FIRST indigenous Managing Director of Nigeria Railway Corporations, NRC, Elder Nathaniel Okoro has frowned at the Federal Government’s purported plan to establish a University of Transportation in Daura, Katsina State, saying such an institution can only make sense if targeted to serve Niger Republic.
The former managing director who also served as a Technical Adviser to the Corporation from 1985 to 1987, argued that the proposed Daura Transportation University cannot serve any useful purpose since there is a similar institution, the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT), just 287 kilometers away in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Returning Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who disclosed the plan during an inspection of Lagos-Ibadan railway project said the proposed university will provide more manpower for Nigeria’s railway, adding that similar plans are also underway to manufacture wagons and coaches at Kajola, Oyo State.
According to the minister; “we are insisting that they can’t continue to manufacture coaches and wagons in China and sell to us, so as part of the benefit we will get out of the contract we have given them, they will build a factory in Kajola. For now they will manufacture wagons but they will progress from wagons to coaches and locomotives”.
In a 17-paragraph memo made available to Vanguard yesterday, the 88-year old railway enthusiast and consultant, Elder Okoro said: “Nigeria has already established the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT), Zaria designed, recognized and registered as a regional technological institution courtesy of the Union of African Railways Assisted by the World Bank.
“Under my watch as managing director/president of Chartered Institue of Transport/acting Vice President (West Africa) Union of African Railways, the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT) was established in 1987 via Decree No. 6 of March 14 (now CAP 116 of the Federal Laws of Nigeria). The institute had since operated as a Transport Management Development and Research Institute for Nigeria and the West African sub region,” the elder statesman explained.
Elder Okoro lamented that the said NITT, Zaria which was planned for the development of technical, technological, operational and management as well as research manpower for succession planning and technological development in the transportation and industrial sectors of the national economy has largely been neglected and unequipped to deliver on its mandate.
He argued that NITT which was designed and registered as a regional technological institution by the Union of African Railways (UAR) assisted by the World Bank, has over the years been forced by its unimpressive environment “to reluctantly put on a garment of management training institute similar to CMD and ASCON.”
Okoro therefore argued that instead of another white elephant project in the railway sub-sector, the money earmarked for the Daura university should rather be
ploughed into the revitalization of the under-utilized NITT to serve the region and beyond to produce needed manpower development needs.
Not impressed by the decay in the industry traceable to several factors, Elder Okoro noted that up to 1987, the Nigeria Railway Management still networked with specialized railway institutions in the UK, India, Canada and the US for intensive and expansive training of railway personnel of the key departments, lamenting that majority of such highly trained and experienced railway engineers were thrown out through unproductive 35/60 years Compulsory Retirement Policy of 1986/1987.
“It threw highly trained and experienced railway engineers, technicians and technologists and operating specialists into the dung heap to wallow and wangle into oblivion and at national expense,” he stated.
Continuing, Elder Okoro further argued that the nation also damaged its hands and feet through inconsistent national policies that are not based on emperical investigations; such as “when through divestment, the NRC compromised the maintenance of the Department Training Schools and Technical Institutes (civil, mechanical/electrical, traffic, signals.)”
The seasoned railway consultant also took the Transportation minister to task on the ministry’s plan to build a plant for the manufacture of railway materials in Ogun State, reminding the minister of existing workshops owned by the NRC for the production of materials in various railway locations.
He listed some of such workshops to include: Diesel Locomotives Workshops at Ebute Meta, Enugu and Zaria; Millwright Shop at Ebute Meta and Enugu; Manufacture (Foundry) Plants at Ebute Meta and Enugu; Train Signal Workshops at Ebute Meta,Zaria and Kaduna; and the Civil Engineering Works at Ebute Meta, Ibadan, Zaria, Bauchi, Kafanchan and Enugu.
Given that the railway is highly critical to an economy such as ours, Elder Okoro therefore wanted to know if the Minister of Transportation if there are still left technocrats within the Nigerian railway space to guide decision makers on railway capital projects.
“In the past and by culture railway technical, operating and finance departments were involved with initiation and processing of railway capital projects. They didn’t just descend from the ministry for execution by strange contractors imposed on the railway.
“It should also be a righteous expectation for the Ministry of Transport to inform Iberians the extent to which previous capital projects have been completed or what became of them before Nigerians get to be informed on any new project apparently negotiated by the ministry, obviously from a position of weakness,” he stated, warning that no railway man with railway fire in his bones would be excited by new contract noise.
“We have been there before. I recall that under Abacha’s administration, Nigeria invested $526million for the Nigerian Railways Modernisation Programme between 1996 and 1999. The contractor was China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC. The result: Contract structure was ill-defined leading to confusion and nothing to show for it. No one was called to question as far as I know,” the elder statesman lamented.