“Daddy when are you coming back home? You said Tuesday the other day, now it’s Wednesday morning and you are still in Lagos; just say you are not coming soon…”
With those words, my 11-year-old daughter made my mind up for me. I had to leave Lagos that Wednesday back to Ibadan or else I would face some sort of revolt whenever I got home.
This was December 23rd, 2 days to Christmas and I did not fancy facing a mini rebellion from 3 young kids (with the tacit support of their mum of course), and so the decision was made to find my way to Ibadan unfailingly that.
Full disclosure before I proceed, I am a ‘Man-Chelor’ one of many scattered all over the nation and thriving so it seems. So what’s a ‘Man-Chelor’? It’s a completely made-up word that describes a married man that lives in a separate town or state from his family and usually has to commute to spend time with family during festive period especially. It can be very lonely e.g. food is a constant challenge, but it does have its perks (that’s according to some men, not me for the records).
The idea was birthed
Based on the tone in my daughter’s voice, it was a question of how to get to Ibadan in one piece and in the right state of mind which is not something that the ever-busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway can be said to give to any sane human being. I was in Lekki and this was 9am on Wednesday morning and I had my eureka moment.
I could take the train! I had read about the commencement of the Lagos-Ibadan rail and I quickly looked up the schedule seen on social media and the train departs Lagos by 4pm. I lived in Akoka on the Mainland and I could get home on time, pack and get to the station at the Alagomeji end of Muritala Muhammed Way on time to board the Train.
So I set off from Lekki at 11:45 am, got to Obalende to take a bus to Yaba, and if all goes well I could be home, freshen up and be at the station ahead of schedule. I got on the bus at Obalande and the bus was ready to move by 12:14 and I thought to myself I was way ahead of schedule, but Lagos has a way of messing with you; ahead of me on the bridge was massive traffic.
Apparently, the Mainland bound lane on Third Mainland Bridge has not yet been open and we were all stuck while waiting for it to open. For those that live outside Lagos, we have had to endure a partial closure of the Third Mainland Bridge for months now and the Mainland bound lane is closed to traffic till noon each day on paper; In reality, the traffic officials have to ensure all the traffic diverted from the Island-bound lane is completely off the lane before it is opened.
So, most times you have to wait till 1pm before it is opened for mainland traffic. Anyway, as a good Lagosian, I sat down in the bus and enjoyed/ endured the usual bus banter amongst passengers which traffic tends to escalate.
Arrival at the train station and ticketing
I got home, took a bike (no the banning is more of an advisory to the Okada riders) from Akoka to Alagomeji and arrived at the train station at 14:50 to meet a large crowd outside the entrance of the Terminus (what is it with Nigerian Officials and making us huddle together in the middle of a pandemic?)
I joined the crowd and discovered we all had to put down our names and show a valid I.D Card before we could be allowed to purchase our tickets. Good thing I was aware of the I.D requirement and promptly produced mine to the NRC staff, who was one of a group of 3 staff taking down names.
Next, we had to wait while another Staff called out our names and you had to indicate and approach the gate for your temperature to be taken before you were allowed to approach the ticketing booths (only cash payments are allowed for now and a few folks had to scurry down to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash).
Eventually, we waited for like 10 minutes after putting down our names and nobody was calling us in, a few people approached the NRC staff and we were allowed to purchase tickets without our names being called out. I was kind of relieved my name was not called out, it felt a lot like being a kid in school all over again, but being able to buy a ticket without our names being tied to any particular ticket sort of defeated the purpose of providing identification in the first place.
I walked up to one of the Ticketing Counters and promptly purchased a ticket for the economy carriage for N2,500 and off I went to the platform. The sight of the train with its gleaming colours and exterior under the bright Lagos Sun made me proud and some sort of patriotic zeal briefly ran through me.
Ahead, I could see other Passengers as they formed a very orderly queue to be screened before boarding the train. The platform like most of the imposing new station was still under construction and workers could be seen hard at work as you approached the train. Screening involved checks with a hand-held scanner and you were met at the entrance by a NSCDC Official, who was courteous and firm as he told you what carriage your ticket belonged to.
