Osogbo to Kaduna: 26 Brutish Hours on a Nigerian Train [2]

For 26 grueling hours, between the 24th and 25th December 2016, Kemi Busari journeyed on a train from Osogbo to Kaduna. In this second section of a three-part series reporter’s diary, he presents his findings of sheer dehumanisation of human beings and a system of corruption amounting to a short-change of government revenue.

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Read part One Here: Osogbo to Kaduna: 26 Brutish Hours on a Nigerian Train [1]

“Praise, praise, praise the lord, ha, ha, halleluiah,” was the beginning of the verbal exchange by a pastor to the congregation aboard coach 30347.

“Pastor Gwabachir, ride on”, one of the female voices billows as the congregation happily ends the praise and worship session.

The pastor starts to preach. “For those of you on this coach, look towards your friend and say I am blessed. Being the eve of the birth date of our Lord Jesus Christ, miracles shall happen here today.” he declared with firm confidence.

“Yyyyyyeeeeeeessssssss!” the ‘congregation’, mostly females, yelled.

“Turn your bible to the book of Matthew chapter 7, verse 7, omo igbala (children of salvation), tell me what you see.

“Ask and it shall be given unto you; seek, and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened. For everyone that asks, receives,”’ reads Pastor Gwabachir himself.

Pastor Gwabachir, a young man whose tribe is not easy to determine as he speaks both Hausa and Yoruba fluently beams with renewed excitement, fulfilled at the embrace of his little way of keeping passengers busy on the sluggish train.

“Pastor, I have a wish sir”, a female voice called out. “Our train is slow and I want it to be in Kano before Christmas”. “Yes you shall be in Kano, for in the morning of December 25, your train shall perch in Kano”, the pastor replied’

“Pastor, what I want to ask is a simple one sir,” came a male voice this time. “This cold is killing me. Pastor, please make this weather warm or give me one of these beautiful flowers in your congregation.”

The ‘congregation’ which now has all the members of the coach in its fold burst into laughter at this request. They soon entered into another round of praise songs.

“Ppppprraaaaiiiisssseee the loooooooooorrrrddd”’ the pastor shouted and in an instant, the congregation came back to silent mode.

Pastor Gwabachir continues: “I have received some prophecies for 2017 for each one of you here. Right now, the Lord said I should tell all of you that are into MMM to check your phones, a miracle alert is entering.

“And for you who is in need of a wife, look to the garden from left and right, for your Adam shall find his Eve not in the garden of Eden but in this cold and crowded Buhari’s train.’

Another round of laughter follows and so continues the prophecy session until it came to an abrupt stop as the railway policemen enter the scene.

Much ado about a train ticket

“Let me see your ticket”,’ a voice yelled at a passenger standing close to the toilet door. Middle aged and stoutly built, he is team leader of the search group attached to the railway. He takes special interest in his ticketing role such that one is likely to mistake him for the owner of the train.

“I don’t have a ticket,” the passenger, standing at the toilet side pleaded. “Then you have to pay or else I’ll throw you out of this train,” the team leader thundered with a bark that was meant to serve as deterrence to other potential ticket defaulters. The passenger oblige.

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interior of coach 30347

The search exercise by the railway police is usually carried out to fish out passengers who board the train without securing their tickets. The team is made up of three railway officials, a Man ‘o’ War cadet and a Nigeria Security Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, officer, ready to arrest ‘no ticket, no money’ passengers.

Upon presentation, the search team leader perforates the ticket which carries the purchase date to ensure that a passenger is not able to re-present the ticket at another time.

When some ‘no ticket, no money passengers’ were caught, I said to myself; ‘Yes they are in trouble.’ To my amazement, however, many passengers do not have ticket but despite their threats, the search team has not arrested anyone. How did they get out of the 'trouble'? How were they able to go scot-free? What is the fate of a ‘no-ticket, no money passenger?’

Fate of a ‘no ticket’ passenger

Let me share the experiences of a previous journey from Offa, Kwara state to Kaduna state.

