By Bolade Olawale
Former Transportation Minister , Hon Rotimi Amaechi is no doubt a pushful sector leader who got a lot of things done under his tenure. His energy is boundless and his enforcement capacity is acknowledged by many industry analysts and stakeholders.
In his almost eight years in the saddle, substantive accomplishments were recorded. No one will forget the completion of Abuja-Kaduna rail line, the conclusion of the jinxed Itakpe-Warri railway, the commencement and finalisation of Ibadan-SGR rail project among others. Of course, the Kaduna- Kano rail project is ongoing as well as the landmark but controversial Kano-Maradi railway project. The former Rivers state Governor recorded his names in gold in many respect.
He is not without his shortcoming as usual with all human beings. His biggest weakness is refusal to align and work with industry experts, hence the shallow, lack of well thought out rail policy and project management content. His compulsive attitude to purely technical matters and his refusal for a long time to consider the Egyptian and the Tanzanian models in railway modernisation may have cost the nation a lot. Worst still was his gleeful embrace of so called university of transportation as donated by the Chinese. This is at a time Nigeria has over 200 universities with many colleges of transportation studies.
But the ebullient politician has done his part and has passed the baton to his partner , the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Ruqayat Saraki. The duo worked together from 2015 until recently. So it is safe to assume that the Senator must have understudied Hon Amaechi sufficiently to sustain the legacy and improve on the lapses if any. Many top presidency officials are reported to hold the same view about Senator Saraki on the ground of her background as a Senate Committee chairperson in transport matters among others. She also appears to have a balance view of she role of experts in the successful conception and implementation of projects.
For one, she is a project management expert, bringing to the table what was lacking under Amaechi. Her firmness underpinned by deep intellectual and technical understanding of the sector are considered by industry watchers and presidency officials as signals that the transportation ministry is in safe hands. Coincidentally, the former Minister was reported in the past to have recommended Senator Saraki as a competent official who can sustain and improve on current achievements in the sector.
From time of Amaechi’s exit to date, the Ministry is innovating to move ahead with current projects. The transition process is largely seamless as Nigeria now has two women as Permanent Secretary and minister in charge of this very critical ministry. The new dimension is simply the more systematic approach to management of the sector devoid of knee jack pronouncements and politicisation of many technical issues. The technocratic mind of the Senator on the ministerial chair is also changing the way the ministry works especially on the ongoing projects and new ones under considerations.
But the ministry under Senator Saraki faces enormous challenges, some fundamental , others matters of house keeping. For the fundamental ones, the vexed question of legislating into law the National Transport Policy, the unbundling of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, the development of a National Railway Policy, new approach to railway financing and many more stare the new leadership in the face. For the house keeping areas, the project management background of Senator Saraki will take care of such.
Interesting to note however that the time is far spent for the administration. With the drum of general election dominating national space, government leaders are distracted. President Muhammadu Buhari as a matter of legacy protection has a duty to ensure continuity in the railway sector. There are mess to clear and there are achievements to reinforce. It is no time for experimentation. The railway sector needs a touch of expert’s consolidation after years of a thoroughbred politician in the saddle.
● Bolade Olawale, a director of the Railway Business Magazine, writes from Abuja, Nigeria.