Friday, 18 April 2014
On The Newly "Revived" Nigerian Railway, A Train Ride Of Hell By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat
When the railway first begun its operation some years ago, I was in Kwara state and noticed the train attracted so much attention due to the kind of publicity given to it by the then governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki. The governor at the time ensures there is so much awareness about the functioning of the railway, which attracted so many citizens including my humble self.
After hearing so much of the train’s activities, yours truly decided to catch the train from Ilorin to Lagos to assess its operations. When I did, the trip took us between 12 to 13 hours to reach Lagos from Ilorin. Though, the experience was not that disappointing, except for the delay and the state of the railway coaches, which were not in good shapes.
From experience, every newly introduced system needs time to develop, but in all, I gave the railway a 25% pass mark at that time which I believe can be improved upon with time and commitment from the government and management of the railway cooperation.
Fast track to 2012, The Minister of information, Mr. Labaran Maku during his good governance tour made a lot of fascinating remarks about the railway, boasting about its improved state, efficiency and confortability which gave the majority of Nigerians the impression that the railway is another paradise of achievement in the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan. But in order to evaluate the government rightly in its transformation, I decided to take another trip via the train to have a first-hand information on what has improved since my last trip to verify the authenticity of the claims of the honourable minister.
I decided to travel via the train, although I have my worries because In recent times, I have read so many false claims by the government and based on this some misinformation without any corresponding reality when investigated, I ensured the trip was not for any business purpose, but just fun.
The journey was on Wednesday 31st in the month of October, 2012, I informed some friends about my adventure run via the railway from Ilorin to Lagos, what I refer to as an adventure of transformation. I prepared that morning and head straight to the railway, and upon arriving to the station around 8:03 a.m. having known that the train would take off by 9 o’clock based on my pre-travel information seeking, I headed straight to the ticket section; inside the counter was a young ebony short and robust woman in charge of ticket sales. I originally wanted to purchase the first class ticket, but I was told the first class tickets has been exhausted, so, I had to take the economy ticket which was the only available option after the first class. The first class ticket cost N1050 and the economy is N670. So, I took the economy which is N670, but because the staff in charge said there was no change, I had to leave the remaining N330 change with her. While I sat by the side ways, I watch all kind people throng in to the railway station, ranging from students, old women and business people with loads and all manner of others.
During that period, a bus from Ilorin to Lagos cost between N1400- N1900 depending on the kind of bus and the motor park one is entering from and it takes between 4-6 hours to get to Lagos. So, considering the price difference, it is common for the majority of the masses who are simply looking for a cheaper means of transportation to patronise the railway, especially those business women with loads. Some minutes to 9 (o'clock) which was said to be the official time for taking off, I expected a call to board, but there was none. I had to go along with others to ask if the train was no longer moving, and we were told the train shall take off by 11:00. You earlier said it is taking off by 9 o’clock we queried, and they said some things came up and apologize for the delay.
Finally, some minutes to eleven, the call to board the train was initiated, I stepped up and boarded, but am annoyed, there was nowhere to sit. I walked from the 1st coach to the 14th car which is the last in search for a seat, but there were no seats available. At this juncture, I went down and approached the staffs to claim a refund my money because there was no available sit, but to my surprise, there were several others with the same query. The lady in charge who took the payment simple told everyone the fee is nonrefundable. She asked us to look behind the ticket that it was clearly written, it is the policy of the railway she said. I turned to the back and saw it clearly written, ‘’nonrefundable after payment’’. Jeez and irritated, I vehemently informed the lady that the ticket can only be non refundable if the passenger purchased the ticket and then decided not to travel, but in this case when the railway couldn’t provide the service that was paid for, it does not apply. In the course of this interaction, another staff came to address the passengers and said, ‘’they are terribly sorry for the situation’’. He explained that, they didn’t know the passengers would had exceeded the number of seats and that the majority of the people on board are heading to Offa’’, the next station close to Ilorin which is around 1 hour’s drive away. He pleaded that the passengers should please bear with the them that if we could get to Offa, everyone would get a comfortable seat after the majority of the passengers go down.
In the traditional Nigerian fashion, the passengers were so accommodating and willing to give it a try, tolerate a slight discomfort to experience the thrill of transformation. But unknown to us, the passengers over exceeded what can be imagined. It is a condition which ensured that a railway car which should normally contain a maximum of 90 sitting passengers, eventually took close to 200 people, where most passengers on the train were either sitting on the floor, in the toilet, at the edge of other people’s seat, standing between two sits on top of the chairs, or just standing. This was beyond my imagination, and that of many other first time passengers, because ‘’I was standing in the midst of the crowd’’.
Over crowded railway passengers inside the train packed After facing so much trouble in the 1 hour journey from Ilorin to Offa where we were expecting to have a seat after the majority of the passengers go down as we were told, we were peeved to get to Offa only to realize there were close to 200 other passengers waiting to board the same train, and contrary to what we were told that a majority of those on board would drop off at Offa, less than 50 passengers went down and over 200 were there waiting to come on board. It was after reaching Offa that I understood the staffs of the railway corporation had cajoled the passengers, some regular passengers revealed that it is their usual practice.
