The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has lost billions of naira in the last five years in the south- east geopolitical zone for not operating the Eastern railway line – Port Harcourt to Makurdi via Enugu.
Investigations revealed that a train of eight coaches from Port Harcourt to Enugu makes not less than N2 million per a trip.
When Businessday visited the NRC office in Enugu, Olusoji Osidipe, the district manager, East Wing, who confirmed that railway has not operated in the zone for the past five years, said, it was as a result of vandalization of the rail lines by unknown individuals. He blamed the perpetrators for not understanding the importance of the rail lines to the economic development of the area.
He called on the villagers to assist the Nigerian Railway Cooperation in monitoring the rail tracks to stop the vandalization. He also appealed to the Federal Government to make laws that would prohibit buying and selling of railway materials from iron melting companies without clearing from the NRC as one of the measures to stopping vandalization of railway lines in many parts of the country.
Osidipe also said erosion and landslide have equally affected many areas of the rail tracks in the Eastern district, as well as the weakness of some rail bridges.
Our investigations further revealed that despite the so-called vandalization, which was occasioned by disuse of the rail lines by NRC for a long time, many parts of the rail lines between Aba in Abia State passing through Enugu to Makurdi have gone bad, and some rail bridges need urgent reconstruction before train can pass on them comfortably.
The reason for Nigeria Railway to have abandoned the Enugu – Port Harcourt rail line immediately after the last administration five years ago cannot be understood because the contract to rehabilitate the rail line from Port Harcourt to Makurdi was awarded during the last administration to Eser West African Company Limited by the administration of former president Goodluck Johnathan. This company allegedly completed the contract by 2014, and train operations began from Port Harcourt passing Enugu to Makurdi.
The sudden stop that led to the vandalization as was said by the district manager, was the question many people are asking.
All the business activities along the sub-stations have stopped drastically. Petty traders have been forced out of business, with special reference to Enugu where the railway station was a very big commercial area. All these are gone. Today, the Enugu Railway Station looks like a ghost village, as old coaches are seen in every corner of the station.
Despite the fact that the railway line in Eastern District is not functional, all the Federal roads are receiving little or no attention. The Enugu – Port Harcourt expressway, Enugu – Onitsha Road and many other roads in the south- east are not passable, a situation that speaks volume to the business activities of the people of the south-east.
Also, today the Federal Government has closed down Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu to effect repairs on the runways. President Muhammadu Buhari recently approved N10 billion for the repairs, but since a month ago, work is yet to start at the airport. It was announced that the project would be ready before December 2019. But now the minister of Aviation said it is April 2020 for the airport’s reopening.
Fillers from most people are that the action was politically motivated. “How can you treat a people like this. This present government awarded new railway contracts to where they were no rails before. What stops them from ensuring that the railway line from Port Harcourt to Makurdi which has been existing for decades, is rehabilitated. Our roads are also used for politics,” said a manufacturer. However, Okechukwu, a manufacturer, said he thanked the President for approving money for the Akanu Ibiam Airport’s repairs. He urged the Aviation minister to show seriousness by bringing the contractors to site, and making sure the work was going on. “This is the only international airport we have in the South-east,” he said.