After threatening to de-train passengers without tickets, the usual practice by the railway police is to negotiate with the ‘no ticket passenger’ at a price, allowing the passenger to continue the journey.

In most cases, the bargain usually starts from a fixed price. “Bring 1200,” the team leader spoke mildly to Aminat, a student of Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic, Zaria who was traveling after a holiday spent with her family in Ilorin. She pleaded, bargained and in a matter of seconds, she was allowed to remain on the train.

Later, a chat with Aminat revealed she paid only N500, as against the N1250 official price for a standard ticket. The rest was settled with exchange of contacts.

Unlike Aminat, Tunde (not his real name) was not so lucky on this particular journey. He explained to the officials that he lost all that he had while entering the train but this fell on deaf ears. He was soon dragged to the staff coach.

The officials threatened to ‘drop’ him at the next terminus but swore to first give him the torture of his life. He was locked in the toilet and they vowed to detain him there till the next stop. About 10 minutes later, he was relocated and in another 15 minutes, he was out, walking as a free man.

How did he do this? This writer decided to disguise as a 'no ticket passenger’ in the next search. To achieve this I gave up my seat for a standing position in the next 3 coaches.

A ‘no ticket no money passenger’ gets thrown out

The train had been moving for about 3 hours and no search team was in sight, i persevere.

No sooner had we left Jebba than the search team surfaced. I was prepared to have my 'toilet ordeal’ and so, I so I removed my wrist watch and other accessories to rid myself of any 'ajebutter' attribution. As expected, I was promptly arrested.

“I'm a student. I can’t afford the fare because I’ve exhausted the money on me. I was referred to the University of Ibadan for my final year project, and now I have to get back to school. I only have N200 for my upkeep till I get to Kano, I pleaded.

“Where did you enter the train,” I was asked in chorus. “Ibadan,” I replied.

“Where is your ID card?” a female NSCDC officer asked. While I was battling to explain why I don’t have it on me, the search team concluded I was not a student. “We shall drop you at the next station,” she announced.

While my trial lasted, I watched closely three other passengers facing the same situation. One was a female Hausa woman who was led to the Ilorin train station by the husband with three children and yet without a ticket.

The conversation between her and the officials heated up. I discerned she was heading to Mokwa, the next station. It was a case settled as that is where they have decided to ‘drop’ her. Her shoes were seized and she was directed to sit on top of a beans sack in front of the toilet.

“Sir, please can you help me to beg them,” I pleaded with one of the railway officials named Saheed, the only one who spoke my local language. He advised me to offer anything I have on me just to wriggle myself out of their claws. “They won’t answer you and you will be de-trained. Bring whatever you have and I will plead on your behalf,” he said.

I offered N700 and in an instant, I was freed. However, at the Mokwa train terminus, I witnessed the de-training of two passengers.

In all instances where the railway officials collected money, no ticket was issued out. All a passenger needed to do was to identify who he paid to when another round of search begins at the next stop.

How railway ‘overlords’ shortchange the government

A standard coach of a train have 18 rows of two and three-seater chairs in either half of the passage way. According to this set up, a fully loaded coach is supposed to have on board 90 passengers, which is always not the case. At the least, each of the coaches takes 30 more passengers than its capacity.

The Railway officials have different means of making ‘their money.’ Payment (not usually full) by ‘no ticket passengers, payments for heavy luggage, payment to occupy toilet space and in some cases, the officials give up their own spaces. In this case, they encourage passengers not to purchase tickets as they would offer them space in the staff coach.

For example, a standard coach of 120 passengers on average of N1500 transport fare is expected to remit N180, 000 to government coffers but this is often not the case.

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Ticket fare board at the Kaduna station

If luckily, 40 of the passengers has a ticket, it means that government will have to grapple with about N60, 000 (payment by those on ticket purchase record) while the Railway officials pocket N120, 000 less the amount they collect for luggage and other backdoor deals.

