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The night train to hell by Reuben Abati

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The railway used to be a very important part of transportation in Nigeria during the colonial era up until the collapse of everything that once worked in this country.

The collapse began, suspect, with the civil war and its aftermath and the introduction of a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in the 80s which turned the country into a wasteland of poverty.

As young students, knowing the rail lines of Nigeria was a compulsory assignment if you were studying Civics or Geography. I recall how we were made to draw those winding lines with double bars across indicating the lines from Lagos to Nguru and Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.

We also memorized all the destinations along the line. We were taught that the first railway in Nigeria was opened between Lagos and Abeokuta in 1898 by the colonial authorities using the Cape gauge, a very narrow gauge.

In Abeokuta, Ibadan, Kano, and Maiduguri, the train terminal was a major cultural and social icon, a bustling centre of economic activity. Along the route to the major terminals, small communities developed along the rail routes, the trains linked towns and communities – Ifo, Ilaro, Mokoloki, Minna, Kaduna, Kaura Namoda, Kuru, Jos and the people in such places found jobs and opportunities.

During the civil war, the rail line was a ready route of escape from the pogrom in parts of the country as Easterners fled to their ancestral homeland. After the war, the railway was also useful. It provided not just a reliable alternative to road travel, it was also useful for the transportation of goods and services.

As a young lad, I travelled with my step mum from Abeokuta to Ibadan and to Lagos. At every major train station, hordes of sellers would knock on the windows and sell sugar cane, bean cake, maize, corn matte, and all kinds of fried materials. The signal that the disembarkation of passengers and the boarding of new ones had been completed was always signalled by the loud horn of the train and the clanging of bells to announce the continuation of the journey.

I found the movement of the train especially intriguing. I preferred to look out of the windows to soak in the sight of moving houses and trees. In my innocent mind, I thought the houses and trees moved along with the train.

The Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) was one of Nigeria’s biggest public sector employers at the time. We used to hear of such things as Railway Yard, and truly, it was quite prestigious to be a Railway Staff.

In Dugbe, Ibadan, Lafenwa in Abeokuta, Iddo in Lagos, Kafanchan, Jebba, and Minna, the Railway station was a 24-hour melting pot of culture, and commerce and engineering. The NRC could also boast of many rich assets. The trains were so slow it usually took about three days to get to Kano from Abeokuta.

But the people were happy with the services. The routes were safe, day and night. There were no regular accidents, and if any, very minor, but the most fatal that occurred was at Langa-Langa in present-day Nasarawa State on February 16, 1970. The train was on its way to the South East from Jos, when it suddenly derailed at Langa-Langa, resulting in the death of about 150 persons. It was a tragic accident.

Many had to be amputated before they could be rescued from the wreckage. But this did not deter people from patronizing the services of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC). In due course, Nigeria happened to the Railway. Here is what that means: the Nigeria Railway became inefficient. Its coaches collapsed one after the other and they were not replaced. Many of the train stations from Lagos to Nguru, from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri were abandoned.

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Many of the train communities lost the commerce that the trains brought along. In the few places like Lagos, where a few coaches still moved between Agege and Iddo, rail transportation had become an expression of madness.

By 1990, the NRC could only boast of about 15 coaches in its entire national network. In many parts of the country, vandals stole the iron-on train tracks and melted them for their own selfish purposes. The tracks were already overgrown with weeds in any case.

The most shocking illustration of the failure of the NRC was the conversion of the rail lines into trading posts. In Lagos, at Agege, and in Yaba, Oshodi, and Mushin, as the rickety surviving coaches approached, the traders moved their wares out of the way.

As soon as the train passed, they would set up their wares again: tomatoes, pepper, second-hand clothes, chin chin, puff puff. Late in the night, the rail tracks were turned into public toilets! The dispossession of the Nigerian economy due to bad economic judgment, bad leadership and corruption within the public sector led to the collapse of the Nigerian Railway: unpaid salaries and allowances, unhappy pensioners, abandoned yards.

As the railways collapsed, Nigerians moved to the roads. The roads would also soon collapse under the weight of abuse.  Air travel has always been elitist. The majority of the people travel on the roads and by rail. In the 80s, the Lateef Jakande administration in Lagos, thinking ahead, tried to build a Metroline in Lagos. Jakande meant well, but the Buhari administration that came to power in 1985, aborted the project. About 40 years later, Lagos is still struggling to revive the dream.

