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ABU Zaria’s Golden Handshake With China: Transferring Railway Engineering Technology To Nigeria

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“Buy one, get one free (BOGOF)” is a popular slogan in advertisement media, which entices customers to purchase such items even when they initially didn’t plan to do so. As an advertisement blitz for a new item coming to the market and wishing to conquer it, one can understand why sometimes, producers/manufacturers may sell below the production cost of their products to gain market acceptability. What if the product is well accepted by market and is highly competitive? Then, the scenario becomes not only innovative but also very astounding and amazing. This is exactly the scenario that can best describe the “ABU Zaria Golden Handshake with China”. Some Students of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria are on their way to obtaining two degrees from two distinguished universities for a five–year engineering degree programme study. Ordinarily, a student must spend a five – year period satisfactorily to earn an engineering degree of any discipline but the ABU handshake with Central South University of China is making it possible for these students to earn degrees of ABU and CSU simultaneously. This program, christened “3+2”, is equivalent to buy-one-and-get-one-free as announced by the Director, Academic Planning, ABU, Prof M F Isiaku, during the farewell programme for the first batch of students to enjoy this “bonus”. To the best of my knowledge, this is a new innovation, which is unparalleled in the history of educational system in Nigeria. What does “3+2” mean? What need is “3+2” designed to address? How did the journey of “3+2” start? These questions and few others will expose the light at the end of the tunnel and bring the bright future destination of “3+2” journey to focus.

Customarily, five years is the duration for undergraduate engineering degree program in universities in Nigeria and many other countries. Thus, “3+2” (equals to five years) is an innovative strategy, which awards two degrees of engineering after spending three years in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and two years in Central South University in China. One admission, two degree certificates in two engineering disciplines from two famous universities (ABU and SCU) in two different continents and in two different languages (English and Chinese). The beneficiaries of “3+2” are certainly going to experience two different worlds and secure universal knowledge to play both worlds efficiently for the benefits of mankind, especially Africans and Chinese. “3+2” is a program targeting top class 300 – level students of Mechanical and Civil Engineering Departments of ABU, Zaria. The students of Civil Engineering would be awarded Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Eng) from ABU, Zaria and Bachelor of Engineering (Railway Eng) from SCU, China after successful completion of the “3+2” programme. Similarly, students from Mechanical Engineering Department would be awarded Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical Eng) from ABU, Zaria and Bachelor of Engineering (Equipment and Control Eng) from SCU, China after successful completion.

The “3+2” programme was conceived essentially to address the urgent and pressing developmental need for efficient mass transportation in Nigeria and the rest of Africa –, particularly railway system. Road transport is the most common means of transportation in Nigeria. It is relatively affordable and readily available even in the remotest parts of the country. Road transport however, faces myriad of problems stemming from decaying transport infrastructure and poor maintenance culture of Nigerians in general. Potholes are a common occurrence on Nigerian roads. The poor state of the roads and other infrastructure leads to accidents with high toll deaths and injuries. Early this year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported 2,598 deaths from road accidents within a six-month period between October, 2017 and March, 2018. The breakdown showed that 1, 306 people died in road accidents in the fourth quarter of 2017 while 1, 292 others died in accidents in the first quarter of 2018. This is because there is too much pressure on the few good roads existing in far aparts.

The other two common means of transportation in Nigeria are railway and air aside waterways in riverine and coastal areas. While the railway system is grossly inadequate and inefficient, air transport is the most risky with catalogue of challenges; high fares, flight delays, poorly maintained and failing infrastructures and mostly unaffordable to many Nigerians. Generally, lack of funds limits initiatives to invest in variety of other means of transportation such as cruise boats, monorails, trams and underground transportation systems making them all sound like myths and impracticable. Considering the level of our national development, Railway system is the most viable means of mass transportation of people, goods and services that is why the “3+2” program was conceived. Kudos to ABU, Zaria and National University Commission for being amenable to accept this giant breakthrough.

As stated by the Director of Academic Planning, Prof Isiaku, “railway is a critical pivot on which every nation’s economic growth depends”. I cannot but agree with him because transportation and logistics account for significant cost of production in developing countries like Nigeria. However, the robustness of railway system and its huge capacity to efficiently transport goods and people in a safe and most economically viable manner can significantly reduce cost of production. An improved railway system will certainly enhance national productivity in a sustainable manner. Prof Isiaku reminded the audience that Nigeria enjoyed the services of railway system under the colonial administration and postcolonial period as the system was functioning efficiently with the technical support of the colonial masters. When the support was withdrawn, railway system began to collapse gradually until it grounded to a complete halt, robbing many young Nigerians the benefits of enjoying such services. Historically, Nigerians older than 45 years of age can recall that after Nigeria became independent from Great Britain, the colonial-era railways progressively fell into a state of disrepair. Passenger traffic on the Nigerian railways fell from 11 million in 1964, when the Nigerian population was barely 42 million people to 1.6 million in 2003 when the population increased to 110 million people. Freight traffic almost collapsed, falling from 3 million tons in 1964 to less than 100,000 tons in 2000. In early 2013, it took 31 hours for passenger trains to travel between Lagos and Kano, at an average speed of just 45 km/hr. one can imagine colossal cost to the passengers.

In 2006, the Nigerian government awarded an $8.3 billion contract to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to construct a standard gauge railway from Lagos to Kano. The railway is being built in segments. Only the segment between Abuja and Kaduna has been completed so far, and services began officially in July 2016. The segment between Lagos and Ibadan is under construction.
As a citadel of learning, ABU, Zaria studied the situation and the trend of events in the transportation sector, particularly the railway technology, took advantage of the government’s commitment to revive the railway sector and then conceived the “3+2” program. The program is a product of strategic thinking of the egg–heads of the ABU academia, aimed at developing indigenous railway technology and manpower in Nigeria at shortest possible time. It is a strategic plan to make Nigeria lead African nations in the development of railway technology with active collaboration of the People’s Republic of China. “3+2” Program perfectly synchronises the implementation of African Union’s “Vision 2040” for Railway Revitalisation in Africa, which was adopted by the AU member states in June 2014.

Part of AU’s Vision 2040 is the creation of an integrated high-speed train network that connects all African capitals and commercial centers on the continent, facilitating the movement of goods, people and services. Compared to other continents, Africa is the least interconnected thus hampering trade. “Until we begin to connect our countries, our trade will not be meaningful in terms of making a dent in the development that we need to undertake,” says Adama Deen, head of Infrastructure at NEPAD, as quoted by Construction and Civil Engineering News publication of January 2018. Hopefully, very soon, one may hear that the chief executive officers of Railway Corporations for Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and similar African countries are Nigerians and products of “3+2” program. Can ABU and CSU achieve “3+2” program based on their track records of academic quality? The pioneer set of 45 students, who had already spent their first 3 years in ABU, have started their sojourn, they are already in China and heading to Central South University, China for the remaining two years. Who is the brain behind the progress of “3+2” program so far? Professor Ibrahim Garba, the inexorable and visionary Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University can deservedly be credited with the initiation and exponential progress of “3+2” program.
(To be continued next week)



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