Buhari’s newly-commissioned train station throws up interesting concerns
Folorunsho Ayobami was not supposed to be on duty on Thursday morning. He had to be because he had heard that the Nigerian president would be in Lagos to commission the new Mobolaji Johnson train station directly opposite his workplace.
The 53-year-old security guard at UAIB Insurance is a train lover who once avidly patronized the Oyingbo train station which is now abandoned.
He recalls that during festivals in his hometown in Osun State, former Governor Rauf Aregbesola gave them free train rides to and fro the state, and subsequent governors have kept the tradition.
“And we enjoyed it,” he remembers.
So, Ayobami had come to work earlier on Thursday because he wanted to have a feel of the commissioning and, perhaps, see the man who’s been in the news all through the week.
For him, the commissioning reminded him of what transportation was once like and the hope this new train station brings to both Nigerians and the economy, and his expectations were met as President Muhammadu Buhari touched down at the venue in his glorious presidential National Air Force chopper.
Abayomi even filmed the proceedings on his phone. All of it. Even the road sweepers who crowded the place in a struggle to catch a glimpse of the man who is attempting to bring ‘salvation’ to the transport sector.
“This terminal at Mobolaji station is not the first nor the last one. We’ve experienced the one at Oyingbo. So, instead of going to Oyingbo, this location is better. I believe we’re going to have a lot of benefits from it and it’ll favour all of us, especially people that travel by train,” he says.
According Ayobami, it is a lot safer than travelling by road and people are saved from the perennial traffic, accidents, and armed robbers.
By observation, his excitement and commendations for the project were genuine, but something else bothered him.
The transportation fares.
When the train was newly introduced and put up for a test run, the fare was pegged at N3,000. This attracted wide criticism from Nigerians who said the fare was higher than boarding a bus to Ibadan.
Abayomi tells BusinessDay that going to Ibadan by road is around N1,500. Tops, N2,000, compared to travelling by train which is N3,500.
“Why should it be like that?” he asks with brewing anger. “It’s not supposed to be so. We’re appealing to the governor to reduce the fare in order for poor people to enjoy it. The government needs to reduce the money. It’s supposed to be cheaper than road transport.”
Accustomed to travelling by train every year from Lagos to Osogbo when the Oyingbo station was functioning, this security guard hopes to begin again. But the fare could prevent that.
“I’m hoping to enter it this coming Sallah with my family. That is, if the money is not too much,” he adds.
Also expressing her concern, Rita Osadebe, a food seller, says from directing people to the station, she noticed that only a few people could afford it as those who cannot opt for road transport to Ibadan.
“The money should be brought down to something like N1,800 or N1,700 so that poor people can afford it. Because many people cannot afford it,” she says.
Osadebe has some personal connection to the new train station. First, she was part of the people whose houses were demolished to erect the structure. Secondly, her husband works there as a train driver.
But she is also concerned about the rent of the shops at the station, especially because she has been selling food to the Chinese workers and would like to continue doing her food business at a shop at the station.
She tells BusnessDay that she has been selling by the roadside since her house was demolished in 2018. She needs a shop to do her food business but cannot afford the cost of a space there.
“If they are doing something, they should be considering poor women who can’t afford it. The shops are too expensive, they should bring it down,” she says.
Nonetheless, she says that the project is a great achievement for Nigeria as people will not have to depend on road transport and it will also ease traffic.
For Olateju Mohammed, a trader, the station is good for the economy because people can quickly move from one place to another without traffic delays. It will also enable interstate businesses as people in Lagos and Ibadan can now do business freely.
While she expects that people will begin to patronise the train service, she insists that the fares are quite high and should be reduced due to the economic situation of Nigeria.
“N2,500 is much. They can reduce it to N1,500,” she suggests.
Speaking to a senior human resource officer of the Nigerian Railway Corporation who identified herself as Njah, BusinessDay learnt that the fares vary. Business-class is around N7,000, second-class is N5,000, while economy class is N2,000.
The excited staff member said the commissioning was unexpected and it showed that the Nigerian Railway Corporation was headed towards attaining greater heights.
According to her, Nigerians have been enjoying the Lagos-Ibadan train station and now they can compare it with the rest of the world.
“This is going to be in history!” she exclaims. “With this, we are sure of travelling in a safe and conducive environment.”
President Buhari, who arrived in Lagos on Thursday morning for the commissioning of the Lagos-Ibadan railway project, described it as another milestone in the revitalisation of railway projects to boost economic activities in Nigeria.
He said the project was part of the Lagos-Kano railway project, which already has Abuja-Kaduna component and is being given the needed attention. He said when the Lagos-Kano project is completed, it would link up to Maradi in Niger Republic.
Buhari also commended the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, for his persistency and determination in completing the railway project.
‘Leave your vehicles at home, patronise the train’
The Erelu Kuti IV of Lagos, Abiola Dosunmu, in an interview with BusinessDay said the project would ease the lives of Lagosians. Hence, she recommended it to all irrespective of social status because it is of the “highest standard”.
According to her, patronising the train station would help to decongest Lagos State. She also called on residents to leave their cars at home.
“All of us should leave our vehicles at home and patronise the train and also decongest the streets of Lagos,” she said.