A ride on the Nigerian Railway Corporation’s many trains, particularly in Lagos, can be an adventure full of fun but rich in the absurd, even the unexpected. Perhaps nothing can be more bizarre than seeing many passengers hanging and sitting precariously on the roof of fast moving trains.
Even when it is a serious cause for concern, this life-threatening practice has been a long standing culture that many living in Lagos and parts of Ogun State – largely the hoi polloi – seem to enjoy.
One needs to experience this drama first hand by going on the trains shuttling between Iddo Terminus and Alagbado both in Lagos State. It is a two-hour journey which provides huge insights full of indelible impressions difficult to erase, at least not in one whole attempt.
Deadly According to investigations by Daily Sun, during the morning and evening rush hours, there is probably no difference between the NRC’s coaches and the ubiquitous and notorious Lagos molue buses, which are now becoming extinct.
The Lagos Alagbado bound trains are usually filled to the brim and bursting at the seams. Many who probably can’t find a standing space go on the roofs where they enjoy life to the hilt. Indeed, the culture has long stuck. On this fateful Friday, this reporter set out to see the dramatic by going on one of the trains. This Alagbado-bound craft was flagged off at Iddo Terminus in Lagos at about 5pm.
On board were largely some scruffy-looking folks. Some, the reporter learnt, were area boys returning from Lagos Island where they ply their trade. You could identify them by their guttural language and trademark mannerisms. Before the train hit Mushin station, the coaches were already filled, making it difficult for everyone on board to even have a space to breathe. Yet more passengers kept coming on, such that every little space at the exits was taken up.
Many were cloistered at the coaches’ joints. Quite a number of the passengers were seen latching at the engine’s corridor. The rest found their way to the roof, chanting and singing their type of songs.
Bola, who works on Lagos Island, noted that many passengers riding on the roofs do so not because they don’t have money to buy their tickets. “Those people you see there actually bought their tickets.
They have valid tickets which they purchased from the railway stations. But they prefer to sit on the roof of the train to catch some fun because the spot offers them unlimited freedom to smoke Indian hemp and even enjoy hard drugs. Out there they also catch some fresh air,” he informed.
He further revealed that because of the vantage position the train’s roof offers the hooligans, “the ticket masters dare not go there. Not even the police. Dem no born them well. Those hoodlums will throw them down if they dare.” Mr. David Ndakotso, an Assistant Director, Public Relations, Nigerian Railway Corporation said the practice was condemnable. “But this has two dimensions,” he submitted. “It shows how receptive people are to our services.
It shows how much people are craving for the railway transport services because it is cheap and safe; it takes people to their various destinations without incidents. That is why the demand is very high; that is why you see people riding on the roof of our coaches each time. Talking about the negative side, he told the reporter that “we have over the years been aware of this development.
It has been a long standing one but we have been rising to the challenge each time. We don’t condone such practices even though it is our duty to provide efficient, reliable and affordable rail transport services to the public. Mr. Ndakotso stated that his corporation had been fighting the menace with all the strategies in the books. Said he: “In the past 10 years, we have been carrying out campaigns to educate the people on the dangers of hanging on the roof of our coaches.
We have not been resting on our oars. We have spent time and money on this matter. We have even done this in conjunction with the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). And now, we are collaborating with the Lagos State Safety Agency to tackle the menace.
We have been having periodic meetings with commuters, urging those inside trains to be mindful of this dangerous habit. But from the look of things, most of them don’t want to change their behaviour. “We have done enormous campaign on some radio and television stations. We have interpreted the content of our campaign in local languages; we have also employed the villages heads (Baales). We have increased the frequency of train services since last October 2012 from the previous 10 to 16 (to and from) Alagbado daily. This is just to meet up with the surge in passenger traffic.
But what we have discovered is that there are some hooligans who always prefer to sit on the roof of the trains. They do this just because they want to evade payment of some token which they can afford. We have been telling them that these train services are for them. I keep telling them that if they buy their tickets, they will be covered by insurance.
Because if they hang on the roof and rails they will not be covered by any insurance if an accident occurs. “Unfortunately, even our men and the Railway Police dare not go up there to challenge them. When the police try to raid them they always throw missiles at them – stones, broken bottles and other dangerous weapons. Even some press men who tried to take their photographs sometime ago were attacked. Some of them are doing that as an act of hooliganism; it has nothing to do with inefficiencies on the part of the NRC. Mr. Ndakotso admitted that his corporation had, in the past years, taken stronger measures against the hooligans.
He said: In addition to the things we have been doing to stop this menace, we also raid them periodically to serve as a deterrent to the offenders. But we also try to give it a human face by appealing to them at the stations to buy their tickets and desist from acts that may cause then harm. That is why when the Railway Police arrest them they are charged to court for attempted suicide. For instance, between October and December 2012, about 300 of such elements were prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others. Some of them were given various fines.
But have there been accidents as a result of this ugly development in the recent past? Mr. Ndakotso said there had been none – at least not to his knowledge. We have not heard about any ugly incidents of passengers falling off the trains and we don’t pray to have such. But we are not waiting for it to begin to happen. As a way of preventing this, the NRC is building up more coaches and refurbishing old ones in our workshops in Zaria, Lagos and Kafanchan so as to meet the demands of rail commuters, he said.
But Bola who claimed to have witnessed one of such fatalities recently informed the reporter that barely one month ago, a young man fell off the train somewhere near Iju Station close to the Abattoir at Agege and died. He was crushed as the train snaked its way to Lagos. “When he fell off the train, he was simply crushed, and the train moved on,” he said with a tinge of sarcasm.
The reporter also learnt that in the past days, the Lagos State House of Assembly had expressed serious concern over the menace of passengers in the state riding on the roof of trains. Mr. Ndakotso said the House had asked the appropriate agencies in the state to intervene and address the problem. Part of this intervention probably will include the poor sanitary condition of the trains.
But how far the stakeholders will go in fighting this menace, which many believe has become a recurring decimal, remains one huge task. Many will be waiting to see how the mission will be accomplished.
By COSMAS OMEGOH