My railway years: Reminiscences of centenarian, Folorunsho Agoro
His industry and commitment to duty earned Pa Folorunsho Buraimoh Agoro extra five years of service at the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) in 1974. By that year, he had stayed on the job for the mandatory 35 years, although he was just 55 years old. The management insisted he should continue. And he concurred. By 1979, he wasn’t going to be left off the hook! But this time, he tactically rejected the offer. How did he manage to ‘escape’ especially when many of his colleagues were begging to have their service extended? He told his employers that he needed to get to Lagos to seek his family’s consent… and that was how Pa Agoro bowed out of the NRC after 40 years of meritorious service. He clocks 100 next month.
The railway man, as Pa Agoro is fondly called among his friends, stated that the Nigeria society destroyed the country’s railway system. Providing an insight, he said the movement of goods when Nigerian Railway was very active was majorly by rail. The goods ends at railway stations in different parts of the country, where the owners pick them enroute their base.
“Where the railway drops it, the vehicles will take it from there. When Nigerians took over the management of railway, it was doing wonderfully well. When you put loads on it, it will be delivered safely. But do you know how they killed the railway? Italians took Nigerians, who were transporters to Italy to import flat lorries, with the bodies built in Nigeria.
“These are trailers, which convey goods from the port to wherever you want it, not to railway stations. As an importer, which one will you prefer? By that, the railway collapsed. Railway cannot carry load away from the rail lines, only to railway stations. So more people begin to buy trailers to transport cargoes.”
According to Pa Agoro, it was not about the cost, but the alternative that could take goods to their base, instead of rail stations, where vehicles would convey the cargoes to their base.
His journey into the service of the Nigerian Railway Corporation started with enrolling into the Railway Training School, which he calls the university of railway. He disclosed that students of the school were provided grounded trainings on transportation, especially rail transport. Agoro, who was born in 1919, said the railway school was more or less a university, because then there was no university in Nigeria. This is aside any graduate of the school could compete with any university graduate.
Though the Nigeria railway is no longer vibrant the way he left it 40 years ago, he is however happy that he served the nation through the Nigerian Railway.
“After I left the college, I went to railway training school. There was no university in Nigeria then, but Nigerian Railway had a place when you passed their entrance examination, you would be trained in all transport operations.”
Speaking with nostalgia, Agoro said on graduating from the railway school, he was sent to Port Harcourt from where he was moved to Mantok, Plateau State. “After passing out, you are not allowed to go anywhere near your home. They would post you to a place very far away from your home state, preferably, a place where people were not sufficiently informed. For the first three years, I was in Mantok, Plateau State. I was sent to Port Harcourt, which was the regional headquarter, but the people there sent me to Mantok. The station manager at the place was Hezekiah Amobi.
Mantok was a station between Kanfanchan and Jos.
“I was left there for three years and I saw naked people, I had never seen that before then, as a Lagos person. The women used leaf, while the men used cow skin to cover parts of their body.
“So, I was there for three years, no market. But I lived on vegetable, carrot and hasa, which looked like sand but tasted like rice when cooked. There was also guinea fowl, a white bird. To catch these guinea fowls, I would put millet seed from the outside of my room into the room. So, the fowls would trace the line of millet from outside into the room, and I would close the door against them. And I would catch three and release the others, that was what I was eating. It was what I lived on for three years, so, I was not spending my salary.
“The Station manager, Amobi, an Onitsha man, because he had seen an educated man, who would help him write the reports, he would sign all the return forms, and I would write all the reports and send them to the headquarters at Ebute Metta junction. And when the report was coming early, the headquarters was surprised, because the report they had been getting before then came in between one month to two months. That was before I got there. I sent in report in few days or a week at most. So, they were amazed with the way the report was coming in.”
Agoro attributed the turning in of report early to his training. He said: “As a secondary school leaver, you learnt a lot, your mathematic was first class. So, for me, when I looked at a wagon, I know the tonnes in it. So, when I went to take stocks, for each wagon, I knew the tonnes in them, then it would form the basis for my calculation for the report. If 20 wagons were on ground, I knew the tonnes. For the train coming from the east, with palm kernel oil, within short time, I was able to calculate and write the report. Because the headquarters were surprised at the speed reports were coming in, a team was sent from Lagos to see if I was doing it right. When they came, whitemen, they saw me at work and interviewed me.”
Due to the trust and his capacity to deliver, Agoro said his station master would travel to his village in Onitsha for two weeks, having signed all the return forms. “I will just fill up the gaps and send the reports to Lagos.”
But when the white men who were sent to investigate him was leaving, they took along Agoro, saying he cannot continue to stay in Mantok. “But the three years I spent in Mantok made me a matured man in traffic operations. When I got to Lagos, I was promoted to Satellite Station Manager, grade three, which should be attained after spending 20 to 25 years in service.
Agoro said the whitemen that brought him to Lagos did not allow him to go to his parents; rather they lodged him in an hotel, from where he was going to work. “I was there with them, I cannot tell them I am not going to stay with them, because I was working for the Railway, that was paying my salaries. My salary was six pounds a month; four pounds salary and two pounds of cost of living allowance, popularly called cola then. When I received my envelope, I would keep it under my pillow. The train would come with the money on payday. Some of my colleagues would use the money as they liked… they would go to Jos to buy Whiskey because the area was very cold.
“In my case, I do not drink or go to look for anything. So, the money as they gave me, I put under the pillow, no market, no trading. I won’t go anywhere, always at my station. More so, I had what I would eat for free. You were not planting them; they just grew everywhere including the salad leaf. The uniform I was wearing was provided by the railway. So, there was no cause to spend money. But back at home, my family was not hearing from me, no letter, nothing.”
Nigerians, according to him, are generally impatient. He explained, “When God created us, He did not create the poor or the rich, he created us and sent us into the world. And God is the only one that can help us, not man. I do not believe in lobbying. If anything happen, when I was in service, I go on my knees and tell the Almighty God what has happened and what I want. After that, I sleep and when I sleep, things begin to come to my head.”
He also said a man to woman is one of the secrets to his longevity. “There is no law that says if your wife died, you should marry another. If your husband dies, the wife should not marry, same for the man, because you have pledged that he or she is the only one you will marry. The priests, whether Christian or Muslim, will tell you that on your wedding day that it is one man to one woman. Even at the registry, it is same. But people say they are Muslims and they take a second wife. You should marry only one and that should be the end of it. If not, you will be creating problem, it should be one wife, one man, period!
“And if you marry, there are no children, know that not everybody can produce. If your system and that of your wife are not compactible, you can never have a child.
In summary, once you are married, do not think of another! What are you looking for really?”