The recent appointment of a new Managing Director to run to the Nigeria Railways Corporation (NRC) is a welcome development. And perhaps, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The new helmsman Adeseyi Sijuade until his appointment was the client Project Director of the Lagos-Kano Railway modernisation project. He is a chartered civil engineer and holds a MBA degree from Loughborough University.
Mr Sijuade is coming into the NRC at a time when the nation’s railway is in state of comatose. It is suffice to say that he already has his work cut out. He expected to run a government agency – like many others - that has virtually collapsed due to corruption, mismanagement and ineptitude. He is also expected to lead a workforce with low skill base and weakened staff morale. Having said that, it is critical for him to make known his vision and aspiration for the NRC as soon as possible. Various stakeholders in the transport industry will want to know Mr Sijuade’s position on key issues currently affecting the railway industry, especially with the Railways Act Bill
The NRC MD was quoted in the media to have said he will make the rebranding of the corporation a priority. He noted the need to change public perception of the corporation for better. But really, what product does the NRC have to offer that it wants to rebrand? Is it the decrepit rail locomotives lying on the rail tracks across the country? Or is it the dilapidated NRC properties across the nation? Or may be it is the retired staff who have not receive their pension payments in years? There is no doubt that the public perception about the NRC is terribly bad. And this is primarily due to failure of NRC to deliver its primary product.
But will the appointment of Mr Sijuade bring about positive change in the nation’s railway sector? I do hope and pray so! But more importantly, the role of NRC in the planned future privatisation/concessioning of the nation’s railway needs to be resolved as a matter of priority. Up until now, neither the Minister for Transport or Mr Sijuade has been able to clearly articulate the institutional framework that will govern the proposed concessioning/privatisation. The proposed Railways Act Bill - which is aimed at sorting out some of the complexities in the railway sector – only offers very little.
For instance, we heard the newly appointed MD saying the decision to concession the operations of NRC did not translate into its sale. One can assume from the statement that only the rail operations arm of NRC will be concessioned to the private sector. So the questions are, will the ‘rail operation’ arm of NRC operate as a private company? How will such a company fit into the overall NRC model? Why does the government not consider selling off the entire “operational function” of the NRC to the private sector? What is the obsession of NRC with rail operations? Why not allow the private sector to operate railways and leave NRC as an umpire?
Ultimately, it is up to the government to decide what role the NRC will play in the post privatisation era. For me, it either has to be an operator - competing with other private operators – or just a rail regulator. It is unacceptable for an agency to perform the dual role of service provider and regulator. If the NRC is keen to remain a rail service provider, then it is only sensible that the rail regulator should be an independent body. It should be a statutory board operationally independent of government. If the NRC continues to provide rail services and also responsible for regulating other concessionaires, the question then is who will “regulate” the regulator? Although, the government is keen for private sector participation in the railway sector, it is clear that it doesn’t know what to do with NRC.
These are some of the key challenges Mr Sijuade will have to grapple with as he settles into his job. Some consider him as an outsider, who lacks the political clout required to turn things around. Given the necessary support by the Federal Government, I have every hope that Mr Sijuade will succeed. And I wish him best of luck!