Organised labour in the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has called for the repeal of the 1955 Act of the parastatal, which limits involvement in rail transportation to the corporation.
The Nigeria Union of Railways (NUR) has also alleged that the Ministry of Transportation dubiously concessioned the corporation’s 3,505-kilometre narrow gauge system to the American consortium, General Electric (GE).
The union’s secretary-general, Segun Esan, stated recently that, if the federal government failed to re-work the 1955 Act, it would remain an impediment to private sector involvement in rail transportation.
The NUR called on government to replace the Act with a legal framework that would ensure a level field for public and private investors.
The union, however, commended the Federal Government on the reconstitution of the National Council on Privatisation, stating that the reconstituted council would curtail the shadiness with which the Ministry of Transportation is going about the concession of the NRC to GE.
It alleged that the Minister of Transpora hurry to unilaterally concession the NRC to GE for a period of 30 years.
The process, said the union, is bereft of transparency and worker participation, especially plans to engage the workers on how to resolve all labour-related issues.
The NUR called on Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to probe the process.
“GE’s expression of interest was dated September 2016 and advert for expression of interest for the bidding was in January 2017. Apart from this, GE requested for a zero per cent transfer of workers, while the Ministry of Transportation is saying that 20 per cent of the present workforce would be absorbed by GE and the remaining 80 per cent of the workforce will be sent to a University of Railway Technology that will be established by the concessionaire,” said the workers’ union.
It argued that this was bizarre and indicated dishonesty: “An honest and public-spirited concession would squarely address all labour engagement and disengagement issues. It would be transparent enough to accommodate the workers’ union representatives to determine what happens to them before and after concession,” the NUR said.
NUR president, Saidu Garba, said the union would not stop the Federal Government from selling its assets, but such an exercise must be done transparently and in a way that must address the subsisting infrastructure deficit in the rail transport sub-sector.
He expressed hope that the council on privatisation, with the Acting President as chairman, would address breaches of due diligence in the planned privatization of the NRC.
“We have not been fortunate enough to get privatization or concession really right in this country probably because of our policy inconsistency, corruption and lack of political will. With the hasty way railway concession is being pursued, we feel that caution should be taken.
“We wonder why all the inventories on the entire assets of Nigerian Railways should be handed over to a preferred concessionaire whose document of expression of interest predates the newspaper advert for the bidding,” Garba said.