The Ikeja Branch Chairman of Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Mr Femi Adedotun, on Sunday appealed to President Bola Tinubu to create a ministry for the railway for mass employment, industrialisation and economic growth.
Adedotun said railway operations required large manpower and was a huge employment driver, which nations across the world were leveraging to tackle unemployment and underemployment.
He urged the federal government to harness the opportunities through partnership with the private sector to manufacture or assembly railway parts to curb capital flight and create thousands of new jobs annually.
He said the railway ministry would stop capital flight, attract investments, create mass employment and boost the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The chairman, who is the Head of Department, Industrial Maintenance Engineering, YabaTech, said railway was a key sector with several value chains that could engage professionals and artisans from various fields simultaneous.
“Railway can absorb 1,000 engineers per year in our system. So, it requires government to be extremely focused and fund it very well.
“And allow local content to come in because there is nothing the Chinese are doing that our local engineers, technicians and technologists cannot do,” he said.
Adedotun narrated his experience on a visit to the Indian Railway Ministry, saying the Indian nationals were thinking ahead.
According to him, they usually buy locomotives and engines from more advanced countries to study and fabricate theirs.
The former staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) urged the federal government to provide the enabling environment for private sector players to set up coaches and wagons’ workshops for production of spare parts.
He lamented that Nigeria’s railway sector had not grown in over a century of its existence because the sector had no policy backing to function as a money spinner like other countries.
“NRC is a year older than the Chinese Railway. NRC started in 1898, while the Chinese Railway started operations in 1899. We are a year older than them and yet they are the ones coming back to colonise us. You can see how backward we are.
“The way forward is for government to take railway as a cardinal activity in terms of policy, financing and management. They must come in so that government, the private sector and the management staff of NRC must work together.
“The tripartite relationship must also involve the academia, the industry and professional bodies. If railway is fully funded it will tackle unemployment,” he said.
He lamented low interconnectivity in the country saying, “we just have one line from here (Lagos) to Kano. Whereas all states in Nigeria are supposed to be connected by train.”
He said an ongoing tripartite agreement signed for the Ikeja NSE, NRC and Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIRRO), to go into manufacturing of railway spare parts, was still on course.
Adedotun said the parties to the agreement were trying to introduce local content in the sector by engaging the private sector to manufacture some railway spare parts.
He said the NSE had inspected new installations to study what the Chinese firms had done and were planning another trip to Ibadan to study the riding index of the rail tracks.
He said it was a way of the NSE studying gradients and other features to help them design the parts, and that fabrication would be done by FIRRO while NRC would manage operations.
The chairman commended ongoing efforts of the federal government in training experts in the sector.
He said the federal government sent five engineers from YabaTech, including himself and others from the Kaduna Polytechnic, to India to understudy the country’s rail system.
He said Kaduna Polytechnic had started Railway Engineering Departments and the YabaTech would soon begin degree courses in Railway Engineering Technology.