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Declare state of Emergency on land Transport Sector Says Ashafa

The long awaited creation of Committees for the 8th senate, federal Republic Nigeria has finally been done. With Senator Gbenga Ashafa saddled with the leadership of land senator ashafaTransport Committee, Nigerians are in for a better deal. In this no holds barred interview with senate.gov.ng, he urges President Muhammadu Buhari to declare state of emergency on the sector. Read on:

Que: May we meet you?

Ans: I am Senator Oluwagbenga Ashafa, a second term senator representing Lagos Senatorial district, Chairman Land transport.

Que: Sir now that you are chairman, land transport, what can Nigerians expect?

Ans: Well, that is a very, very important question to ask, especially now that we are embracing the change mantra of which everybody is well aware. As it relates to Land transport, you will first and foremost want to know what the responsibilities of the Committee on Land Transport are; the Committee was established by the appropriate senate rules and the jurisdiction covers particularly, rail transport, which is very, very important to Nigerians, because it is a credible alternative to save our roads and complement whatever we want to do as far as land and transportation and water ways are concerned.

Another area which has been mentioned but is not too known to the public is the area of NITT which is the Nigerian Institute for Transport Technology. It is an affiliate of the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. What that means is that it is an institution duly recognised that gives out diplomas, certifying those that are supposed to be professionals in the transport business.

The third area is mass transit. To all intent and purposes, the mass transit side of responsibilities is a bit moribund because most of the time, you find out that programs of such are either executed by state governments on their own or as special windows created like putting mass transit under SURE P or any other program that the government of the day might think will better serve its purpose. So the Committee hitherto had not been too active in that area. The concentration and focus is on rail transport and our major agency is the Nigeria Railway Corporation and I am sure that is in its own enough, in terms of what Nigerians expect. The expectations of Nigerians are so real because if you travel from Lagos to Ibadan, you will know that you don’t have any other means of doing that other than to go by road. But if there is an alternative by way of rail, which is not even new to our society; I remember in the early 70s and early 60s, one single rail line will leave from Lagos, Iddo terminus and end somewhere in Osun state and students were usually very eager to take this coaches because they are compartmentalised into luxury and ordinary which we call, maybe first class and second class, economy section.

We are looking at a situation where we can revive this kind of transport system to benefit the greater number of Nigerians. If you look at, just citing an example, look at our various corporations, like the Ajaokuta Rolling Mills, Oshogbo Rolling Mills and the one situated in Niger Delta, the only way that we can get the best out of all these steel and heavy plant industries is to be able to have an effective and efficient rail system that will service their output and input. Output and input in the sense that what are bringing from overseas that we are taking to all the factories, do we have to wait and get trucks and trailers to take them and spend hours unending on the road and at the same time affect the integrity of our roads? Roads that under normal circumstances are not built to take such heavy traffic. And sometimes you find out that when there are bottlenecks on the roads, the dead weight that come on the roads and the bridges eventually over the years, have contributed to the bad state of our roads. Like the President said yesterday when we had dinner with him. He said the roads were dead. So how can we assist? We can only assist by ensuring that we create an avenue to assist those roads that we are repairing, reconstructing or new ones that we are building by way of rail transport, a transport; system that will stand the test of time. So generally, that is the impression that I get in ensuring that this Committee does the right thing by way of oversight functions and ensuring appropriate provisions of funding during appropriations.

Que: As a ranking senator, how do hope to achieve all you proposed so far?

Ans: Well thank you very much. First and foremost, it is a general belief that when new Committees are formed, statements will be made to kind of prepare the public to change. However the instrument of change as far as this Committee is concerned is fund. Appropriate funding must be provided to be able to effect any change. And how do we do that, the funding cannot come midyear. It has to come at the point of preparation of the budget. Luckily, we have not considered the proposals for 2016 budget. So this Committee will ensure that the parent ministry under the Committee, that is the ministry of transport and the various arms that relate to land transport like NRC, NITT , and if issues of mass transit is uppermost in the minds of the government, we will ensure that we bring them together; that the funds needed to execute projects and ensure that these projects are not just projects that will be abandoned midway, that they are projects that will meet the demands of the people and at the end of the day, when we are looking at the next budgetary allocation, Nigerians would have seen that the government had already started delivering on the promises that they’ve made.

I was impressed last night, when the President out of all the priority areas he mentioned, said that his particular focus will be on land transport, rail transport to be specific. And with that in mind I am sure that Presidency as well as other officials of government will see the rail transport system of country as something that needs urgent attention. As a matter of fact, a state of emergency should be declared on the rail system because they are not doing the thing that they are supposed to be doing for the people of Nigeria. So it is a big challenge but men are made to face challenges and conquer challenges and that is the reason why I am assuring you that this government, this Committee of the senate on Land transport will be different from the past Committees.

Look at the calibre of membership; I have a former minister of transport, in the name of General, Senator, Jeremiah Useni rtd as a member of the Committee. My vice is the former FCT Minister. The vice doubles again, if you look at his antecedent, he was the senator representing FCT, and rail is one of the priority of the FCT as you well know. Then I have a former MD of Nigeria Railway Corporation as a member. Senator Barau who is there, who is a bundle of experience as far as transport system is concerned as well as Wakili, Ali Wakili who was in the Customs, but by virtue of his other businesses, after he left customs was into land transport business. So when you gather all these men of wisdom and experience and pedigree as far as governance is concerned, then the issues will meet with appropriate attention and then we will be able to move this country forward.

Que: May we know the ministries, Departments and agencies under your jurisdiction?

Ans: Well, a lot of people will be looking at a situation where there will be lengthy agencies and ministries because of the implication of the name of the committee, land transport. But it is limited to principally two major agencies, apart from the parent ministry. The parent ministry is the ministry of transport. Then we have the Nigeria railway corporation as the major factor in that ministry as far as land transport is concerned. Then you have Nigeria institute of transport technology there. I think by and large those are the areas, the agencies that we will be working with and if they are able to rise up to the occasion and do their own, then Nigerians are good to accept that something by way of change has come as far as land transport is concerned.

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