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Meet Olokun, train driver who drove three Nigerian presidents

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How does it feel to have driven three Nigerian Presidents at different times on the nation’s railway? Abiodun Johnson Olokun is perhaps the only Nigerian in recent history, who has the record. And he may yet break it and give more Presidents a pleasurable ride, given the envisaged sustained investment in the railway subsector.

For Olokun, humility will not make him take credit for the uncommon favour that destiny dropped on his laps. For him, outside being assignments that come in a day’s job, there is nothing more to it.

Once in a while, however, he is usually ecstatic over the feat, and like this day, when our correspondent met him, he reeled out the feat with some relish and a tinge on his face.

Olokun never dreamt of ending his career in the centennial corporation as a locomotive driver. For starters, he had an HND in Mechanical Engineering  from Federal Polytechnic, Ado Ekiti, and lately BSc Computer Engineering from University of Science, Commerce and Business Administration (ESCAE) Benin.

He was never employed as a locomotive driver, but was soon drafted to handle the locomotive being among the first set of Nigerians available to take over from the Chinese engineers who were handling the rehabilitation of the narrow gauge system of the nation’s railway.

At the moment, Olokun who has spent close to two decades in the NRC has become the Assistant Chief Motive Power Officer (chiefly, he operates as the Chief Driver of the Nigerian Railway) and a top trainer of locomotive drivers employed by the corporation.

Speaking on his experience on the job, Olokun said he counted it as a privilege when he was asked few years after his employment to drive the locomotive that took President Olusegun Obasanjo to inspect the Lagos-Kajola narrow gauge in 2006, during the ground-breaking of the railway modernisation from Ikeja to Kajola in Ogun State.

The lot again fell on him when they were shopping for local manpower to drive another President, and he drove President Goodluck Jonathan from Ilorin to Offa, in 2010 when the latter launched the Offa –Ilorin train service.

The launch of the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge was the icing on the cake.

The Abuja-Kaduna was the first standard gauge line service in Nigeria. The project commenced under Jonathan with a $500 million loan secured from the China Exim Bank. When the project was completed, Buhari was on board the train from Abuja to Kaduna under the command of Olokun in the ‘cockpit.’

He said, “I feel very great performing this national task, which I see as a great task. I’m happy to have performed this because I don’t think any locomotive driver has been opportuned to pilot three different presidents at different times’’.

Olokun said he is content being a locomotive driver. He is ecstatic about the imminence of technology transfer, which would see the Chinese transfer to local manpower requisite technology and driving.

-The Nation

 

Railway

PDP attacks Sagay for criticising Lagos new rail project

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The Peoples Democratic Party, Lagos State chapter says the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), lacks moral justification to dictate to Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on which project to embark on for Lagosians.

Sagay had said it made no sense for the governor to embark on the Red Line rail project when the Blue Line started almost 10 years ago had not been completed.

But the PDP, which spoke through its Publicity Secretary Taofik Gani, said Sagay should concentrate on his job as PACAC chairman and leave the governor to decide what is best for his people.

The party accused Sagay, which it claimed had a cordial relationship with Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, of failing to speak out throughout Fashola’s tenure as governor of Lagos State, to account for money spent on the project.

It stated, “Without holding fort for Governor Sanwo-Olu, the truth of the matter is that Prof. Itse Sagay lacks the moral justification to come up at his own will and criticise the government. This is the same person who is supposed to be in charge of a thorough anti-corruption drive but he has clearly abandoned that. He only criticises the government when it is obviously against his interest.

“We know that the Blue Line from the beginning was a complete fraud. It was project that was started with less than N6 billion and now it is over N46 billion. During Fashola’s era, the governor couldn’t account for the funds spent on that project, yet Prof. Sagay kept mute because of his close relationship with Fashola.

“There is no reason why he will now come and condemn the actual needs of Lagosians within the metropolis. We are talking of Oyingbo, Alagbado and other places. Look at the number of people who transit in that particular area.

“We condemn the attempt by Prof. Sagay to want to be the spokesman for Lagosians on what projects to they want or do not want. We condemn his hypocritical stand on this issue. He should come out and condemn President Buhari and others who have put us in this mess.

“We say it loud and clearly that Prof. Sagay is a beneficiary of the APC and government and he can’t be criticising a project that will benefit Lagosians. Why will he say Fashola’s projects must be completed? How many projects did Fashola himself complete and why couldn’t he account for those funds when his successor demanded for it? In a saner clime, Fashola ought to be with EFCC now, not as a minister of the Federal Republic.

“We however demand that Governor Sanwo-Olu must return to make a fair presentation to interested parties. Every kobo must be supervised and accounted for. The monitoring team can have CSO. Why should any government even be scared of ‘ombudsman’ on projects executed with tax and loans?”

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Lagos begins construction of another mass transit rail – red line

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Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Thursday performed the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of 37km rail mass transit project called Red Line, expected to move more than one million commuters daily from Agbado to Marina.

According to a statement by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, the ceremony was held at the proposed site of the Ikeja Train Station and was witnessed by Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who was represented by the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dr Bashir Jamoh.