At this stage, I had no choice than go down from the train because I cannot travel from Ilorin to Lagos standing on my feet for only God knows how many hours be we arrive our final destination, but before I went down, a friend called and said, ‘’I was told you went on an investigative mission on the train, so how far?’’ I replied slowly, I am on and would call back when I get down. It occurred to me that I could actually make the trip an investigative duty if I can handle the pain and inconveniences attached. I made up my mind about the trip and decided to stay on board and continue the journey to have a rich experience.
As I look directly behind me, I noticed from afar that the police were asking the passengers by the door area to open the door for more people to come in, I got angry and intervened and insisted they not open the door, but I was a little far away from the actual spot and there was no way I could get there except I was ready to step on women and children sitting on the ground or push every other person standing. The security men at the Offa station were harassing and threatening to shoot If the passengers refused to open the door, this is a cruel way to treat people, when the people inside are already suffocating of heat caused due to the size of the crowd, the police were still hostile and threatening to shoot. The police finally succeeded in forcing the door open, when the door was opened, more people were forced inside with the same story that more people would get off when we reach Oshogbo. But from Ilorin to Offa, Oshogbo to Ibadan, we keep having more and more people at the terminals waiting to board with their tickets.
I say without exaggeration, the Molue in Lagos which is usually said to carry overload is better than this. I swear by God, the railway’s overcrowdedness far exceeds what had ever been done by the Molue. Let me explain how the passengers sit inside the train so you could get me better. The railway had 14 coaches, each containing two chairs, one 3 seater by the left and another 2 seater by the right and there was 18 rows altogether. The total available seats for passengers in each compartment is 90.
After this 90 seats are occupied, people started to lean in the middle space, some sat on the ground, and they are mostly women and children. When the middle area was filled up to extent that everyone could not move, some people started to sit at the edge of the seat of those who are already sitting, after this, some had to climb the seat and sit on to top where those on the seat would lay their heads in case they are tired or wanted to rest. At a stage, some had to climb the chairs and stand between the chairs.
When the train had filled to a stage that there could not be movement what so ever, the focus shifted to the toilet, and before you know it, the toilet had been filled to capacity with passengers. You may be wondering what would happen if anyone wanted to ease him or herself? But am sorry to tell you that, if anyone wanted to relieve him or herself, the other people just had to look the other way. It is so pathetic I must confess.
After standing for over 6 hours and witnessing all this weird happenings, I lost the strength and courage to continue the journey, even though there was glee inside the train taking attention away from the serious issues, but I then summoned the courage to follow the journey to the end when I saw a child crying in distress; I said to myself, if this child can make it inside this train in his condition, I have to. The picture attached capture some passengers sitting on the chair, some also stood on the chair, placing a leg on the chair by the right and the other on the left, holding the ring on top. It is actually THE TRAIN OF HEL.
While the festivity is on-going, I noticed some railway staffs coming to check the children’s ticket to confirm if they took a ticket before boarding the train if not, the parents would be made to pay right there. I inquired about it, and It was learnt that the railway charges a separate fee for children of three years and above. When I challenged one of the railway staffs about the condition of the train, he said to me ’’ it is normal for us’’
In his words:
’’ people ought to have known that there was no space to sit before taking the ticket, so when they use it, we think it’s their responsibility to cope with the condition of the train till we reach our destination. He maintained that, we didn’t force anyone to buy the ticket, and no one was forced to come to the railway. When asked on how people would know there was no place to sit on the locomotive before taking the ticket, he said, they should know. When asked why they require separate fee for children, he also insisted that it is the policy of the corporation to charge children of 3 years and above a separate fee like others, but half the price of the matured people.
When we got down at osogbo station for refreshment, I noticed some passengers are on top of the train, I was dazed and shocked, how would anyone sit on the roof of a train from Ilorin to Lagos I asked myself? Although, most people on top had already come down for refreshment, but I still managed to get a picture which captured some people on top.
Railway passengers from Ilorin on top of the train at osogbo station I decided to explore why those people would be allowed to stay on top despite the security attached to the train, though the train was slow, but despite that, sitting on the roof should not be an option. I asked some regular passengers who said they probably didn’t have money to pay, so the railway staffs may have helped them to get to Lagos. But when I manage to reach one of the boys on top, I told him how dangerous it is to be on that roof that even though he had no money to travel, the roof of the train shouldn’t be an option. The innocent looking boy simply brought out his ticket, showed it to me and said, I paid. He explained that, ‘’the money I paid was the last money on me and I had to go home so as to resume back to school next week. Are you a student I asked, and he replied yes? A student of the Kwara State polytechnic. I tried to get his name, but he refused to divulge it. He explained further that, when he paid, and they didn’t refund is money, there was no way he could remain in school without money, not even money to buy recharge cards. But when he saw people climbing the roof, the man beside him said to him, I am also going to climb the roof. And before you know it, there were close to 100 people on top, most of them also had their tickets, so I summoned the courage to join he said.
His declaration was contrary to what those inside imagined, and it was confirmed that these passengers on top of the roof also purchased the same ticket as those sitting inside.
