Nigeria travelogue: The return of Trains
Photo: Commuters watching home videos inside the train while on the trip.
For many Nigerians, news of the resuscitated Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) is an incredible one. To them, it is unbelievable considering its long years of tragic decay and the tedious efforts made by civilian governments for more than a decade to bring back the erstwhile moribund corporation but which ended up in futility until recently.
My findings revealed that few decades ago, the Nigerian Railway Corporation was considered as the mega revenue source for the Nigerian government, whose revenue was used to establish many other organizations. In fact, “it is the NNPC of those days,” an elderly Nigerian confided in me.
To investigate the current state of the Nigerian railway service, I flew from Abuja to Lagos on Thursday, June 9, 2011. I visited the train station, especially its Iddo Terminus in the heart of Lagos Island, Lagos, where I was told that a train will be departing Lagos to Ibadan (Oyo State) via Abeokuta (in Ogun State) by 3.p.m. I thought it wise to meet with some of the NRC officials to know how far they have gone with the railway rehabilitation projects which gulped about N1.5 trillion (Naira) between 2009 and 2010. And I was directed by the station manager to meet a senior official at its Lagos District Headquarters in Ebute-Metta, few kilometers away from the station. I was there and waited for about an hour when I was told the official was busy with some official engagement. I had to leave that place and headed for NRC’s national headquarters, also a stone-throw away, where I met the NRC spokesman. He spoke well with passion about the project and is very optimistic that railway has finally come to stay in Nigeria. I had to leave after a while in order not to miss my train ride to Ibadan.
THE TRAIN RIDE FROM LAGOS TO IBADAN BEGAN…
After arriving Lagos, the journey to the ancient city of Ibadan in Oyo State, started at exactly 3p.m. on Friday, June 10, 2011 from Iddo, Lagos Terminus of the NRC. Before then, passengers (which include both men and women, young and old) were gathering at the station lobby from around 12 noon of that day for weekend trip to their various destinations. While some wanted to follow the first train to return to their homes in the outskirts of Lagos such as Agbado and Ijoko, others were eager to return to their residences for weekend in either Abeokuta in Ogun State or Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, which is the train’s final destination for now. But they relaxed at the lobby, while some of them bought foods and drinks from hawkers around to fill their stomachs, pending the departure time.
The first train presents me an opportunity to chat with both Lagos and long-distant passengers aboard. With N660, I got a first class ticket to enter the train to Ibadan, while that of second class coaches costs N350.
Tickets for first class passengers who are disembarking at Ijoko, the last stop of Lagos intra-city shuffle, costs N500 while those in the second class coaches pay N120.
The 10-coaches train for the trip contains a first class coach which has an air conditioning system with fans, is fully lighted, and has a 32’inches flat screen television set and a video player as well as audio speakers for the entertainment of the passengers aboard. It also has extension boxes perhaps passengers want to charge their mobile phones or work with their personal laptop(s). Whereas, the remaining coaches beside the locomotive head and the guard van which housed the 150 KVA Generator, are second class coaches. These contain some lighting and fans with leather seats only. Sometimes, the dust emanating from the rail track blew into these coaches except that of first class which was fully ventilated.
So, few minutes to 3p.m., the late passengers were rushing to pay for their ticket in order to join those on board before the final departure. At exactly 3.pm., the train blew its horn to announce its departure and the journey began. It was time to chat with the passengers aboard and I started that immediately.
The train stopped at six stations between Iddo, Lagos and its final terminus in Dugbe, Ibadan, spending an average time of three minutes at each station. Those stations include Agege and Agbado in Lagos State, Ijoko, Itori, and Abeokuta in Ogun State as well as Olokemeji in Oyo State. We arrived Ibadan about five hours later.
Despite the few numbers of long-distant passengers on board, the journey was smooth, coupled with the presence of armed policemen and two paramilitary men (Man’O War) aboard and the passengers were relaxed. Some of them who spoke with me said much is still expected from the government.
With about N1.5 trillion already expended on the railway project between 2009 and 2010, which facilitated the gradual return of railway services to the country, Nigerians say there is need to address some of its pressing challenges in order to achieve its set objectives and play a vital role in revamping the nation’s economy as well as its socio-political integration.
AS NIGERIANS WAIT IN HOPE, THE FINAL WORDS…
However, NRC spokesman said the corporation is very optimistic of its sustenance adding that, “we are looking forward to a situation whereby if you are coming from Abuja to Lagos, you should be able to take a train for two hours. That’s how it is in China, Spain, Italy.” He said succinctly that “Nigerians should look forward to a better improved railways service. And we are sure that the long distance journey will resume immediately after September.”