Indeed, it has been long recognized that a multi-modal transportation system and a railway system, in particular, was crucial to Nigeria’s development process. This explains why since the return to democratic rule under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, concerted efforts have been made to strengthen transportation infrastructure in the country with the rail system as part of the design. Other administrations have followed suit with efforts and programmes to deliver efficient and solid railway infrastructure.

In 2006, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) was brought in to build the Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge Railway. Before the Obasanjo Government left office in 2007, there had been an attempt to further expand railway operations in the country. In 2009, serious attempts began to restore the rail lines beginning with the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, on the Eastern line.

At both state and federal levels, efforts were also made to rebuild Nigeria’s railway infrastructure. In fairness to the Buhari administration which assumed office in 2015, it has done a lot to sustain infrastructure projects that it inherited from its predecessors, including the Jonathan administration, the railway, included.

These include the Abuja-Kaduna rail line of 187 km, officially commissioned on July 26, 2016, the Warri-Itakpe line completed in 2020. It took 30 years to finish that particular construction. The Lagos-Ibadan line was launched on June 10, 2021.

The administration has also constructed major railway terminals in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta and parts of the East. In a sense, what the Buhari administration has done with the Railways, in terms of structure, branding, reinvention, and promotion of communal ownership is meant to be one of its major legacies.

Unfortunately, all of that is coming unstuck in a very bad manner. The rail lines cited above and others are in place, and others are works in progress, but the efforts of the Buhari administration is taking the revival of the rail infrastructure in the country to a strong end is undermined by recent revelations and incidents about the integrity of railway operations in the country.

The most shocking development would be the attack on an Abuja-Kaduna bound train by terrorists last Monday. As reported, 398 passengers bought tickets, 362 boarded, but some media outlets reported that a total of 970 persons were on board. How?

Nigeria is one country where basic statistics is a ghost affair, we are a country where nobody knows how much crude oil is produced, how much is refined or imported, how many students are in school or out of school, how many policemen the country has, there is even no reliable data on retail sales, we don’t even know the country’s exact population! Almost a week after the attack on the night train to Kaduna, Nigeria remains in a state of confusion.

The only people that are most affected are those who lost their beloved ones- their only sin is that they belong to a country that does not care enough for its citizens.

The Abuja-Kaduna train tragedy speaks to all that is wrong with Nigeria: we have revived the railways, but in the very effort that has been made is the seed of failure. Who is going to explain this failure to the affected families? Who is going to tell them that it is okay to die needlessly in Nigeria?

The big lesson from the Kaduna-Abuja train tragedy is that the country is not safe. Not even in the Langalanga incident was there a report of the bombing. The rail tracks at the worst of times in the past used to be safe. Today, terrorists plant bombs either in trains or on rail tracks.

I painted the picture of a time when the Railway was considered one of the safest modes of transportation in Nigeria and the decline that followed. Despite all the investments and the attempts to revive the railway sector, it is sad to note that the best is not working.

A loud statement was made about the insecurity in the land when the Abuja-Kaduna train was bombed. There have been other cases of a train bombing in the world: the Minsk Metro bombing of 2011, the Chennai train bombing of May 2014, the Istanbul Metro bombing of 2015, the Brussels train bombing of March 2016, the Saint Petersburg Metro bombing of April 2017, all of them linked to terrorist attacks.

What rankles in the Nigerian case is that there was prior intelligence. Nobody acted on the intelligence. Both the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai and the Minister of Transportation have disclosed that the tragedy was avoidable because it was foreseen.

El-Rufai accuses the military of failing to do its duty by blatantly refusing to attack the hideouts of the terrorist despite having enough information about their location, identity and operations. El-Rufai barely stopped short of accusing the military of complicity.

He plans to see the President to make specific requests: he says military formations should be established in the North West, that the military should show greater determination, and that the NRC should stop night operations henceforth.

The Minister of Transportation says the problem is money: if only he had been given N3bilion as earlier proposed to address security and surveillance issues and to purchase sensors and other surveillance equipment, nobody would have been able to go near the trains to plant bombs or attack travellers.

