Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Premium Times Train Trip Lagos – Kano (Live Blog)

Published:

Join the live reports of the train ride. After decades in the doldrums, the federal government, last December, revived the Lagos – Kano train route, to ease the transportation burden across the country.

The journey averages 33 hours and, like the other major train routes in Nigeria, has witnessed an impressive patronage since it began last December.

This is the first of the many north-south train routes that would, hopefully, unite the country again – a sort of a re-amalgamation of the north and the south, a railway official told PREMIUM TIMES.

PREMIUM TIMES will join the trip on Friday (today) and bring you live accounts of the train ride from Lagos to Kano.

The main objective of this trip is to observe the teething challenges, if any, and how efficient and convenient the journey is for the passengers.

21.04

We have reached the final destination. I suppose there’s nothing more to talk about. Thank God for journey mercies. And thanks to everyone who was part of this 30 hour journey all the way from Lagos. No, I’m not exhausted. Good night!

20.56

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the ancient city of Kano. It’s exactly 30 hours 15 minutes from Lagos. There is a collective sigh of relief.

Kano

20.29

Let me dwell a bit on some of the positives of this Lagos-Kano trip:

It’s a bumpy ride;

you have access to a bar on the go;

there’s no bolting through a bus’ window in an armed robbery attack;

and there’s no question of emergency landing.

If you are going to Kano, you’ll get to Kano.

20.17

The train is blaring furiously o. I think Kano is in sight. 8:06 p.m.

19.44

We are on the move immediately. I hear Kano is 40 minutes away. Time to gather my stuff. And settle all outstanding bills.

Country Side kano trip

19.24

We hit Challawa. This is the last stop before Kano. It’s 7:15 p.m. That’s exactly 29 hours since we left Lagos.

18.56

As the train snakes its way through rocky plains towards Kano, we pass a community where half clad kids run out of thatch homes to wave at us. Presidential stuff!

18.07

Second Class Standard: N1,690. First Class A/C: N2,530. First Class A/C Sleeper: N4,990.

17.46

Just so you know, Zaria is the last major station before Kano. But there’s Challawa in between the two cities. At Zaria, we had gone 986km from Lagos. As for the cost of getting to Zaria from Lagos…

17.45

Goodbye Zaria. 5:30 p.m. Next stop, Challawa.

Zaria

17.35

On the move again. From Zaria. Both First Class coaches have gradually emptied, so we now sit where we want. However, the same cannot be said of the Second Class coaches.

17.04

Someone in the First Class coach just told me that the “toilet is OK.” Issokay.

16.56

At the Zaria Station, there is a First Class Waiting Room, flanked by the offices of the Public Relations and the Man O’ War. I suppose Second Class Waiting Room would be to stand outside.

16.53

Fortunately for me, I meet Salisu, a Kano resident travelling Second Class from Lagos. I ask him if he had enjoyed the ride thus far: “I like it. We are only two on this chair. I’m not a big man. The A/C is for the big man.”

16.53

While we await the Zaria bound passengers to unload their luggage, I make another trip to the Second Class coaches. The first four guys I meet tell me: “Ba na ji turanci.” Which roughly means ‘I do not understand English.’ Unfortunately, the only Hausa I learnt after a four year stay at the University of Jos were how to hurl abuses and curses at people.

16.52

While I was discussing bar matters, the train stopped abruptly. ZARIA. 4:30 p.m.

Zaria station

16.46

To be honest, internet connection has been very stable since we left Kaduna. But matters at the bar had kept me from updates. By the way, it took me less than two minutes to get to the bar after we left Kaduna. That’s a world record.

Still on bar related matters, don’t forget that from my First Class ‘A’ coach, I’ll have to walk through the ‘B’, then kitchen to arrive at the bar. Last night, crowd at the corridor between ‘A’ and ‘B’; another crowd between ‘B’ and the restaurant; and the multitude at the bar were awesome. If you manage to buy a drink, for the bottle to arrive at your mouth, you’d have to elbow some fellow.

Kaduna Junction train station

16.28

On a more serious note, this train journey hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Problem is, every time I try to think of the positives, I remember the toilet…

16.25

Just spoke to a passenger who is heading to Zaria. She told me she was ‘deceived’ into boarding the train by Oga Maku: “I watched him on AIT last two weeks when he entered a brand new train with a large flat screen TV. And they were interviewing a woman who said she was very happy. Me I’m not happy.”

