a best practice, saying that concessions should be made to encourage private sector handling and operation of the rail system for optimal capacity.