By Mohammed Isa
However, the long neglect of the sector, weak and obsolete legislations, lack of corresponding investment, population explosion and other hiccups combined to cripple the sector, to a point of losing billions of public funds in the name of maintaining the few existing infrastructure.
It was to reverse the negative trend, the 8th Senate under the leadership of Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, right from inception identified and marked the sector forÂ comprehensive reform through enactment of relevant and effective legislations that will make it conform with the best international practices.
Giving an insight on how the Senate would face the challenge, Saraki, while addressing the National Executive Committee of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), pledged that the National Assembly, under his leadership, will spare no effort to ensure that the transport sector is working effectively.
Saraki said: â€œIn the Senate already, our main focus is to see how we can encourage more private sector participation in the transport sector and that is why we have about six different bills that if passed into law will turn around the sectorâ€.
He listed the bills to include the Ports and Harbour Bill, NigeriaÂ Railway Authority Bill, National Inland Waterway Bill, Transport Commission Bill, Federal Roads Authority Bill, the Federal Roads Fund Bill.
Matching its words with action, the Senate without quickly committed the bills to legislative processes that led to the passage of four of the bills as of this week, while reports on Federal Roads Fund Bill is currently under consideration of the Senate preparatory to its eventual passage.
Nigeria Railway Commission Bill
The Bill, titled; â€œa Bill for an Act to repeal the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act, Cap N129, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and to enact the Nigerian Railway Bill, 2015 to Provide for the regulation of the Railway Sector in Nigeria,â€ was sponsored by Senator Andy Uba, (Anambra State).
In his lead debate on the Bill, Senator Uba lamented the long years of neglect of the rail sector in Nigeria, noting that the consequences have manifested in the bad road network in Nigeria, worsened by the use of heavy duty trucks that ply them.
He said: â€œThe new Bill seeks to provide for the appropriate legal framework for the implementation of Governmentâ€™s reform programme on the railways system, while providing a platform for the introduction of Private Sector Investments and promote competition for the delivery of efficient rail services in Nigeriaâ€.
Sen. Olugbenga Ashafa,Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, at that time, said the passage of the Bill will propel the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) in the transportation sub-sector.
Ashafa said the National Assembly had done what was not done in the last 55 years by considering and approving amendment to the NRC Bill, 2016. He said, â€œThat means we have now open-up the rail sector for PPP and it translates to a lot of direct foreign investment into Nigeriaâ€. The bill has been passed since last year.
Ports And Harbours Reform Bill
The central theme of the Bill revolved around efficient and more profitable management of the Nigerian Maritime space.
The Bill, titled, â€œNigerian Ports and Harbours Authorityâ€, was also sponsored by Sen. Andy Uba.
Presenting his lead debate, SenatorÂ Uba, said the bill seeks to repealÂ the Nigerian Ports Authority Act, Cap 126 LFN 2004 and would equally establish the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority.
On its passage, the Bill was to provide an appropriate institutional framework for the ownership, management, operation, development and control of ports and harbours, in a bid to ensure the integrity, efficiency and safety ofÂ ports, based on the principles of accountability, competition, fairness and transparency.
The Bill essentially encourages greater private sector participation in the maritime industry, through avenues for private investment in port infrastructure, provision of port services and facilities.
Furthermore, it is to transform the sector, as well as promote internal and international trade, aimed at job creation, efficiency, productivity and improved service delivery. Other benefits of the Bill are increased seaport capacity and productivity; reduced congestion at ship-to-shore interface; improved asset utilization for port, road and railway transport providers; improved transport productivity; intermodal capacity, and lower transport costs.
National Inland Waterway Bill
Titled, â€œNational Inland Waterways Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill was also sponsored by Sen Andy Uba.
Among other things, the Bill seeks to provide for the management, regulation and development of the National Inland Waterways for water transportation and navigation purposes.Â It also seeks to increase and promote private sector investment and participation in the management and operation of the assets of National Inland Water Authority (NIWA). It also provides for the technical and safety regulations of the National Inland Waterways; promote inter-modal operations in the transport sector; provision of an alternative mode of transportation for the evacuation of goods and persons; and the implementation of the National Transport Policy asit concerned National Inland Waterways in Nigeria .
In his remarks after the passage of the Bill, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over plenary, said the passage was a major feat and the 8th Senateâ€™s fulfillment of its promise at inception.
According to Ekweremadu, the new law would create a new horizon in the inland waterways sub-sector and the transport sector at large. â€œI believe with the inclusion of the participation of the private sector and strengthening the regulatory provisions we are going to see an improved management of the waterways and further improvement of the transport sector.
Federal Road Authority Bill
The Bill seeks to repeal the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (Establishment) Act 2002 (as amended), thereby scrapping the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) and replacing it with the Federal Road Authority. It further seeks to promote the management of the federal roads network, to make them safe and efficient, with a view to meeting the socio-economic demands of the country.
Other benefits of the Bill include; promoting the sustainable development and operation of the road sector. Furthermore, the Bill seeks to facilitate the development of competitive markets and the promotion of enabling environment for private sector participation in the financing, maintenance and improvement of roads in Nigeria.
Chairman of the Senate committee on works, Sen Kabiru Gaya, who led the debate on the Bill, described the proposed road reforms as a means of overcoming Nigeriaâ€™s transport challenges by providing solutions to existing problems.
In his remarks, the Senate President lamented that, â€œIt is an aberration that we have continued to rely on the ministry, whose main responsibility ought to be policy design, formulation, monitoring and evaluation, to be the client, landlord and managers of our federal roads network.
â€œIt is this anomaly that the Federal Roads Authority Bill is designed to address. Countries all over the world are rethinking their framework and creating more dynamic governance framework for managing their roads and the time has come for Nigeria to do the sameâ€, Gaya said.
The only remaining bill among those targeted for the reform of the transport sector; National Roads Funds Bill had already scaled through the second reading with reports on it presently under consideration of the Senate.
â€“Isa is Special Assistant to the Senate President on Public AffairsÂ