It is no longer news that the global infrastructure giant General Electric has pulled out of the concession arrangement to revitalise Nigeria’s western narrow gauge rail network. GE announced that it will be “transitioning leadership of the International Consortium selected to execute the Nigerian narrow-gauge concession, to Transnet,” a South African infrastructure company. This was because GE has decided to exit the transportation business from its portfolio.
Of course, the minister of transportation, in a desperate bid to absolve himself of blame, cited the official reason given by the company, which is its decision to exit the transportation and has nothing to do with the Nigerian government or even the Nigerian economy. Further justifying his claim, Ameachi avers that the government has yet to sign any agreement with GE insisting that the government was still involved in negotiations with the consortium. “We have been negotiating; there is no way you will get a concession agreement in one year”.
It is disingenuous, in the least, for the Minister of transportation Rotimi Amaechi to try to absolve himself of blame for the failure. He had more than 20 months to complete the concession agreement and get it going before GE pulled out but yet kept pussyfooting around. Contrary to what the minister said, one year is enough to comprehensively negotiate a concession for a government in a hurry to reform public transportation. But Ameachi has more than one year. He has a whole 20 months and did nothing.
The mishandling of the rail concession agreement speaks to the character of Nigerian public officials who constantly fail to identify priorities with the most impact and give their best is delivering on them. Instead of proceeding with haste to tie up the agreement and get the consortium to work, the government and minister of transport particularly, kept pussyfooting, throwing one form of bureaucratic bottleneck after another and prolonging negotiations unnecessarily while the country continues to groan under the yoke of dilapidated and broken down infrastructure. A good example is the takeover of Nigerian roads by tankers and trailers, which now have to transport goods to and from the ports in Lagos since the rails have stopped working a long time ago. Sadly, these trucks have virtually damaged all the road networks in the country as the roads were not built to accommodate the volume of trucks that currently ply those roads.
Nigerians cannot be fooled. The simple truth is that Ameachi bungled the concession deal long time ago. The government began the rail concession negotiations early last year, but when it was going nowhere, it began to talk about an interim rail concession. Sadly, even that has now collapsed and the expected respite for those who struggle daily at the Lagos ports is also now up in the air.
The interim rail concession was meant to have delivered better rail access to the Lagos port by October 1, last year and it was after this milestone was missed that Businessday first raised alarm about the slow pace of the negotiations. Now, GE has pulled out of the deal altogether and the government is beginning afresh to negotiate a new deal with Transnet. Going by Ameachi’s logic, that negotiation should take another two years to conclude – and if perchance another government comes to power, the negotiations will be cancelled and the new government begin another one. How so unserious can public officials be in Nigeria?
, ROTIMI AMAECHI