15.30

Our train as driven by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

Goodluck Jonathan train

Goodluck Jonathan train

15.20

One dude who was left behind at Gwada, the last station before Kaduna, dashes into the train. He’d used Okada to pursue the train. And paid N2,000. One Yoruba guy screams: “N2,000?! Ah!”

15.18

We are headed towards Zaria now. 83km and two hours away.

15.16

Did you know that when the train sounds its horn and the dude at a back coach waves a red flag, the train is not ready to move? A black and yellow flag? Jump on the train.

Train flag

15.15

The toilet? Damn! I’m so traumatized at what I saw I won’t speak further on the matter.

15.14

Don’t know if anyone noticed, but I’ve tactically avoided the toilet. Actually, I’ve got a phobia for public toilet. That said, this journey leaves me with no choice, I have to check out the toilet. Wish me luck.

14.10

The Locomotive

Train Nigeria

14.05

Just before we got to Gwagwada, the locomotive stopped before a hill, and then painstakingly dragged all 16 coaches, at snail speed, across the hill. So when we arrived Gwagwada Station, the ‘aggrieved’ thing just zoomed past, without as much as saying hello to the folks there.

14.04

I haven’t gone missing. Just been hanging out at the bar again. *Clears throat* Apparently, Kaduna has been shifted to a farther location, we are supposed to have hit it by now.

11.49

On the move again. From Gwada. Next stop will be the third to the last: Kaduna. By God’s grace.

11.34

At Gwada, these four tubers of yam was bought at N400. How much will it cost in your local market?

Yam bout at Gwada, Niger state

11.29

The power has been cut and coach has gone from warmer to more warmer. We are still at Gwada. The train’s engine is not running.

11.27

Another stop. At Gwada. The coaching is getting warmer and so I’ve shed all my winter attire of last night. There is power and the fans are blazing. No A/C.

11.25

At Minna, we had done 19 hours. 743km from Lagos. A bit of info for those who’d love to come as far as Minna: Second Class Standard costs N1,280; First Class A/C costs N1,910; First Class A/C Sleeper costs N3,300.

11.15

Inside the Second Class

Second class coach NRC

10.31

10:26 a.m. On the move again. Spent almost an hour at Minna. Every hour brings Kano closer to this GEJ-manned locomotive.

10.30

It would seem that the Second Class coaches have an insatiable appetite for passengers and luggage. More folks, encumbered with their loads, struggle to enter.

10.29

A cleaner has arrived at our coach. It’s about time.

10.25

I must confess I’m getting tired of taking trips to the bar. The last time I tried to get a drink, the crowd there multiplied like there was some kind of meiotic division that occurred while I was away.

I tried to get another glimpse of activities at the Second Class coach. Going through the bar, I discovered the connecting door has been shut. I force it open, walk through, then discover I can’t go beyond the first Second Class coach. Children and bags compete for territoriality on the aisle.

10.23

My colleague, Dave, who embarked on the same trip last week, told me they were driven by The Dame herself. And they spent 35 hours en route. I hope Ebele shows he is the man on top.

10.21

Do you know that we are being driven by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan? Yes, you heard right. The Dame’s hubby. That’s the name inscribed on the locomotive, the frontal coach, taking us to Kano.

10.20

Minna

10.18

Minna. 9:30 a.m. A flurry of trading activities at the station. Hawkers from sachet water to bread to egg. The coach is almost empty now, people disembarking to get some fresh air. My new friend tells me he’s going in search of cigarette.

08.14

The dude from the kitchen is making his morning rounds: gala, bottled water, canned malt and Fayrouz drinks.

In fact, we just hit ZUNGERU. Learnt the last stop was a “small station.” It’s 8:03. We brushed our teeth at the speed of light. See you at Minna.

08.13

7 a.m. We hit Zungeru. 685km from Lagos. That means we’ve covered more than half the distance! I wondered whether it was too early to head to the bar. When I made my usual round to the bar at 4 a.m., there was no more space to sit or even stand. The waitress had stretched her bulk across the bar’s counter and had slept off. Dejected, I turned back.

08.12

5:30 a.m. I lost count of the number of times power was cut and restored, so I stopped taking notes. However, I’d tried to take a nap before it’s dawn, but a combination of dark forces, including the water droplets from the A/Cs vent ensured I failed. I made a mental note to forward a letter, through the official, to the federal government to get paid for night guard services.

