My blissful ride Friday morning on the new air conditioned trains from Lagos to Ibadan signposted my inaugural foray since the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari gave fillips to earlier efforts particularly since the Obasanjo government to deepen the investment in railways. And no doubt the choice of Mr Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi as Transport Minister to drive this effort was impactful. He worked with zeal, vigor and commitment, handing down timelines to the contractors undertaking several areas of the projects and putting them on their paces.
Different classes of people have now migrated back to the use of the very clean and alluringly beautiful trains. We left the Babatunde Fashola station, Agege by 8.30am and were at the Ladoke Akintola station, Omi Adio in Ibadan by 10.30am. We had a two minute stop at Funmilayo Ransome Kuti station, Papalanto for the exchange of personnel and another five minute stop at Wole Soyinka station, Laderin in Abeokuta for the drop off of passengers. This ride was a refreshing departure from the old dingy trains where disorder was the watchword with some passengers boarding from the windows as they angle for seats. The lavatories in the old trains which I’ve boarded severally from Lagos to Kaduna and Oshogbo to Zaria, usually ooze with unwholesome stench from wee and the squirt toilets which allowed defecation directly on the tracks. Apart from a manifest, all passengers have seat numbers affixed to different coaches making it more orderly. The flushed lavatories are also very clean and congenial. You could spend time reading or engaging in banters here.
Although it was prompt, the train is still too slow to meet the expectations of passengers who need faster means of transportation to keep up with scheduled appointments and businesses. In spite of my early rise and arrival to the train station long before 7am, I still missed the funeral service and internment of one of my mother in laws, Mama Lucy Motunde Niniola George (nee Aknmuda), which were the most important part of the burial event, the reason for my trip. Other passengers who joined me in the ride in a car to town had similar complaints.
Amaechi had earlier explained that the 180 kilometer per hour trains could not run at full throttle for now because of the massive trading and movement of human, vehicular and animals on the tracks at several places, compelling it to run a meager 17 kilometer per hour between Ebute Metta and Ijoko. Hopefully when ongoing effort to construct vehicular and pedestrian bridges across the tracks are completed, it can be fenced off to allow for faster movement of the trains. This will mean that the trains will then be able to do the 156 kilometer Lagos-Ibadan trip in 45 minutes as against the current snail movement of more than two hours. Even at that, it will still be miles off what we presently have in Europe and China where cities separated by hundreds of kilometers are reached in few hours by trains galloping at between 350-650 kilometer per hour.
It’s also not heart warming that months after the commencement of the train service, there are still no online bookings to enable passengers to more efficiently plan their trips. Why are passengers still subjected to a long and winding line to purchase their tickets when this could have been done online? That the officials insist only on cash transaction to purchase tickets at a time when there are myriads of IT payment solutions is not only intriguing but an easy invitation to fraud. I recall that passengers boarding the Abuja-Kaduna trains before it was temporarily halted owing to last March terrorist attack could do this online.
So what’s holding the NRC Management from ensuring that this is also applicable to passengers on the Lagos-Ibadan line? Why also is the structural disconnect between the ticketing section and the waiting area that they are not linked internally like the airports? The implication is that if there’s heavy rains, a passenger had to wade into it and be drenched before getting to the waiting area.
Aligned to this is the non completion of the other six stations along this route to allow people living in communities located on the nose of the stations to benefit from this service. It’s strange that rather than improve on arrival time via the delivery on more trains, the management is cutting back by cancelling the 1pm trip on Fridays because of the exhobitant cost of diesel. We need to see the rail management give vent to their promise to run eight trips both ways per day to meet the yawning demand of passengers and encourage more people to discard road transport.
Like other roads linking the railway stations in Lagos and Abeokuta, the road leading from the Omi Adio station to the Apata road, which connects Abeokuta and Ibadan is awful, making me wonder what the Governors of these states are doing in terms of ensuring better synergy between the federal Government projects and theirs to guarantee seamless ride to their people who are the ultimate beneficiaries. How can you have a sweet train ride only to be greeted with a very bad road to town?
Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo Olu, Ogun State Governor, Mr Adedapo Abiodun and the Oyo State Governor, Mr Seyi Makinde should take up their cudgels and ensure that the access ways to the railway stations are not only well paved but also adorned with ornaments to make them a more beautiful landmarks. We need to appreciate that like the airports, our train stations are also potential tourist attractions.
I’m filled with passion for rail development in Nigeria as a critical intervention to re-engineer industrial, business and social development of our countryside geared towards transforming our economy and generating massive jobs. It’s also a better and cheaper means of ferrying millions of passengers and heavy cargo particularly from our ports to the different industrial locations across the country and saving our roads from perennial wear and tear.
That’s why I loudly applauded the commissioning of the 326 kilometer Warri-Itakpe rail line by the Buhari administration though it was delivered in 2020 after 33 years. I’ve also been in the vanguard of the campaign that this line is linked to Abuja so that the country can have a full central railway linking the south to the northern parts of the country. The 1,402 Lagos-Calabar rail line which has been in the works for close to 40 years has also elicited my focus. As one designed to link many of our coastal towns including Onitsha and Obudu ranch, this link is vital for not only re-energizing industrial and business activities in these towns but also our tourism potential. Despite its challenges and mix match of priorities, I’m willing to score the Buhari administration high in rail development and hope that a future government will consolidate efforts in this area.
The young driver who took us to town had a hellish time meandering the car across the dirt road filled with craters. Our convivial discourse which ranged from politics, governance to genetics as our driver, a graduate of the elite Government College, Ibadan and the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (UNAAB) where he studied Genetics, meandered through the bumpy and water filled roads was soothing. The traffic to town was unusually hectic but the driver knew where to turn off to pathways long built by the Bola Ige government that took us to Jericho in a jiffy.
We savoured the driver’s excursion into Genetics when I told him that the US Supreme Court had just delivered a judgment okaying same sex marriage. He simply dismissed it by saying the Americans have unknowingly brought evil on themselves. “It’s not wise for genetically aligned persons to marry themselves because that may cause the exercerbation of diseases which may be associated with their gene,” explains the humble looking driver who appears to have opted temporarily for the transport job since he lost his high profile job in Lagos sometime ago.
I had earlier planned to have a brief stay at the reception venue located at Jericho GRA to exchange pleasantries with my in laws and savour the social event before hopping to board the train back to Lagos. But my wife who preferred that I stayed longer had conspired to have another close family member return me to Lagos by road. I dread the long traffic on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and always ensured I explore alternative routes to avoid the nightmare. But thank God, we had an eventful fast ride from the Ibadan toll gate till after Mountain of Fire Ministries before we got stuck in the traffic snarls for about one hour, a miracle compared to the several hours that many endure almost daily on the road since the reconstruction came to a hedge around Otedola bridge. I got home before 8pm reeling with tired legs.