The Return of the Lagos-Kano passenger train

A train

Passengers have varying experiences on the Lagos-Kano train.

As the train snaked its way into Agege and crawled to a stop in front of the overcrowded Lagos station, Bashir Yusuf disembarked from the Second Class Coach where a dearth of seats had forced him to stand for five hours.

Mr. Yusuf boarded the Kano-Lagos train at Kaduna, where he paid N2, 000 and extracted a promise from the railway staff that he would get a comfortable space.

“When I searched the entire train for a seat and couldn’t find any, I was very disappointed. I was lucky to get a place to stand,” said Mr. Yusuf, 20, traveling in a train for the first time.

After decades in the doldrums, the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, revived the Lagos-Kano train route last December to complement the existing Lagos –Ilorin and Minna-Kano intercity train services.

The over 30 hour journey from Nigeria’s commercial capital to the major industrial hub in the north has witnessed an impressive patronage since its return.

“As far as I’m concerned, being in the First Class coach, the journey is not so bad compared with the journey on the road,” said Tanko Garba, 58, a passenger.

“It is cheap, and there is no fear of attack by armed robbers,” he added.

‘War zone’

There about 20 stations scattered between the 1,126 kilometre distance between Lagos and Kano.

And the train, with at least 16 coaches, is designed for three categories of passengers: the First Class Sleeper, with bed and air-condition; the First Class Seater, an air-conditioned coach that accommodates 60 passengers; and the Second Standard, with 90 passengers.

While the First Class coaches are relatively comfortable for the long distant trip, the Second Class coaches are like an overcrowded slum with loud verbal exchanges between passengers sometimes degenerating into fisticuffs.

Second Class coach Train Nigeria

“This place is like a war zone. At least five people have tried to fight this night over space,” said Mr. Yusuf.

During a recent journey from Kano to Lagos, the railway security arrested a young man who attacked a fellow passenger, handcuffed and locked him away inside one of the rooms in the coach.

“At the next station, we would release him and let him take his things off the train,” said a security officer.

But such incidents are not rare in the Second Class compartments, designed to accommodate 630 passengers (in seven coaches) but end up carrying almost twice that figure.

In contrast, the passengers in the First Class coaches are much more concerned about things like leg room at their seats and the sanitary condition of the toilet.

In a train journey last February, the stench of the toilet in the First Class compartment spilled into the coach such that all the passengers had to be barred from using it.

“The railway is still on the old system and even most of the old system is now getting worse. You can see the toilet we have here, although it’s a good toilet, there is no person that is mandated for the cleaning of the toilet,” Mr. Garba said.

“During the time I experienced the something in the 1970s, every station there were coach attendants that they go to the toilets and wash them and sanitize them. Here there is no water, you have to buy water to clean yourself in the toilet,” he added.

An old institution

The NRC is an over a century old institution. It commenced rail business activities between 1898 and 1901 with the construction of the first rail line, the 193 kilometre Lagos-Ibadan route.

With the completion of the 640 kilometre Kano-Maiduguri rail line in 1964, the present core of the railway network was put in place.

However, neglect by successive governments coupled with monumental corruption left rail transportation in the country gasping for survival, with the corporation running into bankruptcy more than once in the last two decades.

While no new wagons had been purchased since 1993, some wagons date as far back as 1948, Jetson Nwankwo, a former Managing Director of the NRC, stated in his critique on Nigeria’s rail transportation, in 2008.

Also, the old tracks contributes in limiting the trains to a speed of 35 kilometre per hour, a sharp contrast to that of modern trains – China’s commercial trains move with an average speed of 200 kilometre per hour or more.

The President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, in 2006, signed a contract with the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company, CCECC, to modernize the Lagos-Kano rail line. Two years later, the project was suspended following a dispute.

In 2009, the Federal Ministry of Transport re-awarded the contract for the rehabilitation to the CCECC, and Costain West Africa.

While the CCECC got the 488 kilometre Lagos-Jebba rail, Costain won the 638 kilometre Jebba-Kano end.

David Ndakotsu, NRC’s Assistant Director, Public Relations, said that the Nigerian railway is undergoing a “massive transformation.”

“There is ongoing rehabilitation and modernization programme which is all embracing,” Mr. Ndakotsu said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.

“That is, rehabilitation of the entire 3,500km track network, acquisition of new locomotive engines from General Electric, refurbishment of about 600 coaches and about 200 wagons for both passenger and freight transport, modernization of telecommunication programs, training of entire staff.

“This is the vision of the new railway. Extending rail lines to virgin areas,” he added.

‘We were misinformed’

A snap poll by PREMIUM TIMES of passengers during a train journey from Lagos to Kano and Kano to Lagos showed that almost all the passengers were happy with the revival of the Lagos-Kano route.

Most passengers interviewed said that they were optimistic of an improvement in services, though they expressed worries at the train’s snail speed – it takes an average of 33 hours to complete the Lagos-Kano journey. At 200 kilometres per hour, a Chinese commercial train would complete the same journey in less than six hours.

Bode Richards boarded the train from Lagos and arrived at Kaduna, a distance of 903 kilometres, 24 hours later.

