Nigeria's big idea for the trains: call in Virgin

It is riven by corruption and organised crime, and cannot host a beauty contest without religious riots but Nigeria has a masterplan to make the trains run on time: Virgin Rail.

Apparently deaf to the lamentations of stranded British commuters, President Olusegun Obasanjo has invited Sir Richard Branson to help run the state-owned Nigerian Railways Corporation.

So successfully had Virgin transformed British Rail, the president suggested, that it would be splendid if the company could repeat its magic in Africa’s most populous country.

“I told Branson to come to Nigeria and see how he can help the Nigerian railway and he said ‘Let me finish what I am doing in the British railway and see what we can do for Nigeria,’ ” Obasanjo told reporters in the financial capital, Lagos.

A Virgin representative aid yesterday that Sir Richard had not spoken directly to Obasanjo about the offer and that no formal invitation had been made by the government. He added that the president appeared to have quoted Sir Richard accurately and the company was considering the invitation.

For many British commuters Virgin has been the butt of bitter jokes about late trains, overcrowded trains and no trains but Nigeria hopes to profit from its experience of upgrading a creaking state behemoth.

Nigerian railways are in even worse shape than Britain’s. The century-old corporation’s debts are so huge it cannot afford to pay all its 15 000 employees and 25 000 pensioners.

Despite political instability, Sir Richard believes there is money to be made in the former British colony.
Virgin Atlantic last week launched its fourth African route, to Port Harcourt in Nigeria. - Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001

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