The Inspector-General of Police now says he has deployed security men to protect the engineers who have been directed to make sure the trains start working again forthwith. He also wants to deploy drones. The Nigerian Air Force says it will use aircraft to provide backup security for trains in Nigeria. Minister Rotimi Amaechi has talked about engaging villagers along train routes to provide information to the security agencies.

Please where on earth does anyone build strategic railway lines across vast, ungoverned spaces of the country without working out a security arrangement, only to wait for tragedy to occur before considering security as an add-on? Only in Nigeria! We act first and think later, after a familiar fashion.

The terrorists in the North West and the North East have become more audacious because they know that Nigeria is negligent. They understand the weakness of the state better than the state itself. One whole week after the incident, with the President giving the Service Chiefs marching orders, nobody has been arrested, nobody has given us any positive information, no victim has been rescued! But we have evidence of cosmetic visits to the hospitals and promises made.

The House of Representatives acting patriotic asked the Service Chiefs and other stakeholders to show up in their Chambers to give account. The Service Chiefs and other stakeholders, with the exception of the DG of the Nigeria Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) sent Representatives!

The President has directed that services should resume. The Nigeria Railway Workers Union has sent back a rebuttal: its members are not going back to work unless their safety can be guaranteed. I doubt if many passengers would have the courage to travel by rail again, either along the Abuja-Kaduna route or elsewhere.

The problem is that the roads are not safe, air travel is expensive, and there are no other ready options. We are under the siege of bandits and terrorists and hapless security agents.

Apart from the bombing of the Abuja-Kaduna train, the Kaduna International Airport was also attacked by terrorists who according to a certain Army General were just passing by. Passing by!  Communities have also been tacked in Niger State, close to the Federal Capital Territory.

Governor el-Rufai says if the Federal Government would not do anything, he will arrange to get mercenaries to fight the terrorists. He is speaking out of frustration. He has no such powers under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic.

The Nigeria Air Force says they are now prepared to deploy the Super Tucano jets that Nigeria bought from the US in 2021. When we see the jets in action, we will say so – seeing is believing as Nigerians would say. But all of this is reactive rather than proactive.

Insecurity remains the biggest problem Nigeria faces today. It is the same problem that any Presidential aspirant in the 2023 Presidential election must talk about with clarity and sense.

On this subject, the outgoing administration must eschew the temptation to abuse, harass, insult or intimidate anyone who chooses to speak truth to power either from the pulpit or from lecture halls at home and abroad, whether that person be a Sheik, an Overseer or a former President. We need to make the trains safe: leverage technology, put the best hands in charge and place a higher priority on the observance of best practices.

In 2019, the Nigerian government reportedly reviewed the National Security Strategy (NSS) to find lasting solutions to security threats. It was the first time since 2014 that such a review would take place. Three years later, where are the gains of that review?

Strictly Personal

Direct or indirect primaries: The uniting factor is moneybag politics by Afe Babalola

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THE Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) provides for the system of nomination of candidates by political par ties through primary elections ahead of presidential, state governorship, and legislative houses elections. Section 84(1) of the Electoral Act provides that a political party seeking to nominate candidates for election under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions which shall be monitored by the Commission. Subsection 2 provides that the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct, indirect primaries or consensus.

Direct primaries, as described in subsection 4 of the Act, connotes that the members of the political party will be given equal opportunity to vote for a party member of their choice as the nominated candidate of the party. It involves the participation of all registered members of a party in the selection of the party’s candidates. Indirect primaries, on the other hand, is a system whereby members of the political party democratically elect delegates at the party’s congress and, in turn, the delegates elect the party’s candidates on behalf of the members of the political party. Sections 5-8 of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended) generally stipulates the procedure for the conduct of indirect primaries in Nigeria.

The third category, and perhaps the least commonly adopt ed, is the system of consensus candidacy whereby all aspirants in the political party will voluntarily and expressly withdraw from the primaries and endorse a single candidate; and where there is no such express withdrawal, the political party will mandatorily proceed to conduct direct or indirect primaries. Section 9 of the Act provides as follows: 9 (a) A political party that adopts a consensus candidate shall secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the position, indicating their voluntary withdrawal from the race and their endorsement of the consensus candidate; (b) Where a political party is unable to secure the written consent of all cleared aspirants for the purpose of a consensus candidate, it shall revert to the choice of direct or indirect primaries for the nomination of candidates for the aforesaid elective positions. (c) A Special Convention or nomination Congress shall be held to ratify the choice of consensus candidates at designated centres at the National, State, Senatorial, Federal and State Constituencies, as the case may be.