In the course of the journey, I interacted with some passengers one of which was Mr. Bolaji Adegoke who said he is a business man and a first time traveller on the railway. When asked to comment on the state of the railway, he said, we have suffered in the hand of this government and its railway staffs, and I regret ever coming to the railway. In fact, I regret that I listened to the advice of coming to board a train in my life. He said
Bolaji explained that, when we left Ilorin in anger that we could not sit on a chair, we were comforted that a majority of the passengers on board would go down in Offa, but when we got to Offa, less than 30 passengers went down and we have a multitude of others coming on board. He concluded that, the railway is just like shingles. When we arrived to the Abeokuta station in Ogun State around 8:00 pm at night, unknown to the passengers, the railway staffs had abandoned the train and went away with no any information to the passengers. The passengers were left without guidance, no security, and no nothing. After sitting inside the train for about 1 hour with no movement, everyone became aware of the situation, and we all came down wondering what was happening. It was close to 10 pm. Where the railway staffs are everyone were asking with nobody to respond. But unknown to most passengers, some elderly women had already fainted inside the train. When the people became aware, everyone helped as they were rescued. Children reportedly fell ill and were vomiting due to the condition of the locomotive as experienced
While we were made to stay at the terminal, Women and children waxen and looking bushed were sited sleeping around the railway on the bare floor in the middle of the night before the railway staffs finally came back around 1:30 a.m.
Railway Passengers scattered in Abeokuta terminals around 1:00am As much as we are where we are not sure what will happen next, It could not deter me from making the appropriate usage of the venue to interact and interview some passengers. That place gave me the opportunity to interact with some more passengers since its midnight, around 1 am; where everyone were unsure what to do or where to go. Everyone’s face was intense, but they were helpless and unsure what would happen to them. They had earlier called their loved once, informing them about their condition; many were scared, fearing for their life. Male railway passengers sleeping on the ground around 1:00am Adio lamented that, ‘We thought it was the typical 10 to 20 minutes rest, but we were wrong. We were abandoned since like 4 hours ago with no any idea of what is happening or sense of when we are leaving’’. Kamoru further stated that, you would see women sleeping around on the ground with their children, no security, and no nothing. In his words, ‘’As you can see, we are exposed to all manner of danger here, and we only hope for God's protection. If we are attacked now, there is no one to save us except God.’’
He concluded that, we have been abused, violated, unjustly treated, and oppressed by the railway Corporation.
Railway passengers, women and children sleeping on the floor at the Abeokuta station where the train was abandoned around 1 :00 a.m Uthman Issa, another passenger who is vehement said, how on earth did such kind of people gain employment to work in a railway? People that lack education or have any sense of justice. These are people who don’t care about other people’s life or health. ‘’you cannot Imagine all the health implication of this place; look at the spell, what about the danger? See the children, aged people, women and including myself. I was standing on my bare foot from Ilorin till we got here.’’ He said.
A woman who said she is a regular passenger on the train said, she is a business women, and she had loads. She explained that, this is not the first time such a thing is happening, to them; it is a common thing now, though sad and disappointing, but she has no choice. She maintained that, she had no choice than use the railway since the railway is safer for her loads and cheaper. She lamented how her two children had fallen ill, but would treat them when they get home. The railway finally departed Abeokuta, Ogun state the next day, November 1st,2012, around 2:00 a.m. and arrived Lagos around 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
This ensured that the railway spent almost 21 hours in its journey from Ilorin to Lagos.
It is worth to note that, the railway from Paris in France to Madrid in Spain spend 9 hours to reach its destination, Paris (France) to Amsterdam (Netherlands) is 3 hours, Paris (France) to Rome in Italy is 11 hours, France to Belgium is 2 hours, Netherlands to Belgium is 2 hours or fewer, yet, we spent nearly 21hours from Ilorin to Lagos.
When I got to the Agege station after standing on my foot from Ilorin to Lagos for about 19 hours, plus another 2 wasted hours at the Ilorin station, I came down from the railway and say goodbye to THE TRAIN RIDE OF HELL.
This made me start to wonder what kind of person is Labaran Maku and what the transformation of this administration in this sector that worth the praises? Is this what this government is proud to call an achievement? Is this what the Goodluck transformation is all about? I wonder.
The railway is no doubt a good means of transportation if managed properly, but as it stands, it is a sloppy venture and the minister who came to the world to make noise about it did so is utterly irresponsible. All that was said about the railway is a farce. When I boarded this train when it was first introduced, it was even better compare to what we have now, but after the government had claimed to spend so much money on the railway, this hell is what can be presented as a result.
If a minister of the federal republic is so proud to call this torture an achievement, I think the minister needs to be checked. I pray one day, the president and the minister would have to board the train and enjoy their transformation as enjoyed by the citizen. Based on my experience on the brute railway, I can conclude that the railway is an one of Nigeria's latest affliction by the federal government, which is afflicting or causing pain and miseries to the people. I so call on the federal Government to control itself, and its programmes to ensure it is doing the right thing and ensuring its staffs are upright, else, staffs who are dishonest would continue the woes of the government.