“When we got to Minna, we saw a change. The movement was so rapid that somebody must have talked to somebody that this train was slowing down. Along the line we got here at a good time,” said Bode Richards, a consultant.

“We all need to give and take. These guys working on the rail here, they have challenges, so we need to help them to grow. That’s the way I see it,” he added.

But Mr. Ndakotsu said that the corporation has already attained its maximum height in terms of services and operations.

“At the level of our economy, we are already there,” he said.

Some of the passengers, however, stated that they were “misled and misinformed” after they watched on television the flagging off of the rail transport by Labaran Maku, the Information Minister.

“They showed us a very fine coach on AIT (Africa Independent Television), last two weeks, on Good Governance Tour,” said Bola Ojo, 35, a nursing mother on her way to Zaria.

“They entered a very beautiful coach. I told my husband that my next trip is by rail. That coach on the telly has very big plasma TV. To make matters worse, they even interviewed passengers and they were happy. That was when I knew there was A/C from Lagos to Kano. But this is an old train,” Mrs. Ojo said.

Another passenger, Abubakar, who sat on the floor almost throughout his entire 243 kilometre journey from Zaria to Minna, said that he was shocked at the deception.

“They didn’t tell us that people can also sit on the floor, or even stand throughout a journey. They lied to the whole Nigerians,” a furious Mr. Abubakar said.

Despite such misgivings, patronage for the trains has continued to soar. The Lagos-Kano route moves twice weekly, with all the 11 passenger coaches swarming with people.

Also, train routes in the Lagos area alone record between 16,000 and 20,000 passengers daily, according to the NRC.

“There have been massive rush, massive demand, in fact we can’t cope now,” Mr. Ndakotsu said.

“All the major road transport passengers, most of them if they are going to Kano, Kaduna, Minna and so on, they are now taking the train. We are even looking forward, in the nearest future, to make it a daily operation (to the north) because it’s always congested.”

After 35 hours, the journey from Kano to Lagos, which began on March 18, got to its destination.

Mr. Yusuf, tired and exhausted, said that he would return to Kaduna, after his three week stay in Lagos, in a bus.

“I will follow Marco Polo (bus). I’ll pay for attachment, N2, 000,” he said.


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  • Afam

    please am waiting for you guys to publish the fraud impeachment of IMO STATE deputy governor not anti-GEJ all the time,give Nigerians a balance journalism,there are more details about the impeachment saga in IMO STATE,give us the news…

    • Mr. Afam: Kindly send us whatever information you have on this matter.

      • Afam

        **corruption allegation against impeached Deputy Gov, Agbaso is bogus.
        **N458 million bribe money traced to Lebanese contractor’s Bank accounts.
        **Gov Okorocha’s Special Adviser is a share holder of the Lebanese Company in center of this bribe saga.

        Following his removal Thursday’s evening, the House immediately screened and approved the erstwhile chief of staff to Governor Rochas Okorocha, Prince Ezeakonobi Madumere who was nominated by the governor as the new deputy governor.
        Before developments climaxed in Owerri yesterday evening, it emerged that the N458 million bribe money at the Centre of the controversy had been traced to two banks in Lebanon and Dubai.

        The transfer of the money according to details of forensic investigations obtained by Vanguard yesterday, however, showed that the funds were transferred to two accounts in the name of one of the officials of the company, who ironically, accused the erstwhile deputy governor of receiving the bribe money.

        Elder brother of the former deputy governor, Chief Martins Agbaso who briefed newsmen in Lagos yesterday also made available certified true copies from the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC of the ownership structure of JPROS Limited, the company at the centre of the bribe allegation.

        The share structure revealed that a serving Special Adviser to Governor Okorocha was appointed as a director in JPROS after the award of the controversial road contract to JPROS Limited in 2012.

        ”According to the findings of the investigators, the N458 million (Four Hundred and Fifty Eight Million) alleged to have been paid as gratification to the Imo State Deputy Governor, Sir Jude Agbaso was actually sent by the official to his company accounts overseas.

        “The findings of the investigators revealed that, the official first paid the sum of Three Hundred and twenty five million Naira into Three Brother’s Concept Ltd. GTB Account. The money was used to raise the sum of $1,930,000 which was subsequently transferred through Dubai, on February 21, 2012 to the official’s account No LB55001400002302300179018010 with the Kaslik Branch of BLOM BANK SAL in Lebanon.

        “The purpose of the transfer as stated in the transfer document was “to import construction equipment. “The second tranche of N133,000,000 was similarly paid into the IHSAN BDC Ltd’s account No. 1015334698 with the UBA by the official. Again the money was used to raise $800,000 and transferred to the official’s account No. AE360200000036374395130 with HSBC Middle East Ltd at Dubai Internet City, Sheik Zayed Rd, Dubai.”

        Noting the irony, Agbaso said: “So, while the official was accusing the Deputy Governor of Imo State, Sir Jude Agbaso of demanding and receiving a bribe of N458 million, the said money had been converted by the official himself and his associates, and paid into the official’s foreign accounts in Lebanon.”