Over the years, the choice of whether a party should adopt direct or indirect primaries has been the subject of debate by political pundits, commentators, and aspirants. The system of indirect primaries which most political parties adopt has been criticized for being easier to manipulate by party lead ers, and on their part, the delegates are expected to align with the party leadership. Another inherent defect in the conduct of indirect primaries includes some instances of the dubious manner of appointment of delegates. For instance, where a sitting Governor or President’s political appointees are made the party’s delegates, it is not in doubt that their nominations will ultimately favour their appointor’s political interest. Be sides, it is not uncommon to find dissimilar delegates’ selection at party congresses, conventions and primaries. On the other hand, the criticism of direct primaries is that it is a lot more expensive to operate and requires much more planning and organization. It is also more easily manipulated. For in stance, a strong contender in a political party can sponsor the members of his own political party to purchase membership cards of the opposition party en masse in order for such members to deliberately vote for a weaker candidate in the said opposition party to win the primaries, thereby giving him an edge in the general elections.

Notwithstanding the obvious differences in the conduct of direct and indirect primaries, there however exists no real difference because of the association of Nigerian politics with godfatherism and moneybag politics. Though it is easier to bribe fewer delegates to support a faction of the party as op posed to the reduced propensity to tilt the votes of all members of the political party to one candidate if direct primaries were held, it still does not change the fact that the underlying factor is the ability of a candidate to sway the few delegates, or the larger party members, with money.

In an interview published in the Punch newspaper on 19th June 2022, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party rep resenting the Ilaje/Ese Federal Constituency stated the im pact of money on politics. He reportedly said: “Except some are lying, it is real. Our politics is monetised. The process is monetised. Some will just come and tell you that they never pay money. They paid money. We paid money to delegates. There is no way you can survive that hurricane without effectively and efficiently releasing resources for those people (delegates). Whether you have served them for seven years and you have been their perpetual or perennial friend, it is not going to count. You just have to do the needful at that point. Again, if you don’t do it, they will not vote for you. This is because it is not just one aspirant or candidate that is doing that; it is a system. You will give what the system is asking for. There is a stimulus that the system is pumping and which the electorate will have to react to. It is not the fault of those who are currently in power or those that are seeking to come to power, it is not their fault… If you are the best (among the aspirants), you will pay; if you are the worst, you will still pay. It is just a systemic thing. Those who eventually won, it is still the same. In my area, we had three very strong contenders. We paid equally and people made their choice on who they wanted. The three people (aspirants) paid equal amounts of money. They (delegates) collected money from the three of us and made their choice on who they wanted.”

The bold admission by the honourable member of the House of Representatives excerpted above is the reality of the Nigerian political climate today. The influence of moneybags in Nigerian politics continues to hold sway in dampening the hopes of the nation in achieving true democracy. After all, the whole idea of democracy is the free will of the people in electing their political leaders, and where such “free will” is manipulated through the influence of political juggernauts, the country is further pulled away from the attainment of the best democratic policies. It accounts for the corruption and violence which have characterized many elections in Nigeria. On the day of the election, the politician who owes his nomi nation to his huge investments will naturally seek a win by any possible means. Where his reliance is placed on a political godfather, he can count on his godfather’s ability to deploy enormous wealth in a bid to corrupt electoral officials and the electorates and where these fail, violence will be deployed to bring about the desired result.

Consequently, the politician who wins an election based only upon the backing of his political godfather will feel no ob ligation to the electorate who in any event might have been disenfranchised in the whole scheme of events. He will there fore devote the entirety of his tenure of office to the promotion and satisfaction of himself, his cronies, and his godfather. There is an unhealthy synergy between godfatherism, money bag politics, and poverty. It is the entire citizenry who suffers the effect of political office holder’s obligation to recoup his investments and/or satisfy the whims of his godfather who, more often than not, are the actual persons in power.

AARE AFE BABALOLA, SAN, OFR, CON, LL.D (Lond.)

