The workers of Nigerian Railway, under the aegis of Nigeria Union of Railway Workers (NUR), have commended the federal government on the reconstitution of the National Council on Privatization but regretted that the statutory Act of Parliament of 1955, which confers monopoly of railway business on Nigerian Railway is yet to be unbundled and replaced with another legal framework that would provide both public and private investors with a level playing ground on investments into rail transport sub-sector.
In a statement signed by the Secretary General of NUR, Comrade Segun Esan, the workers expressed their approval of the reconstitution of the National Council on Privatization by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and inferred that the inauguration of the Council would serve as checks to the ‘ambitious, shady and dizzying speed’ at which the federal ministry of Transportation was going about the concession of Nigerian Railway’s 3’505km narrow gauge track system to its preferred American consortium, General Electric (GE).
‘’The federal government has just taken a bold and right step in the right direction by reconstituting the National Council on Privatization which certainly will serve as checks to the ambitious, shady and dizzying speed at which the federal Ministry of Transportation is rushing to unilaterally concession the Nigerian Railway’s 3’505km narrow gauge system to its preferred concessionaire, General Electric (GE) for a period of 30 years without regard to transparency, railway worker participation and without any known plan to engage the workers on how to solve all evolving labour-related issues without which the planned concession will be another monumental failure as usual”, the statement read.
According to the President of the NUR, Comrade Saidu Garba, he expressed skepticism on the success of the planned concession of the Nigerian Railway narrow gauge track referring to the post-privatization failure of many enterprises formerly owned by the federal government.
‘’Upon realizing that the federal government has the right to do whatever it likes with its enterprises, we have so decided not to dissipate our energy unnecessarily on stopping the government from selling its assets than to give our candid advice as social partners and stakeholders in the sub-sector. The federal government is at liberty to take our informed advice that renationalization of the railway is preferable to concession or privatization. Where the government wants concession, then we should be more concerned about how such sale either through privatization or concession, as it is the case with Nigerian Railway, is done lawfully and known to due diligence, utmost transparency and global best practice. It should be done in a way that it truly will address the subsisting infrastructure deficit in the rail transport sub-sector if we are really sincere about securing our growth as a nation and as an economy.
We hope that the reconstituted council on privatization, with the Acting President as the chairman, will fulfill the role of an institutional framework and also address all the breaches of due diligence and the apparently ambitious manner with which the process of railway concession is being driven by the federal ministry of transportation while Nigerian Railway that statutorily should be the procurer of its concessionaire as Nigeria’s only institution with railway expertise is shrouded up in the overbearing shadow of the Ministry who is supposed to be kept informed by the user-corporation through memos’’, Garba said.
In the submission of the Secretary General of the NUR, Comrade Segun Esan, he advised the federal government to review the whole process of the planned concession of the nation’s rail transport industry with a view to saving the nation from another attempt that may end in ‘huge failure’.
‘’We have not been fortunate enough to get privatization or concession really right in this country probably because of our policy inconsistency, corruption and lack of political will. With the hasty way railway concession is being pursued, we feel that caution should be taken. We wonder why all the inventories on the entire assets of Nigerian Railway should be handed over to a preferred concessionaire whose document of expression of interest predates the newspaper advert for the bidding. GE’s expression was dated September 2016 and advert for expression of interest for the bidding was in January, 2017. Apart from this, the GE requested for a zero percent transfer of workers while the Ministry of Transportation is saying that twenty percent of the present workforce will be absorbed by the GE and the remaining eighty percent of the workforce will be sent to a University of Railway Technology that will be established by the concessionaire. This sounds strange and stands in outright contrast to simple logic. A honest and public-spirited concession will squarely address all labour engagement and disengagement issues. It will be transparent enough to accommodate the workers Union representatives to determine what happens to them before and after concession. This is why we receive the news of the reconstitution of the national council on privatization by the federal government as commendable because we believe we require the instrumentality of the law to address all concession issues of the railway which itself is a creation of the law’’, Esan added.
It will be recalled that the railway workers, in a media conference early this year, had vehemently protested against the planned concession without taking it through due diligence and getting all the workers paid their deserving severance benefits before concession commences. The workers had further protested against the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, in a town hall meeting the Minister had recently with the railway workers at the headquarters of the Corporation on his choice for hasty concession for the railway without resolving all labour-related issues first. The Minister was challenged to respect the rights of the railway workers before any concession is contemplated.