08.11

1:56 a.m. We hit Jebba. 488km from Lagos. Seven minutes later we were on the move again.

3:00 a.m. We hit Mokwa. Just when I was beginning to wonder what had become of the ticket inspector, the dude emerged, with his armed-to-the-teeth-with-AK47 rifle police officers. “I know them. So let us go,” he told his escorts. And they hurried past the coach, onto the next coaches.

08.09

So by 1:30 a.m, when I sauntered – or staggered – back to my coach, everywhere had gone pitch dark. The guys had, obviously, won the war with the official: they had become overdosed with the Nollywood and needed a lights out. With the aid of the light from my mobile phone, I located my seat, my mate had changed to a sitting position. I tapped her on the shoulder, gently, she moved, and I tucked in.

08.08

I have to mention that by midnight, the Second Class Coaches had become so overcrowded that folks began spilling into the bar and the restaurant. The cook was forced to take a strategic position outside her kitchen’s door.

08.08

At midnight, I lumbered back to my coach from the bar only to discover that my seat mate had coveted my space, stretching her legs across my seat and snoring softly under the sheet. A gentlemanly spirit got the better of me, so I made a detour to the bar.

08.06

Good morning guys. We were out of network areas for the better part of the night… But I’ll bring you up to speed on major incidents through the night…

00.26

Just had a serious discussion with the railway official on the coach. The temperature is approaching zero degrees. “This is a train. Before you enter the First Class, you supposed to prepare for the AC,” he said.

23.50

11:45 p.m. The train gradually pulls pulls out of the Ilorin Station. We are making progress.

23.40

Now at Ilorin. 391km from Lagos. Again, we skipped Inisha as stated on travel guide. Everyone now complaining about the cold, including me.

23.36

It’s still all quiet. Train is moving, electricity is restored, and everyone’s attention is riveted at the Nollywood. I am torn between taking a nap, and another trip to the bar.

23.15

Power restored. The coach is very cold, and relatively quiet. Except for the sound from the movie and that of metal grinding against metal , below, as the train heads towards Inisha, the next station

22.43

We leave Offa. 10.35 p.m. Power has been cut off again.

22.40

The bar man pulls out a mop to drain the mess on the floor. Drunk dude staggers from one stool to the next. The waitress, still furious, screams at him to return to his coach. He saunters towards the Second Class coach.

22.37

Unfortunately, I can’t get access to the Second Class coach. The multitude of humans hanging by the door, coupled with those standing on the aisle.

22.35

The train is still at Offa. Waiting. I try to walk from my coach to the Second Class coach. That means I have to pass through the First Class ‘B,’ restaurant, and then bar. At the bar, a drunk dude just emptied his stomach’s content onto the waitress’ table. She is furious.

22.19

We hit Offa. 346km from Lagos. Power is still on, so the coach is incredibly cold. Almost everyone has a cloth draped over her body. No blanket is offered by the train company – yet.

22.06

Here is our electricity story over the last hour.

Restored at 9:09 p.m. Cut at 9:13 p.m.

Restored at 9:43 p.m. Cut at 9:50 p.m.

Restored at 10:00 p.m.

22.00

Speaking of electricity, it has been restored. 30 minutes after it went off. The drops stop whenever electricity is cut.

21.59

Droplets of water, from the air conditioner’s vent have been dropping on my head so much so that I am considering buying an “umblerra“  at the next stop.

21.44

We’ve lost electricity – again. The entire coach is now in darkness, and quiet.

21.42

Let me rewind to some notable incidents that happened when I lost contact with the entire world. Before we got to Oshogbo.

An elderly market woman who joined us at Ibadan, had occupied a dark space between the two first class coaches. Sprawled on top of her sacks and lost in sleep.

21.32

There is a man, a couple actually, who would have thanked God if that woman was left behind. They are heading to Minna, bought  First Class ticket at Ibadan, but there is no seat for them. The man is at the back of our coach, his wife is some where nearby. But divided they stand.

21.25

The train pulls out of Oshogbo station (9:09 p.m.) . A woman beside me sprints into the coach, breathless. She says she has disembarked to ‘gist’ with her daughter who lives in Oshogbo . And this ‘heavenly’ train nearly left her behind.

21.13

CONFIRMED: This is Oshogbo. 293km from Lagos. So if you paid N510 for Second Class and N760 for First Class, this is your lst bus stop. Sorry, Train stop.