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Genuine politicians must die by Kenneth Amaeshi

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I often one wonder why people go into politics in Nigeria, because the challenges of the country are massive. Poor health systems. Low quality education. High youth unemployment and low skills. Hunger, poverty, and famine. Weak infrastructure and institutions. In addition, the politics appears dirty and bitter.

The usual but superficial reason people often offer is that they are keen to serve. If the lure of politics is to serve others, why would one subject oneself through the tortuous process of democratic elections in order to serve? Sleepless nights. Odd meetings. Very strange companies. Painful compromises.

A cynical view might suggest that whether a career in politics is pursued to serve or lord it over others, it is simply a quest for power. Of course, it is human and natural to seek dominion over others. But even at that, what then is the purpose of power and is politics the only means to exercise such powers?

Another view is that politics is simply business – in the sense that politicians financially invest in it and expect worthwhile returns on their investments. In such contexts, they may use money to influence votes. When politicians make such investments, they obviously expect some gains, and the higher the risks, the more the expected returns. However, politicians come in various shades.

Some politicians do not pretend about money politics. It is as clear as it can be. It is what it is – a very transactional engagement. It is all about their self-interests. This understanding makes it easy to attract like minds and to agree on expectations and outcomes. They often portray and pride themselves as the real masters of politics. Many people tend to agree with them, and they are unashamedly transparent about their strategies and aspirations. That’s how it is done. Anything short of this is naivety.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is and idea which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

Other politicians prefer not to be very overt about their crude intentions and strategies. They rather mask them in some nebulous and grandiose cloaks – often packaged as a form of progressivism and intellectualism. However, beneath this garb of elegance and decency is a constantly warped and treacherous display of self-interest and greed packaged and sold as enlightenment. The main difference between the two categories is their strategies. While the former is overt, the latter is covert. Nonetheless, their goals are the same.

A third group is made up of politicians who are very idealistic and puritan in their approach. They have something to offer and truly want to serve, but they either do not understand the rules of the market for votes or they think they can change things by ignoring the rules and in most cases swimming against them. However, they hardly win elections because they rarely make any financial investments in the business of politics. As much as some voters may like what they represent, they rarely have sufficient incentives to patronize the politicians in this category. In the end, the politicians become cases of good products but unrealized potentials.

Unfortunately, the business of politics and pretentious service leadership are the bane of democracy and good governance in many countries. Sadly, too, they are often normalized and taken for granted. This normalization and taken-for-grantedness could be as a result of helplessness – because people – i.e., the electorate – do not know how to unravel and dismantle them.

However, no matter how they disguise, they can be unmasked effectively. In Nigeria, for example, where the elections season is simultaneously booming and looming, genuine politicians can be assessed by their preparedness to sacrifice and die for the good of Nigeria. Given where the country is today, especially with her challenges, it only needs politicians who are in it, not for their own sake, but for the growth and development of the country – i.e., politicians who are both competent and ethical. Anything short of this is simply an entrenchment of the status quo, which has not done the country any good.

Nigeria needs genuine political leaders who can literally take the proverbial bull by the horns. This will entail a lot of discomfort, political risks, sacrifices and even death. As scary as it may sound, genuine politicians are rarely deterred by it.

It is obvious that Nigeria is at war with the forces of underdevelopment and darkness. Anyone running against these forces, therefore, must be ready to die, because he who easily rushes to war should know that war is death – o ji oso agbakwuru ogu, omakwa na ogu bu onwu?

But how do we identify genuine politicians, given the confusion and obfuscation of personalities and personae in the system? One way to decipher genuine politicians is to look at their antecedents and ask some very pertinent questions. What have they achieved outside politics? What comforts and luxuries are they leaving or setting aside to serve? What sacrifices are they willing to make and or are making? Are they willing to die for Nigeria to thrive? As much as these questions may sound unrealistic, politicians who fit this mode are truly the sort of politicians Nigeria needs now.

Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, offered an excellent idea of what genuine political leadership looks like in practice when he said:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is and idea which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” (emphasis, mine).

It is obvious that Nigeria is at war with the forces of underdevelopment and darkness. Anyone running against these forces, therefore, must be ready to die, because he who easily rushes to war should know that war is death – o ji oso agbakwuru ogu, omakwa na ogu bu onwu?

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