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 sincerely decided to board the train from Ilorin to Lagos to access its operations. When I did, the trip took us between 12 to 13 hours to arrive Lagos from Ilorin. Though, the experience was not that regrettable, except for the delay and the condition of the railway coaches which were not in good shapes.
From experience, every newly introduced measure needs time to improve, but in all, I gave the railway a 25% performance at that time which I believe can be improved upon with time and dedication 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 interesting remarks about the railway, boasting about its improved state, efficiency and conformability which gave the generality of Nigerians the impression that the railway is another heaven of achievement in the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan. But in other to rate 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 ascertain 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 several misinformation without any corresponding reality when investigated, I ensured the trip was not for any business purpose, but just pleasure.
The journey was on Wednesday 31st in the month of October, 2012, I informed some friends about my adventure trip 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 head straight to the ticket section; inside was a young dark short and robust lady in charge of the ticket sale. I initially wanted to purchase the first class ticket, but I was told the first class ticket 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 behind.
While I sat by the side ways, I watch all kind people troop in to the railway station, ranging from students, older women and business women with loads and all sort 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 differences, it is normal 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 move to be initiated, 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's 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 wry, there was nowhere to sit. I walked from the 1st coach to the 14th coach which is the last in search for a sit, but there was no sit 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 money is none refundable. 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, ''none refundable after payment''. Jeez and wry, I vehemently informed the lady that the ticket can only be none refundable if the passenger purchased the ticket and later decided not to travel, but in this case when the railway couldn't provide the service that was paid for, it doesn't apply. In the course of this interaction, another staff came to address the passengers and said, ''they are very sorry for the situation''. He explained that, they didn't know the passengers would had exceeded the number of sits and that the the majority of the people on board are heading to Offa'', the next terminal close to Ilorin which is around 1 hour's journey away. He pleaded that the passengers should please bear with the them that if we could get to Offa, everyone would get a comfortable sit after the majority of the passengers go down.
In the usual Nigerian style, the passengers were so considerate and willing to give it a try, endure a slight discomfort to experience the adventure of transformation. But unknown to us, the passengers over exceed what can be imagined. It is a situation which ensured that a railway coach which should ordinarily contain 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 sit, 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 myself was standing in the midst of the crowd''.
Over crowded railway passengers inside the train packed After facing so much discomfort in the 1 hours journey from Ilorin to Offa where we were expecting to have a sit after the majority of the passengers go down as we were told, we were wry to get to Offa to realize there were close to 200 additional passengers waiting to board the same train, and contrary to what we were told that majority of those on board would drop in Offa, less than 50 passengers went down and over 200 were there waiting to come on. It was after reaching Offa that I realize 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 can't travel from Ilorin to Lagos standing on my foot for God knows how many hours, 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 mission if I can bear the pain and inconveniences attached. I made up my mind about the journey and decided to stay on board and continue the journey to have a full experience.
As I look straight behind me, I noticed from afar that the police were asking the passengers by the door side to open the door for more people to come in, I got angry and intervened and insisted they never open the door, but I was a little far away and there was no way I could get there except I am ready to step on the women and children sitting on the ground or push every other person standing. The security men at the Offa terminal 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 for heat caused due to level of crowd, the police were still threatening to shoot. The police finally succeeded when the door was opened, more people were forced inside with the same story that more people would go down in 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 over crowdedness far exceeds what had ever been done by the Molue.
Let me explain how the passengers sit inside the train so you could understand 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 row altogether. The total available sit for passengers in each coach is 90.
After this 90 sits were occupied, people started to stand in the middle space, some sat on the ground and they are mostly women and children. When the middle space was filled up to an extent that everyone could not move, some people started to sit at the edge of the sit of those who are already sitting, after this, some had to climb the sit and sit on to top where those on the sit would rest their head in case they are tired or wanted to rest. At a stage, some had to climb the chairs and stand between the chairs.
Overcrowded railway passengers inside the train 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 sad to tell you that, if any one wanted to ease 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 strange stuffs, I lost the strength and courage to continue the journey, even though there was merriment inside the train taking attention away from the serious issues, but I later summoned the courage to see the journey to the end when I saw a child crying in discomfort; 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 indeed THE TRAIN OF HEL.
While the merriment is on-going, I noticed some railway staffs coming to check the children's ticket to confirm if they took 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:
'' the people ought to have known that there was no space to sit before taking the ticket, so when they take it, we believe it's their business to cope with the condition of the train till we reach our destination. He maintained that, we didn't force anyone to take the ticket and no one was forced to come to the railway.
When asked on how the 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 take 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 terminal 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 came down for refreshment, but I still managed to get a picture which capture some people on top.
Railway passengers from ilorin on top of the train at osogbo terminal I decided to enquire why those people would be allowed to be on top despite the security attached to the train, though the train was slow, but despite that, sitting on the roof shouldn't 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 mention it. He explained further that, when he paid and they didn't refund is money, there was no way he could survive in school without nothing, not even money to buy recharge card. But when he saw people climbing the roof, the guy 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 them he said.
His revelation 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 passenger 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 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 multitude of others coming on board.
He concluded that, the railway is just like a shingles.
When we arrived to the Abeokuta terminal 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 information, 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 no body 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 sick 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 chance 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 vehement, 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 floor around 1:00am Adio lamented that, 'We thought it was the normal 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 idea of when we are leaving''.
Kamoru further stated that, you would see women sleeping around on the floor with their children, no security, and no nothing.
In his words, ''As you can see, we are exposed to all kind of dangers here and we only hope on God for protection. If we are attacked now, there is no one to protect 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 terminal 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 get 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 thing is happening, to them; it is a normal thing now, though painful and regrettable, 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 sick, 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 approximately 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 less, yet, we spent approximately 21hours from Ilorin to Lagos.
When I got to the Agege terminal 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 OF HELL.
This made me begin 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 shoddy venture and the minister who came to the public to make noise about it did so shirk. All that was said about the railway is a charade bolster.
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 hell 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 affectation by the federal government, which is afflicting or causing afflictions to the people.
I therefore call on the federal Government to check itself and programmes to ensure it is doing the right thing and ensuring its staffs are upright, else, staffs who are venal would add to the woes of the government.