A regional railway advocacy group, the African Railway Roundtable has defended the need for the unbundling of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, declaring that breaking the corporation into relevant sub-agencies is not the same as privatization”
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 labor leadership. “Beyond all threats and others, the government only re-emphasized 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 resolved.
“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 privatization 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 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 expectations of the modern railway industry. While I agree labor unions should be part of the unbundling committee, it is important for the labor leadership to get the message right as running away from reform of NRC is its3lf an anti-labor stance.
“Today workers of Nigerian Railways are the most poorly paid. The career prospect is low and the agency itself is so archaic in almost all spheres. Reforming the NRC will not lead to the sack of workers but a better way to open up upward mobility, better pay, and improved career prospects. How can NRC be against reform without which it cannot progress? Why will labor be in support of a system that currently pauperizes its members and block career progress for many patriots? Why will labor be supportive of killing all bills designed to bring new structures 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, regulator, and infrastructure manager? It is not just unsustainable but against the national interest.
“Labour should also be aware that all presidential contenders are in support of unbundling of the Nigerian railways. Whoever wins the 2023 presidential race will surely push for the passage of the National Transport Commission bill. That is the only route to revolutionizing the Nigerian transport sector.
“One can only implore the Minister of Transportation to energize the unbundling committee and include a labor 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.