NIGERIA’S ongoing rail development programme is at risk of being derailed as Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) workers have embarked on a three day warning strike to protest low pay and poor working conditions.
Over the last decade, Nigeria has begun the process of upgrading her antiquated railway network built by the British as far back as 1896. Still very much stuck in the 19th century, the network made up of 3,505 km of narrow gauge track on which industrial revolution era rolling stock trains run, at speeds of about 50km an hour.
In 2006, the government entered into a contract with the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation to build a standard gauge line between Lagos and Kano. It was later decided to complete the project in segments due to a lack of funds and the first segment from Abuja to Kaduna of 187km opened on July 26 2016, with work on the Lagos-Ibadan section beginning in March 2017.
However, NRC workers are unhappy about the fact that their working conditions have remuneration packages have not improved under this new regime. Earlier this week, the workers, who protested at train stations in Lagos, Oyo and Abuja, accused transport minister Rotimi Amaechi, of handling their matter with levity.
In Lagos, the railway workers grounded activities at the Iddo station and Ebute Meta, where they stopped all vehicles and motorcycles from passing through the stations. They carried placards with various inscriptions, including, Railway workers salary is poorest and worst under FMOT, ‘Enhance salary for NRC, Amaechi learn from Pantami and Amaechi, don’t kill NRC workers.”
They lamented the non-payment of promotion arrears from 2018 to 2021 and the demolition of workers’ quarters. Segun Esan, the secretary-general of the Nigerian Union of Railway Workers, said the strike was triggered after the union had a meeting with Mr Amaechi on Saturday, which ended in a deadlock.
Mr Esan said: “We don’t want to remain out of work as we love our jobs but it has become expedient to do this in order to ask for our rights. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have got to this stage but our honourable minister of transport has never deemed it fit to meet the workers.
“The only time he met with us was in 2015 or 2016 when he was made the minister and the second time was last Saturday when he called for a meeting but we could not arrive at any reasonable convergence because the minister didn’t handle it the way we expected. He walked out on us and we could not conclude and that was why we resorted to this three-day warning strike.
“We have many problems with the management of the Nigerian Railway Corporation like the non-payment of promotion arrears from 2018 to 2021, demolition of quarters and taking an eternity to replace them, while the workers are suffering in their various rented apartments out there. The reason for our three days warning strike is to remind the federal government and the management of the railway corporation and every concerned Nigerian to look in our direction and understand that we are in serious poverty as occasioned by the poor welfare.”
Also, Mr Esan, who noted that the salary of the locomotive drivers was N30,000, urged the federal government to insure the lives of railway workers. In Abuja, activities were also grounded at railway stations, as the premises of the Idu Railway Station, regarded as one of the busiest in the country, was devoid of the regular human traffic and its gates were locked.