Leaving home for his office in Ebute-Meta area of Lagos on daily basis has never been a fun to Mr. Shina Adeyanju. Adeyanju who runs a printing company said having to contend with the chaotic traffic situation in the state does not only sap him of the energy needed to carry out his daily task, it equally robs him of the much needed time to achieve his daily routine. For some years now, Adeyanju has found succour in riding the train from the Agbado area where he lives to his office in Ebuta-Meta. But the suspension of train services on this route has once again compelled him to take the excruciating option of going to work by road.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) had announced on Friday, September 27, 2019, that it would suspend daily operations of narrow gauge train service from Ijoko in Ogun State to Ebute Meta-Apapa end from Monday, September 30 to fast track completion of the new standard gauge within the deadline set by Federal Government. The announcement was sequel to the decision of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who set November 2019 as the deadline for the completion of the project and the commencement of Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail service.
Mr. Jerry Oche, NRC Lagos District Manager, told newsmen that commercial activities on the narrow gauge line would be shut down to expedite work on the standard gauge so as to meet the November deadline. “We are shutting down our daily operations from Ijoko, Agbado, Agege Ikeja up to Ebute Meta and Apapa from Monday Sept. 30 to Nov. 16. The development is going to last for six weeks to give room for the contractor handling the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge to meet up with the deadline scheduled for delivery,” he said.
This development to Adeyanju is more than a double punishment. Besides the grueling traffic he has to contend with to and fro, Adeyanju said the suspension of train services on the route is also draining his lean purse. “I have been spending more on transport since the suspension of service along that route. Apart from that, you end up spending more time on the way than you spend working. The stoppage of rail service is really affecting me seriously. I am eagerly looking forward to the end of the suspension and commencement of the new train service,” he said.
Adeyanju is just one of the thousands of commuters affected by the suspension of train services on the narrow gauge from Ijoko in Ogun to Ebute Meta-Apapa, Lagos. But besides the commuters who are directly affected by the suspension of services on this route, transporters, particularly commercial motorcycle operators, at major stops along the affected route are equally feeling the pinch of the service suspension. Tajudeen, a commercial cyclist at Agbado Station end of the route told Sunday Sun that the suspended rail service in the area had affected his business. “For most of us, our target is always the peak period, when people are either going to work or returning home. You can be sure of making some money when there is train service, which helps to shore up our daily returns. But since the suspension of railway service, it has been a bit challenging. You can see for yourself. So, every one of us is eagerly waiting for the completion of work on the rail project, it’s just a matter of time,” Tajudeen said.
Curiously, however, the suspension of train service on the Ebute-Meta/Ijoko route has been a blessing of sort for some other transporters. A commercial bus operator who plies the Agege-Iju-Fagba axis of Lagos said there has been a surge in the number of passengers using the route to get to other parts of Lagos. “Some Ikeja/Oshodi bound commuters who hitherto relied on train service from Iju end now have to connect Agege from where they reach Ikeja or Oshodi as the case may be,” he said. He however identified the poor state of the roads in the area as a major drawback.
Interestingly, trading activity along the railway track has been in full swing following the suspension of train services on the route. Except for the intermittent interruptions from operatives of Lagos State Environmental Taskforce who swoop on the traders occasionally, the stoppage of train services along this route is largely a blessing for these traders.
Sunday Sun observed trading activities with feverish intensity especially in Agege, Ikeja and Oshodi where all manner of goods ranging from edibles to clothing materials and household appliances were on sale, with many of the traders in relaxed mood. A trader at the Agege end of the railway track told Sunday Sun correspondent that the suspension of train services in the area has been very rewarding for the people since they were under less pressure from the government to vacate the track.
“Majority of us that are here are aware of the fact that the railway track and road side are not the best of place to do our business. But what can one do in the situation we find ourselves. Here are people majority of whose total stock is not even enough to rent a shop. If I sell all I have here to raise money for a shop, where will I get money to stock the shop?” he asked.
Speaking specifically on how the suspension of train services in the axis had impacted on the fortune of traders along the railway track, he said, “Nothing much has changed except that we are not under pressure to park our wares as we used to do whenever the train was approaching. Also, there seems to be less harassment from the officials of the taskforce owning to the ongoing construction works around here. You can see that the whole of this area is disorganized, that also explains why they have not been coming, but we know that the relief is temporary,” he added.
Indeed, the relief currently being enjoyed by the traders on the railway track is temporary, same for the commuters who bear the direct brunt of the suspended train service. Oche, the NRC Lagos District Manager, recently assured the passengers using train services of the commitment of the corporation to restore train services along the route as soon as work on the project is completed.
“Words cannot express how I feel about what the commuters are going through. Don’t forget, I always say that it is not much about how much we make, but the services we render to the majority of people. We bring succour and alleviate the sufferings of thousands of Lagos residents. Now that we have shut down, I know a lot of people are having difficulties. But we are, however, working with the Chinese contractor to see that the project is fixed within the set time. We should achieve what we wanted to achieve within the set time,’’ he assured.