By Steve Agbota
Nigerian Union of Railway Workers (NUR) and the Senior Staff Association (SSA) of Nigerian Railway Corporation have raised the alarm over purported secret plans by the Federal Government to concession the Nigerian Railway’s 3,505 kilometres narrow-gauge track system nationwide to General Electric (GE). The unions have, however, warned that only the implementation of robust severance benefits before can guarantee any concession agreement under their watch.
With the foregoing reality, NUR and SSA said that it has become imperative and rational to infer that the mooted ‘concession’ of the Nigerian Railways already exhibits the established pattern of selling or concessioning of public assets for a cheap price without appropriate technical valuation and fair labour disengagement/engagement policy framework in place.
The union alleged that a price of $2 billion has already been placed on railway assets by GE whose area of comparative specialty is manufacturing of rolling stocks such as locomotives, wagons and coaching facilities, saying that GE was never known to have run any railway outfit.
Speaking at a press conference in Lagos earlier in the week, the Secretary General of NUR, Esan Segun, said the bidding process that made the Federal Government to pick GE as the concessionaire remains unknown to the public and NUR workers.
The unions said that only the Federal Government was in the position to explain the bidding process that produced GE because NUR workers were not aware of any bidding process at all.
According to him, the hurried and secret nature of the whole process has raised palpable fears among workers of the NRC that yet another round of state-orchestrated asset stripping that has characterised the sale of hundreds of state-owned enterprises is underway again.
He added: “Most observers of the Nigerian privatisation process have noted that most privatised corporations in Nigeria remain comatose years after their privatisation while workers in those companies were left the short end of stick. It has been observed that out of 450 public corporations privatised in the last 30 years, only 90 are functional while most of these assets amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars have had their prized assets stripped and subsequently abandoned.”
He said: “Nigerian Railway workers are not and will not be against the concession of NRC assets only if it is done with every sense of patriotism and due diligence with a view to making rail transport sub-sector the truly effective hub of transport system in Nigeria. We will not antagonise the process if the Federal Government engages the workers in dialogue where our demand for a genuine and fair labour disengagement policy that guarantees our rights of fair severance benefits from the Federal Government are heard and fully met before conceding railway assets to a third party.
“This is the preferred choice of Nigerian railway workers to dangerous, seamless transfer of workers to a concessionaire who may choose to weed the inherited workforce into joblessness, squalor and perpetual psychological trauma,” he said.
He emphasised that Nigerian Railway workers would not keep their peace if the Federal Government decides today, inter alia, to monetise the staff quarters to the workers as directed by the Monetisation Policy of 2005, which, over a competent trial court of law, has pronounced a sound judgment (Nigerian Union of Railway Workers & Anor. Nigerian Railway Corporation & Ors, Suit No NICN/LA/11/2011 refers) “validating our legitimate right for staff quarters to be fully monetised, after five consecutive years of legal battles between the railway workers and agents of the state at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. Despite the fact that the staff quarters have been encumbered, the Federal Government has shown no commitment to respecting the rule of law by implementing the judgment of the court.”