18 June 2012

Nigeria: Tell Me How Long the Plane's Been Gone


AS I watched the usually very beautiful Stella Oduah Ogienwonyi, Minister of Aviation, painfully explain to the nation the issues surrounding the Dana airplane crash, one could tell she would rather be found elsewhere, in more buoyant spirits. This certainly was not her turf, nor was it her routine. But you see, we never know what may prevail when duty calls.

And so to announce the beginning of the second half of the year, we must suffer all these multi-dimensional fatalities. Stella could only commiserate with the families of the 153 or more lives lost in the air crash.

She couldn't do more. No one reminded her that our Allied Cargo plane that travelled to Ghana a day or so earlier did not return. It also crashed there and all the 10-man crew and or occupants [ for indeed these planes often travel with certain human cargo, especially of the female sort, that don't get manifested at all] lost their lives.

In the same day, we also learnt of how another 12 or more were despatched quickly to heaven in a church bombing somewhere in Bauchi by people whose notions of worship of God is steeped only in violence and murder. Earlier in the day, Governor Al Makura was on AIT pleading with the two ethnic groups in his Nasarawa State to sheathe their swords after decimating over 100 of each other.

Finally, no less a personality as President Goodluck Jonathan would finally lament the tragedies and slam a three-day mourning on the nation. As with most issues preceding this one, the Farouk Usman's subsidy probe report, Petroleum industry Bill, the stock exchange mess, etc, etc; this too shall pass, no matter who or how many died.

Noting our legendary attention span as a government and as a people, let me suggest that these fatalities and intermittent rude tragedy can be drastically reduced if President Jonathan could just give us modern high speed rail. This is certainly not beyond our capacity to fund. Moreover, we will pay for our train rides the GSM way, so no one comes around to cut off the rail tracks like PHCN would.

Just to give us an idea. In the year of our Lord 2010, the Australian government commissioned a $20 million study into high speed rail for her east coast corridor between Newcastle and Sydney covering a distance of about 150 miles. The report was completed the following year 2011, revealing that Australia needed between $61 billion and $108 billion to accomplish the project.

I do not see how this, at whatever exchange rate, can surpass the entire N1.3 trillion already salted away as evident from the Hon Farouk Lawan subsidy probe. We, the travelling public, again will pay. In case, we are confused about how to achieve this, let us again, ask the Chinese.

In this way the import of President Jonathan's declared period of mourning and sober reflection will have made better sense. Apart from the 153 who will never arrive Lagos and possibly President Jonathan, no man can arrive Lagos from Abuja by air in an hour.

The average time it takes anyone to do this trip is four hours: travel time to airport, check-in formalities, wait/delays for endless presidential movements plus travel from destination airport to home. In less than three hours a modern day Eurostar normal speed [not high speed or the maglev] train would have arrived Lagos with over 1000 passengers, and possibly headed for Lome to boot. Enough of these callous politicisation of the transportation sector and unsavoury enthronement of motor park arrangements in buying a handful of buses for national union of road transport workers.

Transportation is both the engine and the wheel of any economy. It is the only mechanism that drives the economy 24 hours as well as defines the living conditions of any people. That is why the whole of Europe moves by rail. The rich and vast American landscape is revealed by the rail. Most business and pleasurable journeys in the USA today are done by rail. As for India and Pakistan, trains serve to directly and yet subtly mitigate poverty.

The poor travel free, in that wealthier passengers in the first class and business class compartments help defray the ticket cost of the passengers in the lower compartments, with everyone arriving at the same time. Else, we might yet be asking again how long the train, nay, plane's been gone.

Mr. SAM EKELEDO, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.

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