ON August 7 the Lagos Daily Trust reported that Nigerian Railway Corp had launched ’a massive rail expansion programme throughout the country’, made possible by the arrival of long-awaited consignments of imported track materials that were being distributed to key locations. NRC Assistant Director of Public Relations David Ndakosu was quoted, saying that the China Civil Engineering Construction Co was deploying staff to supervise the project in various locations. Work included replacement of bridges and the easing of curves to allow trains to run at 100 km/h.

Two weeks later, during a visit by the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Wang Yongqui, Minister for Transport Dr Abiye Precious Sekibo appealed to Chinese businessmen to invest in NRC - China has a long-standing relationship with NRC, with a fleet of 50 diesel locos, plus air-conditioned coaches and wagons supplied in 1998. Yongqui called for ’a joint business venture between Nigeria and China in the management of the Nigerian Railway’, one objective being to use Chinese expertise to improve NRC’s fragile performance.

Just how precarious NRC’s existence turned out to be was revealed a few days later when Sekibo suddenly changed his mind. Speaking at the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology on August 29, he formally pronounced the NRC as ’dead’. Efforts by successive governments to revive the moribund corporation had failed, he said, adding that government could no longer continue to expend resources on NRC, as this could ground the nation’s economy. NRC was irredeemable, he continued, noting that the corporation employed 14000 staff and had 17000 pensioners. The monthly salaries and pensions bill was N460m a month, but revenue was just N22m.

The situation seemed dismal, but help was only five days away. Officials from the US Department of Transportation, it was learned on September 3, had completed an assessment of NRC, and America, they said, was ’ready to help Nigeria develop its ailing railway’. Director of the International Policy Office of Policy & Program Development at the FRA Ted Krohn told the Trust that ’substantial’ help would be available. There is no time to lose.

HThe Nigerian government has paid for refurbishment of 15 tank wagons as part of a project to distribute petroleum products by rail. The scheme includes reopening disused lines occupied by squatters, and a campaign dubbed ’war against track trading’ is in hand.