        • Afam

          IMO N458 Million Bribe Saga.
          Gov Okorocha’s Aide, Mr Akano, And Director of the Company Involved In the False Allegation against Impeached Deputy Governor

          The Forensic Auditors employed to trace the missing N458 million have tracked funds in the accounts of the contractor, JPROS, in the United Arab Emirate, Dubai and Lebanon.

          The startling revelation came from the older brother to the former Deputy Governor, Mr. Martin Agbaso, who addressed the press Thursday on the matter.

          He said the family had taken the initiative to employ forensic experts in the case because of their desperate need to clear its name from the deliberate attempt to tarnish it.

          He equally presented copies of his younger brother’s call log obtained from MTN, noting that no contact was established between his brother and the contractor during the period in question and reiterated that the former Deputy Governor’s impasse was politically motivated.

          The revelations also showed that one of Okorocha’s special advisers and Chairman, Committee on Monitoring and Implementation of Road Projects, Mr. MacDonald Akano, was on the board of the company and also its second largest shareholder.

          Records at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), showed that Akano was put on the board of the company at about the same time the execution and mobilisation for the contract in question took place.

          The report presented by Agbaso showed that, “Mr. Dina first paid the sum of N325 million into the Three Brother’s Concept Ltd GTB Account.

          “The money was used to raise the sum of US$1,930,00 (one million, nine hundred and thirty thousand dollars), which was subsequently transferred through Dubai on February 21, 2012 to Mr. Joseph Dina’s account no: LB5500140000230 23 00179018010 with the Kaslik Branch of Blom Bank Sal in Lebanon.

          “The purpose of the transfer as stated in the transfer document was ‘to import construction equipment’.

          “The second tranche of N133,000,000 (one million and thirty-three million naira) was similarly paid into the IHSAN BDG Ltd’s account no: 1015334698 with UBA by Mr. Dina.

          “Again, the money was used to raise $800,000 (eight hundred thousand dollars) and transferred to Mr. Dina’s Account no: AE6020000003637 4395130 with HSBC Middle East Ltd at Dubai Internet City, Sheik Zayed Rd, Dubai.
          “So while Mr. Dina was accusing the (former) Deputy Governor of Imo State, Mr. Jude Agbaso, of demanding and receiving a bribe of N458 million, the said money had been converted by Mr. Dina himself and his associates and paid into Mr. Dina’s foreign accounts in Lebanon and Dubai.”

          On the ownership of the companies, he said “The Three Brother’s Concept Ltd runs a Bureau De Change and its directors are Abdulahi Lawal, Ahmadu Yanusa, Karimu Usman, Umar Abubakar and Yakubu Abdulahi. Its current shareholders are Abdulahi Lawal, Umar Abubakar and Yakubu Abdulahi. Jude Agbaso, the (former) deputy governor of Imo State, is not one of them.
          “The directors of Ishan Bureau De Change are Alhaji Inuwa Sabo, Abdulahi Tasiu Maikano, Haruna Saidu and Mallam Sule. The five gentlemen are also the shareholders. Again, Jude Agbaso, the (former) Deputy Governor of Imo State is not one of them.

          “The directors who are also the only shareholders of JPROS Nigeria Ltd, the company whose MD is falsely accusing the (former) Deputy Governor of bribery are Joseph Dina, Aline Dina, Jean Samir Aoun and Mr. MacDonald Akano, the Special Adviser to Governor Rochas Okorocha and the Chairman of the Committee on Monitoring and Implementation of Road Projects in Imo State.
          “Isn’t it fascinating to discover that a Director and major shareholder; indeed, the second highest shareholder in the company involved in this ugly defamation of character and wicked attempt to destroy the good name and image of the (former) Deputy Governor, is a member of Governor Okorocha’s inner circle.

          “Isn’t it even more fascinating that to know that Akano stood quietly and loyally beside Mr. Dina as he blackmailed and slandered the (former) deputy governor before the members of the state House of Assembly, knowing well that his company, JPROS, was the guilty party in the matter”.

      • Gbokoro

        Premium Times, Afam has written some serious allegations here accusing the governor’s aide. Are you going to investigate it and tell us if its true or false. Journalists can help us in fighting corruption so we are looking forward to some investigative journalism here.
        Should we wait for answer or should believe that this is Nigeria as usual and everything will be swept under the carpet?

  • Kay Soyemi (Esq.)

    If our government is more forward thinking, they would only invest in the infrastructure, i.e. the rail lines, stations and other facilities and allow the private sector to run franchises and pay them (the govt) rent for infrastructural investment and maintenance.

    This will not only free p govt resources, but will also generate an ongoing source of revenue whilst the private sector competition will improve passenger comfort and service delivery.

    But I guess not, they still need to be involved in the nuts and bolts in order to continue finding ways to keep stealing funds.

  • Nigeria is really developing,we really thank God

  • Enemona

    Tchoo! Tchoo! Locomotive is back to Nigeria, all the way from the 15th century. Let’s celebrate our medicrity, is this the best we can actually offer? Other countries leapfrog but we ‘leapsnail’.

  • IskaCountryman

    boko haram express…