First ride on train in 45 years
Sir. I wish to sincerely congratulate the Federal Government of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Honourable Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi for the successful modernisation of rail line from Lagos to Ibadan. The commissioning by the President was a massive publicity glitz for the railway business in Nigeria, especially, the Lagos-Ibadan axis. The publicity by those who had boarded the train from Lagos to Ibadan and their sweet air and camera narratives were enough motivations and tempting enough to make one to have what seems a wonderful experience. The queue is lengthening with every business day. When I arrived the Lagos end by 6.35, I met a long queue, which had gone beyond the ticketing hall. It took some 15 to 20 minutes to get attended to. It was, however, orderly except that ticketing staff needs to display respect for customers. They cannot afford to begin to betray frustration at this early phase of the train culture, which had since died in us all.
Trust Nigerians wherever they are gathered: impatient, complain galore, lamentations about social services and public officials, poor tolerance threshold, bashing of Chinese and lots more. But a few sounded a note of caution that a journey of a thousand year would start one day. Personally, I decided to make the trip to Ibadan by train as a means of giving expression to my curiosity but more importantly for two other related reasons. Generally, Nigerians complain about social services being unavailable, epileptic and most times unpatronised. But, I also know that if we get transport by rail right, it will greatly boost commerce in agriculture, which certainly will be a trigger for Nigeria’s transformation and development.
Of course, there was about 20 minutes or so delay in taking off from Mobolaji Johnson station at Alagomeji. The air conditioner didn’t work until take off. There was also information that engine would be changed at Funlayo Ransome Kuti station (the former famous Papa Lantoro). As a student of Sociology, I merely listened as a participant observer. Before we boarded, ordinary Nigerians were full of commendation about the neatness of the lounge and the coaches contrary to the loud and unrelenting condemnations of elites in the business class. Nigerian elites with their unpatriotism and self-centredness coupled with their greed remain the bane of our development struggles. They make cheap comparison with Europe and North America but in the main, they remain rapacious and corrupt and unwilling to make the required sacrifice.
Certainly, there are things to improve upon as we make progress and efforts in joining the rest of the civilised world in establishing competitive transport modes other than roads, we must quickly attend to those challenges, which should certainly fizzle out as the services become more efficient and effective and more Nigerians travel by rail.
Riding on train to Ibadan was for me not only exciting but I feel proud as a Nigerian. This is because, we are often times cynical and display persistent skepticism in our attitudes towards government. It beats my imagination that a Nigerian government faced with unprecedented security challenges could initiate a project as huge as a four gauge rail system and complete it in its life calls for jubilation and commendation. As we travel from Lagos to Ibadan, we noticed massive construction along the way as we observe nature in its best form free of charge. It was a wonderful sight seeing.
As Nigerians, let’s believe in our own goodness. I have no doubt in my mind that once restructuring is understood as a win-win scenario rather than a zero sum game, our economy will become competitive and plentiful as government services multiply, more readily available and accessible.
Surprisingly, by the time we travelled past Abeokuta, our coach had become so chilly that someone shouted, ‘please, off the aircon,’ trust Nigerians, everyone burst into laughter. The message here is that whatever the condition is, Nigerians would surely complain. Any leader who has his eyes focused on an objective should listen to lamentations but, must not be distracted and just carry on. We arrived Obafemi Awolowo station in Ibadan safely. The subjects of discussions to which I only listened included Mr. President, former Governors Amosun, Ajimobi, Makinde, Wike, and EFCC among others. What was on everyone’s lip was never to travel by road to Ibadan again!
To my utter disbelief, I didn’t come across any of the stations named after LKJ, the grand father of modern Lagos and the initiator of metroline that was aborted. To Nigeria, Mr. President and Hon. Minister of Transport, I say congratulations, as we ask for more.
By Lai Olurode, University of Lagos
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