Stepping into a train for the first time and the ride
That feeling of stepping onto a train for the first time (maybe some folks had taken trains abroad), but few Nigerians can claim to have been on a train or have any memories of trains in the last 30 years. That patriotic zeal I described earlier ran through me and this time it was unmistakable. Since the Super Eagles had abdicated their God-given mandate to awaken our patriotic zeal, many Nigerians had forgotten what it feels like to feel that patriotic zeal. It was evident in the eyes of the passengers and in their lively conversations all through the train ride.
A mild drama ensued amongst most of the passengers due to the numbers on the ticket and how it relates to who sits where. Due to social distancing requirements, only 2 passengers were allowed to sit in the rows of 3 and 1 passenger sat alone in the rows for 2.
So, the issue was who got to sit in the aisle and who sat near the coveted window seat. I sat down by the window and had a birds-eye view of the entire journey. The train set out from the Ebutte-Metta Station at 16:05 and moved slowly out of the station with an initial speed of between 25-45 kmph.
In a few minutes, we had passed Yaba and was already approaching Oshodi. Approaching the Agege Station, the elevated view provides a panoramic view of the entire area. One take I had from the different views the train provided was that Lagos was environmentally flawed and was swimming under a sea of sachet water nylon and styrofoam packs used for food takeaway at various celebrations.
On the stretch of the rail line inside Lagos, you can see structures and houses that appear to have grudgingly moved out of the Right of Way of the Rail line and would not hesitate to encroach if they had their way. There are also the traders that line most of the route that passes through a market and just appear to shift just enough for the train to pass. Urgent action needs to be taken to prevent what is an accident waiting to happen (except it’s some kind of social experiment to know Lagosians’ threshold for pain and disaster).
My best views on the train ride were on the bridge as we approached the Kajola and Abeokuta Train Stations. The view is breath-taking and no words can describe it. You can just see lush green land mixed with Rivers and Streams in all directions and very few passengers could resist the urge to take pictures on both approaches.
It took approximately 1 hour 30 minutes from Ebutte Metta to Abeokuta through bridges and tunnels and we finally reached the Moniya Station in Ibadan, exactly 2 hours 30 minutes after we started the trip. An announcement came on asking all the passengers to wait until the train hostesses (at least I hoped that’s what they are called) come to show us in which direction to alight from.
Arrival at Ibadan
We all alighted into a station under construction like all the others and bathed in flood lights. This is the part of the trip where we realised we were still in Nigeria and that earlier described patriotic zeal seemed to evaporate in the wind.
Moniya Station is technically on the other side of the main Ibadan at least for me and navigating back to the center of town was a big challenge. The passengers who had prior experience of the train and its final stop had made prior arrangements for transportation from the Station. The rest of us had to scramble for the 8 cabs/charter taxis that were on ground.
As a sharp Lagos boy, I quickly assessed the situation and found 2 other passengers who were heading in the same direction as I was, a kind of carpool. We quickly found a willing driver and agreed on a fare which we would split.
There was no point haggling over fare at that time of the day and in the area where the station is located. As we exited the dirt road from the Station, I noticed it was on the main road leading to Iseyin and Saki and led back in the other direction towards IITA to Ojoo in Ibadan. I engaged Laide, the cab guy who agreed to take us to Ring Road on the other side of town and according to him we were 220 passengers on the train. This he said was disclosed to them by the NRC Staff who gave them the figures to allow them get adequate number of cars and taxis to the station to pick passengers as they arrive.
In the absence of a shuttle service, this appeared to be the best arrangement they could come up with in the interim. On this particular evening, the cabs were not enough and most passengers appeared to be stranded. The public-spirited Laide called the local Taxi Union Chairman in Ojoo park to let him know, so he could send more cabs.
This aspect of the trip sort of dampened the excitement but all in all, it’s a ride I would encourage everyone to undertake, at least for the bragging rights of experiencing the much talked about Lagos-Ibadan Train ride.
My takes from the trip
- In the interim, there is a need to adjust the times for the trip to allow people arriving in Ibadan ample time to get home before it gets dark.
- Construct some kind of a barrier to maintain the rail’s right of way
- Move back the traders along the train’s route.
It is just the first few weeks of the test run, so we cannot be too harsh on the Operators. All in all, it was a very smooth and enjoyable ride.
I intend to take the train back to Lagos to have another experience I hope I can share. I will keep you updated.
Written by Emmanuel Ojie