21.07

Hold on a minute. Stepping off the train to confirm this is Oshogbo. Because I don’t want to say one thing now, and my Oga at the top will say it’s another thing…

21.04

CORRECTION: I’ve just learnt that the station we just pulled into is Oshogbo. That means we skipped Iwo and Ede, according to the manifest. So WELCOME TO OSHOGBO.

21.01

I hear a lot of folks have missed me. *blushes heavily*. We’ve lost sight of telecom masts again. But we’ve left Ibadan according to my earlier blog post, and headed Iwo, the next station. 241km from Lagos. By the way, I will be blogging text only until further notice.

20.54

Ben has lost internet on his phone. The train is currently snaking through the Osun forests. Next station is Iwo. He will resume multimedia updates as soon as the next 3g area.

19.27

This is what happens: as the train pulls out of each station, officials and those armed-to-the-teeth-with-AK47 rifle police officers, go around the coaches for a fresh inspection of tickets.

19.25

I have to reiterate that meals/drinks are PAY AS YOU EAT/DRINK. The drink is actually ‘pay before service.’ A round faced lady sits before a padlocked fridge, unlocks it to remove a drink, and re-locks immediately.

As for the bar, they have assorted beer and spirits. That’s all.

Just in case you are wondering, the train has a restaurant and beer on board. An entire coach jammed between a First Class Coach and a Second Class Coach. The restaurant has a kitchen that prepares all the meals I listed earlier.

19.03

We are on the move again. Power is back. Everyone is happy again. Except the guys in First Class A/C ‘B’ – we paid the same fare, yet they don’t get Nollywood. They don’t have air conditioners too. Incredible!

Goodbye Ibadan.

Ibadan-001

18.58

Ok, back to my job. Basically, what happens is that at each station, passengers disembark, more passengers embark. And so we are having crowded coaches. At the Second Class.

18.52

In case you are wondering what happened in ’75. My mother was heavily pregnant with her second child. I’m the fifth child. Haha.

18.52

We’ve stayed in Ibadan now for over 30 minutes. Power has been cut again. Our coach started to feel like an oven, so I stepped out onto the gravel-decked rail track, remembered what happened in 1975, and rushed back in.

18.48

One cabin is dedicated to refreshment. Right now at Ibadan, it’s time to eat. The first-class ticket does not come with meal tickets, just a sitting space.
food train

18.24

Ibadan! 6:13 p.m. I’m rushing back to my seat.

17.58

Sorry for the break in transmission. We’ve been zooming past thick bushes and trees. No telecom masts in sight. Nothing worthy of note has happened though. The only notable incident was when Ini Edo shoved a pregnant woman to the floor and thrust a kitchen knife into her protruded belly. A collective gasp rang across the coach. Nollywood, of course.

17.51

The gala boy is making another round at the coach, with the same array of confectionery. Except that the canned malts have been replaced by two prominent bottles of Heineken beer.

17.49

Our operator gives us Nollywood again. We are on the move, everything is working, and everybody is happy.

16.44

An official, accompanied by an armed police officer, comes into the coach and stares at faces as he walks by. “We are looking for new faces. We are looking for new faces…”

16.32

We are on the move again, slowly gathering speed. Everybody in the coach has a form of mouth organ – plaintain chips, Ofada rice, gala (this one at N50 company price), boiled egg, etc.

16.19

We are having a situation at the Abeokuta Station. Incoming passengers arguing with already boarded passengers over ownership of seats. I better hurry back to my seat.

16.19

We just pulled into the Abeokuta Station, 4.07 p.m. That means we’ve covered 97km from Lagos.

16.00

Just as I finished the last post, the power went off again. And everything else accompanying it.

15.58

By the way, the train is escorted by a crack team of dare devil police officers armed to the teeth with AK 47 rifles. Two are dozing at the back of the First Class A/C ‘B’.

15.52

I’m trying to read, but the lady beside me won’t just stop moaning about the Nollywood movie. “How can Ini Edo wear the same cloth for two weeks?” “How can Mike Ezuruonye go into a bush bare chested?” “The director of this movie is not a pro?”…. I may change my mind and have another beer.

15.48

A little more description of the coaches: The First Class A/C is divided into A and B. Those of us in A are having the sole privilege of enjoying Nollywood-on-the-go.

