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Railways and Politics

At independence in 1960, Nigerians inherited a vibrant, buoyant, flourishing and efficient railway system from the colonial administration. Although the single-track narrow-gauge network ran diagonally across the country, it was well able to haul all the agricultural products grown in the far north to the seaports at Lagos and Port Harcourt. The contribution of groundnuts from northern Nigeria, palm oil from eastern Nigeria and cacao from western Nigeria to the flourishing Nigerian economy at the time are reminders of the good old railway era.
However, further development of the railways was abandoned in favour of road transport by successive governments. Roads were expanded without any consideration of the attendant effects such as road traffic accidents, pollution, congestion, parking, etc. Some highways were constructed parallel to railway lines, resulting in competition rather than a complementary role between road and rail transport. The differences in allocation of funds for railway and road transport by the government are shown in Figure 3, and this trend still haunts railway development today.


Similarly, at independence in 1960, NRC had 257 locomotives, 339 carriages and 3885 freight wagons to serve an estimated population of about 21 million people over 3505 route-km. However, by 1995, the rolling stock levels had dropped to 70 locomotives (with 50% daily availability from 1995–96), 150 carriages and 1500 freight wagons to serve an estimated population of about 88.5 million people.


Nigeria covers 923,768 kmē but there are still only 3505 route-km of railways, of which 1788 km are sharp curves. They are all single-track 1067-mm gauge with either steel or timber sleepers. A short 75-km standard-gauge section is under construction between Ajaokuta and Warri and there are plans to extend this line to the new capital of Abuja. By comparison, in 1992, there were 32,180 km of all-weather federal roads not including state and rural roads
 
Concurrent with the progressive increase in the total length of all roads from about 72,000 km in 1962 to about 150,000 km in the mid 1980s, the number of airports increased from 2 in 1970 to 16 in 1990. By contrast, the length of railway network stayed constant at 3505 route-km over the last 100 years. For comparison, the Japanese railway network expanded progressively from 0 to about 27,000 km between 1872 and 1998.
These shocking statistics point out the urgent need to redesign, expand and renovate the Nigerian railway into an efficient nationwide network serving both industrial and agricultural zones and facilitating development of the cash-crop economy in the hinterlands as well. A similar far-sighted approach is needed for dealing with the traffic snarls and urban sprawl in the new industrial and commercial zones across Nigeria.
Figure 2 clearly shows the high disparity in rail coverage in each state and is another justification for private involvement in railway development

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