What this means is that railway officials on a train from Lagos to Kano with nine standard coaches make a whooping, 1, 080, 000 on ‘no ticket passengers’ while the federal government is left with only N540, 000.

This analysis was corroborated by a female cleaner at the Kaduna Railway terminus who pleaded not to be named in this report. She has been on the service of the Nigerian Railway Corporation for more than five years.

“Many of us here envy the role of the search team and wish we be handed such roles on the train”. Suspicious of the reporter’s inquisitiveness, the lady cleaner stopped responding to questions after seeming to have divulged enough of information.

“They share the money collected on the train, but I don’t know who gets what,” she said with a tone of finality.

Public corruption in the system

Like it exists in the junior and senior cadres of the Nigerian Railway Corporation system, so does is in the corridors of power brokers and policy makers in Nigeria. Corruption has existed for years immemorial in the form of contract scam, budget shenanigans and questionable alliances.

In 1995, the administration of late Gen. Sani Abacha awarded a $528m railway contract to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC ) for the rehabilitation of rail infrastructure, supply of 50 locomotives and other rolling stocks, as well as the training of critical NRC personnel. With little or no monitoring effort from the Nigerian government, the fund went down the drain as the project was shoddily executed.

In the twilight of his civilian administration, November 2006 precisely, President Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated the construction of a new Lagos-Kano standard gauge line, spanning 1,315km at the Kajola Railway Station, Ogun State. The contract was again awarded to the CCECC.

The project was later abandoned by the Umar Yara’adua administration after the Chinese firm had pocketed the sum of $250m, being the initial payment made by the government for the job.

In the following year, another project, a new Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line, was awarded to a Korean firm at a cost of $10bn then. It was never executed.

Under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the Nigeria Railway received funds up to the tune of N1tn part of which is the $11.9bn contract to build a coastal 22-stop railway that will stretch for 1,402km linking Lagos to Calabar with the maximum speed of 120km/hour awarded to China Railway Construction Corporation Limited in 2014.

The Buhari administration in 2015 came in with huge hope of revitalizing the transport system, especially the neglected railway, but the government is left with more than enough to deal with from loopholes in previous government to current sabotages.

Back to Osogbo- Kaduna journey

The train has been moving for up to 12 hours and had made routine stops at Ikirun, Inisa, Offa, Ilorin, Bodesadu, and now Jebba stations where the train is to wait for an hour and 30 minutes to allow a train coming from Kano use the main track.

Many passengers got off the train; some to pray, brush their teeth or get food to eat while a sizable others with luggage stayed back to hold vigilance on their belongings. I decided to join the ‘food people’; after a futile search for a decent meal, I gave up the search and returned to my coach.

While the wait lasted, I look up and find an inscription at the entrance of the coach: “No of seats: 90”’ and another; “Sifang Loco & Rolling Stock Works, China.” This train must have been delivered by this company, I thought. But in what year? Under which administration? I decided to do an on-the-spot research.

According to Railway Gazette, an online railway record website, Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC took delivery of some new 1067mm gauge rolling stock from China in 1998.

The stock includes 50 Class 2101 diesel locomotive coaches rated at 2400hp with air-conditioners from Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock Works. The corporation also received a fleet of rail buses and 400 freight wagons. The package was worth about US$500m, and NRC had to pay half of this up front, the Gazette record says.

Going by this record, the train in which I ride has been on the track for up to 18 years with little or no maintenance. Where are the air conditioners? I look at the roof of the train and what strike my eyes are four damaged hanging fans. Worse still, the train is always in perpetual darkness.

I was jostled back to reality by the odour oozing from the toilet. The smell has been unbearable, yet more people entered to use the toilet, adding to the accumulated pile of human waste.

Produced from this toilet are sewer gases, a complex mixture of toxic and nontoxic gases produced by the decomposition of organic household or industrial wastes and which may include hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methane, esters, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, a research work by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services says.

