Nigeria: Should Government Build Rail Lines?

23 July 2021

I have spent the past weeks thinking of the problems of Nigeria. I have made copious iterations of solutions as regards the infrastructural deficit in Nigeria which needs a colossal amount of money to reduce. In fact Nigerian infrastructural neglect has become a black hole that nobody can fill and the shocking reality is that this hole keeps opening more holes for corruption. To put a figure to it, over 100billion dollars spending year- on- year for 30 years.

When I see the rail road projects we have done, at first I look critically by saying is it really worth the cost of the heavy loans and spending and what is the fraction frittered away in corruption? It has to be said because we see the cost of rail projects in other parts of Africa and the cost of this same project in Nigeria is many times higher. What is shocking for me is that we have taken close to 10 billion dollars in debt to run various rail projects only to have trains still breaking down between the Kaduna and Abuja route. I recently asked the Minister of Transportation how much is the cost per kilometer of rail track and he said he didn't have the figure in his head. That got me thinking. I have further thought about the economic viability of the Kano to Maradi line and the cost of trade between Kano and Maradi. I dare ask again: should government be building rail lines?

America has one of the most expansive rail lines - about 257,000km and most of these lines were built by privately- owned companies and they are run for effective productivity. (Nigeria has less than 10,000km of rail lines). The name Cornelius Vanderbilt comes to mind for his very influential role in building more lines. I would have thought that the government of Nigeria would have made it a private sector- led market and in the worst case scenario own a little fraction of the product rather than spending the infrastructure money on rail when Nigeria needs a lot of social welfare spending on education and health. It would interest you to know that's Vanderbilt only got the right of way in America and he controlled these underlisted rail stations in New York and Harlem Railroad (1863-), Hudson River Railroad (1864-)

New York Central Railroad (1868-), Canada Southern Railway (1873-)[33], Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway (1873?-) Michigan Central Railroad (1877-)[34]

New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate Road, 1882-), West Shore Railroad (1885-) Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad, Dunkirk, Allegheny Valley and Pittsburgh Railroad, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway

Lake Erie and Western Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad.

I think the approach for Nigeria is to liberalize the rail sector and allow for private investment and private companies to run them. In England there are private companies running different routes and lines. From Virgin train to Tata communications that runs the Paddington to Heathrow service. We can do better with infrastructural funding and kudos on the formation of INFRACO. It would help raise more capital for infrastructure.

Rufai Oseni, rufaioseni@gmail.com

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