He said the rail corridor would be constructed in three phases, stating, “The first phase (Agbado-Iddo), which will be completed in 24 months, will be sharing track with the Federal Government’s Lagos-Ibadan Railway Modernisation Project up to Ebute-Meta.

“It will have its dedicated track from Ebute-Meta to Oyingbo and reduce travel time from about two and a half hours to just 35 minutes.”

The red line to be fully operational in the last quarter of 2022 is a project of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) which would have eight train stations – from Agbado to Oyingbo, the statement added.

The Red Line is to raise mass transportation capacity in the state, complementing the Blue Line that extends from Okokomaiko to Marina, already at 78 per cent completion.

Governor Sanwo-Olu, who at the event with Deputy Governor Dr Obafemi Hamzat, also handed cheques to 25 property owners affected  by the projects right-of-way, described the project as another initiative of his administration to deliver enduring infrastructure for the transport system and make Lagos a competitive mega city.

He said the traffic management and transportation pillar in his government’s development blueprint – Project THEMES – was being implemented with the goal to develop an efficient and sustainable transportation model that would improve mobility, promote economic growth and enhance the living conditions of residents.

He said, “Today’s flag-off of the construction of infrastructure for the standard gauge Red Line is another promise kept and it demonstrates, in practical terms, our commitment to achieve the objectives of traffic management and transportation pillar in our development agenda.

“This is because we recognise the role which an efficient transportation system plays in enhancing people’s quality of life and as a major driver of socio-economic development.

“The state’s strategic transport master plan, which encompasses a number of projects that are germane to achieving our vision for a Greater Lagos, is founded on imperatives that seek to increase transport choices for all users and make the transit system integrated, attractive, convenient, affordable and accessible.

“Since efficient transportation is the backbone of any economy, we are happy to be committing this investment in our transport infrastructure, so that our people can meet their daily targets and aspirations. This all-important transport project we are all gathered to witness today represents a major step in this direction.”

Sanwo-Olu said the implementation of the Red Line was being supported under the Differentiated Cash Reserve Requirement programme – a financing package put in place by the state government through the Central Bank Nigeria.

The governor expressed gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari and the CBN Governor, Dr Godwin Emefiele, for supporting the state in the bid to make the project a reality.

He praised also the bankers who facilitated the funding.

To facilitate smooth operations of the Red Line, Sanwo-Olu said the state government would be constructing ancillary infrastructure, including six overpasses at strategic level crossing points along the rail corridor to eliminate interactions between the rail system, vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

The overpasses will provide grade separated crossings that will enhance safety for the rail system and road users, according to him.

Sanwo-Olu said, “The unique characteristics of the Red Line is its integration with the Ikeja Bus Terminal, Oshodi-Abule Egba Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane, the future Orange Line, which goes from Ikeja to Agbowa, and the General Aviation Terminal One of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport through a skywalk.

“Another unique feature of the Red Line is that all the stations have elevated concourses with either at grade island or side platforms for easy boarding and alighting of passengers.

“The Red Line also integrates with our bus terminals at Oyingbo, Yaba, Oshodi, Ikeja and Iju, giving modal options to our people in their daily commute, either for business or leisure.”

Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederic Oladehinde, described the Red Line  as a continuation of the implementation of the state’s strategic transport master plan, which made provision for six standard rail lines, one mono rail, 14 BRT corridors and over 20 waterway routes.

He said the intervention was a deliberate effort of the state government and its development partners to make Lagos livable beyond Year 2032.

Managing Director of LAMATA, Mrs Abimbola Akinajo, said the project was a bold step and commitment of the governor to solving transportation challenges in line with his administration’s development blueprints.

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FG, CCECC meet Wednesday on Lagos-Ibadan rail delivery date

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The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, has summoned the management of China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation, the contractor handling the $1.6 billion Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail project, over delay in completing it ahead of its formal opening.

Daily Trust learnt that the CCECC management would meet with the minister on Wednesday in Abuja to give a specific timeline on when the stations would be completed.

However, Amaechi, who spoke during the inspection of the project from Lagos to Ibadan on Saturday alongside the ministry’s officials and the Nigerian Railway Corporation, said the 157 kilometre long track was ready for inauguration.

He said the ministry was only awaiting the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to give a specific date he would be available for the inauguration.

Daily Trust reports that several timelines given for the commissioning of the project have elapsed owing largely to disruption precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, CCECC had to reduce the workers on site when some of the staff contracted the deadly COVID-19.

During the inspection, it was observed that the firm was completing work on the stations in Apapa, Ebute-Meta, Agege, Agbado, Kajola, Abeokuta and up to the last station.

At the Mobolaji Johnson Station, which is the biggest in Lagos, iron seats have been fixed at the waiting area but at some stations, only few workers were on the ground.

According to the minister, while there has been some improvement in the train stations, the contractor appeared to have slowed down.

“We are having a conversation with the Presidency. Once the Office of the President gives us the date for commissioning, we are going to communicate the date.

“So once they give us a date, I like to work under pressure, we are commissioning. If they say we are commissioning on Monday, what’s remaining here? What we have left are just minor things which can be done in one to two days,” he said.

-Daily Trust

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