According to a report by the World Health Organisation, exposure to small levels of hydrogen sulfide irritates the eyes and respiratory tract, causes headache, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and nervousness. Further, inhaling very high levels of these chemicals decreases the amount of oxygen available to human being and can lead to immediate loss of consciousness and death. Not many passengers sitting around the toilet are bothered by this health hazard if ever the knew. Moreso, no sooner would they have left the seat than another passenger occupy.

As the thought race back and forth on my mind, i stick my neck out of the window. Alas! A crowd has build up in the Jebba terminus. A thief has been caught.

The train is a 'house of thieves'

There have been many cases of theft on the train since the journey started, thus informing the keen interest many passengers took in interrogating the ‘Jebba thief.’

The Jebba Thief

Just as the train was about to move at the Osogbo station, a man cried out that his wife’s tablet was missing, he ran out to search but the effort yielded no result and since then, there have been many other cases of theft. After confessing to his crime, the Jebba thief was tied to a pole for interrogation.

He was accused of stealing many items including phone, food and passengers’ good. He was caught in his last act while snatching a handbag from a woman on a moving train. As he picked his way to the roof of the train, he was apprehended, locked up and finally de-trained in Jebba.

Mungo Park in Jebba

Another unforgettable view at the Jebba station is the sign post erected in remembrance of Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, who died in early 19th century on a mission to discover the course of the Niger River.

Park, in 1805, had written a letter to the head of the colonial office: "I shall", he wrote, "set sail for the east with the fixed resolution to discover the termination of the Niger or perish in the attempt. Though all the Europeans who are with me should die, and though I were myself half dead, I would still persevere, and if I could not succeed in the object of my journey, I would at least die on the Niger."

In the end, he died at the Boussa rapids of the river where his expedition boat became stuck on a rock. With hostile natives saddled with spears, bows and arrow on the river bank, who had abhorred the journey from the beginning, Park and three of his remaining companions sprang into the river and were drowned. This happened in 1806.

Historical monument of Mungo Park at the Jebba station

As the journey continues, several versions of Mungo Park story fly in the coach bringing to my memory the first I ever heard.

Mum had explained emphatically: “when Mungo Park and his people wanted to construct the River Niger Bridge he faced many challenges. He went to consult an herbalist and they told him he would be successful but will lay down his life afterwards. They told him he would have a terrific encounter with the river goddess.

“On the D-day, he set out and as earlier warned met the ‘Mammy Water’ as the river goddess is fondly called who had thrown a large party for him under the river. The Mammy Water loved him so much and pleaded he shouldn’t leave but he declined. Later, they decided to test each other’s power. Mungo Park brought out a bottle, turned himself into a small creature and entered. When Mammy Water did the same, he brought out the bottle cover, imprisoned the Mammy Water and brought her to the river shore. It was after then they started work on the Niger Bridge because the Mammy Water have been delaying them before. She doesn’t want anything over the river,” i recollect as much as memory could take me.

The new face of corruption

After take-off from Jebba station, there was another round of inspection where ticket was requested for.

Having gone far into the journey, I told the railway official that I boarded the train in Jebba. “Pay N1, 200 to get your ticket,” the team leader said. The idea of getting a ticket for my payment is a welcome development as against no issuance of ticket, the earlier practice.

I paid and one of the officials dug his hand into a small bag tied around his neck and emerged with a ticket, a used ticket. The already perforated ticket used in October 2015 by a passenger on a journey from Iddo Terminus, Lagos to Kaduna station.

Left: front and back view of Osogbo to Kaduna ticket Right: used and recycled Lagos to Kaduna ticket

After a protest to be issued a new ticket which carries my take-off and destination stations, I was asked to return the ticket, a new date was written on the previous date and I was assured I will not be embarrassed as they are the search team that will be on the journey till Kaduna.

Dehumanising Nigerian train

The oxford dictionary defined dehumanisation as ‘the process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities.’ The dictionary gave examples of such treatment as ‘poverty’ and ‘squalor’ However, the professors who reviewed this dictionary would have easily changed their minds, to cite as example; ‘a journey on a Nigerian train,’ if ever they had embarked on such journey.

