by Efosa Aiyevbomwan
Every day my people dey inside bus
Forty-nine sitting, ninety-nine standing
Them go pack themselves in like sardine
Them dey faint, them dey wake like cock
The Nigerian railway system exemplifies the pathetic state of the nation’s infrastructure and transportation system. I boarded a train from Iddo, Ebute Metta to Agege on Tuesday, the 21st of June, primarily to escape the hassles of the typical Lagos traffic snarl after work hours and also to experience a “new adventure”, as I had naively termed it. I also wanted to feel firsthand, the supposed ongoing lofty transformation of the Nigerian Railway Corporation. I was however left feeling extremely disappointed by my experience.
There is absolutely no difference between Nigerian trains and the ignoble, infamous Lagos ‘molue’. The trains are metallic mounds of welded and moulded pieces of rubbish that best equal the legendary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s fabled “sardine” vehicles of Nigerian lore. They are dirty, dampened by sweat and other putrid bodily excretions, cramped, hot and scary. The cabins wobble; you do not only feel the train sway like a leaf in turbulent weather, you actually see the
cabins wobble from inside as they are barely held together by worn-out, rusted and dangerously loose bolts, nuts and hinges. The rails are bushy and bumpy-due to poor maintenance- and you literally feel the earth reach out and punch the floors as you struggle to hold on to non-existent standing support railings.
People are attracted to the relative cheapness of a train ride- a ride from Iddo, Ebute Metta to Ikeja, Agege and Ijoko costs only 120 naira. But this leads to overcrowding. The desperation of the passengers to exploit this affordability is obvious in the way they throng and completely envelop the trains. There is no attempt by the authorities to prevent over-crowding even though this poses a big threat to the lives of those on board. At every stop, unscrupulous ticketers encourage people desperate to go home, to jump onto the train. This is even after the train has far exceeded its carriage capacity for sitting and standing passengers. With improper, if any, ventilation,
the picture is better left to the imagination.
A torrid depiction ofthe ignominy, debauchery and sheer debasement that Nigerians are forced to endure as a result of their being afflicted with the disease of poor leadership. It is a sad and upsetting scenario.
Successive governments have attempted to correct the anomaly and curse of the railway system; from the Shehu Shagari government of 1979-1983, with billions of naira committed to revamping the moribund – I prefer fully dead- Nigerian Railway Corporation. These billions have literally vanished as there are no visible improvements. Yet, those who handled these billions roam our streets while we are left to hang from behemoths of tangled scrap metal. Newspaper reports indicate that the Abacha led government signed a 528 million dollar contract with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to rehabilitate Nigeria’s entire 3,500km rail network, supply 620 locomotives and rolling stocks and provide technical training for the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) staff. The contractors abandoned the project after two years.
In 2006, after receiving a 2.5 billion dollar loan – expected to be used on Nigeria’s railway project – from the Chinese government, then-president Olusegun Obasanjo called back CCECCC and awarded them an 8.3 billion dollar five year contract to reconstruct the Lagos-Kano railway. The end result was a squabble between the Nigerian government and the Chinese contractors which led to both parties parting ways-the contract was abandoned, but not without the Chinese leaving with the
initial deposit of almost 1.6 billion dollars. The contractors abandoned the project after two years.
In 2009, the Senate Committee on Transportation submitted a report on a probe of the government’s spending on land transport between 1999 and 2007, indicting some prominent Nigerians in the process. The report, however, never saw the light of day because of vague
It is a sad thing, really, to hear of happenings like these while the industry witnesses further rot and decay. Something must be done. I fear for the worst, what with innocent people riding in rail propelled coffins. The people responsible for this must be brought to book. They must pay for this assault on Nigerians. They must atone for stealing our money and forcing us to ride like compressed fish in sardine tins.
A true investigative panel must be set up to investigate the corruption that has hounded the railway system, and honest, effective and transparent efforts must be made to transform the system. Obsolete equipment, which in this case means just about everything-trains, rails, ineffective and unscrupulous staff- should be discarded. Pre-historic trains should not be given to Nigerians; this is the era of light rail transportation. I pray all these happen soon, because the Nigerian Railway system is a disaster that is on the cusp of happening.
For now, I am content plying my usual, stress filled route; snail-like traffic, angst ridden motorists and all, because the activities, if any, going on at the Nigerian Railway Corporation are besides being
dangerous, a pathetic excuse for a national revolution/renaissance.
Aiyevbomwan is a Masters Student at the School of Media and Communication, Pan African University, Victoria Island, Lagos.