15.47

Inside the first class coach.
image

15.37

The scene in Skyfall, where James Bond boarded the train in search of a terrorist, is a film trick. On my short journey back from the bar, I smashed my skull, thrice, against the wall, fell into a seat occupied by a couple, and kicked a lot of feet enroute. The train seemed to be bumping across a perpetual gallop.

15.03

The power is restored. The railway staff begins to shut a window but suddenly gets a brain wave. “Make I leave am open jare. They go still take the light.” He gives us back our Nollywood.

15.02

Oops! A bag, stowed on the rack above, lands on the head of a sleeping passenger. The gala seller apologizes and puts it back. By the way, his gala is N60, a 20 percent increase from the market price.

14.56

A young man moves around with a basket of bread, gala sausage, and canned malt drinks. No, this is not a flight. You pay as you eat.

14.54

The power is yet to be restored. A staff is going round sliding down the glass windows. Right now the difference between here and the 2nd Class is that we still have enough leg room. And there are no multitude of babies wailing to high heavens.

14.52

We just hit Agege. A short stop for more passengers to embark. Into the 2nd Class coach. On the move again.

14.45

So I decide to have a beer. For the road. Alhaji Tanko, standing at the door, tells me the last time he boarded a train – in 1973 – to Jos. From Lagos. “We spent one week before we reach Jos. At Kafanchan, we spent more that three days.” My beer is suddenly bitter.

14.43

Another round of warning from the armed guy: “If you see anybody you don’t know in this coach, confront him. Or else they will pick your handsets and bags.”

The train jerks violently and the fans and A/Cs go off. Our Nollywood movie too. But we are moving.

14.42

Another round of warning from the armed guy: “If you see anybody you don’t know in this coach, confront him. Or else they will pick your handsets and bags.”

14.41

This is my first train experience, so I’m wondering why we are on a reverse motion, moving backwards, as opposed to facing the direction you are heading towards.

14.40

And YES, we are finally moving. 2 hours 15 minutes behind schedule. Say a short prayer for us. For journey mercies.

14.40

Need I add that no official bothered to explain the cause of the delay. Or even apologize.

14.39

Just as I finished the last post, the train’s engine went off again. That means, the air conditioners and fans have stopped. And the juju music too.

14.37

We are now two hours behind schedule. And they are still “repairing something.” The Juju music is playing now, apparently to calm our nerves.

14.34

For want of something to do, I’ll just describe this coach: 15 rows of seats, two people on each side; a miniature loudspeaker hung on the wall; a 14 inch LCD (I hope it’s working); and seven overhead fans, evenly spaced from one another. And, of course, the air-conditions.

13.58

An armed police officer, straight from the 2nd Class coach, walks into our coach (1st Class, in case you’ve forgotten): “Hmmmmm. This place is extraordinary. You have to pay extra money…”

13.57

This train hasn’t moved, I just see people in blue overalls, clutching spanners and screwdrivers, and making phone calls. But we are enjoying the air-conditioned coach though.

13.34

In this photo, I’m looking at those people who have been “repairing something.” The train is still not moving – or has refused to move.

Ben Ezeamalu

13.19

They have switched off the engine. I’m told they “are still repairing something.”

13.17

Finally, there’s an announcement. From an armed police officer: “Whosoever is coming into this coach that you don’t know, raise an alarm.”

13.16

By the way, the onboard loudspeakers are belching out Juju music. Non-stop.

13.15

The train is still not moving. No voice from the loudspeaker to tell us the reason for the delay. I overhear a passenger: “they say they are repairing something.”

13.14

For the records, I’m travelling on the FIRST CLASS A/C. So I’ve had to cough out a whooping N2,890. ‘Whooping’ because my ticket says ‘Lagos Terminus to Kano. A/C 1st Class. Fare N59.70.’

13.13

There’s the Second Class Standard, costs N1,930. Then the First Class A/C, costs N2,890. And then the First Class Sleeper A/C, costs N4990. The last two categories have air-conditions (as the name implies), the last one has a bed. Yes, a bed.

13.13

While we are waiting for the train to move, I’ll just run through the prices for the various coaches – three in all…

13.12

The railway guys are still checking tickets. And loads too. They tell one passenger: “Your load is one-five (N1,500). The man opens his mouth: “One-five?”

13.12

Apparently, the coach is internet-challenged. Been finding it hard to get a connection. The train just crawled a few metres and stopped. The railway staff are now checking passengers’ tickets.

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