The standard coach legally houses 90 passengers but none of the coaches have less than 120 passengers. While the lucky ones cramp on the seats, others sit on the floor, some take to standing, holding bars or find solace in the gangway between the coaches just by the toilet.

At night, the scramble to get a sleeping space takes over. The best place to manage a comfortable sleep on a train is the floor of the passage or the space in front of the toilet.

sleeping positions in the train

The next comfortable option is the small makeshift table attached to the side of the train which allows only passengers sitting beside the window to rest their heads for a nap. Others sleep while on their seat or keep their eyes wide open throughout the course of the journey, like I did.

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Another sleeping position

The restroom is one of the most squalid sections of the train. By default, 90 passengers on a coach are entitled to two toilets located at the end of each coach but this is often not the case as the train is already overcrowded and most of the toilets converted to luggage spaces.

At first, I thought the train’s toilet was attached to a container to hold the discharges but when the train became stationary, I realized the liquid flowing down the rail steel confirms the toilet is not linked anywhere. When a passenger defecates or urinates, it drops right on the rail.

In the standard train, there is no power supply or alternative means of electricity. While a few of the coaches have one or two bulbs in working condition, others are in perpetual darkness.

There is no sales outlet in the Nigerian train; one has to wait till the next station to purchase essential items such as sachet water, food and the likes. Should a passenger fall sick or need urgent medical attention, such will have to alight at the next station, and that's if he makes it there alive. A Nigerian train which transports not less than a thousand passengers has neither a first aid box nor medical personnel on board.

A rail journey could be adventurous anyway

Despite the shelf-load of anomalies in the train, it has interesting peculiarities that set it apart from other means of transportation in Nigeria.

The first note of adventure is the buying and selling that goes on in the stations. The goods come in cheap prices and in their natural state compared to what obtains in the cities.

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Night traders at Mokwa station

“Mai wanke (beans seller) Mai kifi (fish seller), Mai doya (yam seller)”’ the sellers, all of whom had waited patiently for the arrival of the train at every station, call out to would-be buyers.

Six tubers of yam in Zungeru cost N700, a rubber of beans which sells for up to N500 in the city goes for N250, fried fishes for N50 and N100, a plate of Amala, Tuwo or pounded yam with Egusi, Ewedu or Kuka and two meats goes for either N150 or N200 depending on the size of each wrap.

A nylon-fill of of Kulikuli is sold at N250 while balls of Donkwa, an Hausa snack is sold at N50 for 3 balls. The cheap price is the same for other goods, including bush meats.

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My first meal: N200 in Mokwa, N300-400 in Lagos

More interesting on the rail journey to the north are the rolling views of River Niger Bridge, the mud huts, sights of thousands of cows in the bush and the friendliness of locals at every village. At the honk of the train, villagers, young and old, come out with happy smile to wave and bid the passengers’ safe journey. Even farmers at work leave tilling for a moment to perform the wave ritual.

Christmas on the train

It’s some minutes to 12 a.m. on December 25th and many passengers, wearied from the tedious journey, have resorted to rest. After many hours of excitement, Pastor Gwabachir’s church members have resorted to other recreational activities - from Ludo games to cards. Others share a conversation or two.

This was the setting in coach 30347 as the train moves through dense bushes between Zungeru and Minna. At about nine minutes past 12 p.m., one of the passengers shouted Merry Christmas and in an instant, the games ended. The congregation is set for another round of Christmas worship as we coast along Minna, Sarkin Pawa and Kaduna.

By 7:15 a.m. of December 25, 2016, the train finally stops at the Kaduna station and after a 10-minute human traffic on the train due to insistence of incoming passengers to board before we alight, I made my way out of the train, dirty and famished.

The following Tuesday, December 27, 2016, I set out for yet another bout of adventure on the newly inaugurated Kaduna-Abuja light rail.

Note: The concluding section of this three-part reporter’s diary will be published on Thursday, 25th January 2017.