I join millions of Lagosians in welcoming the launch of operations of the Blue rail line now operational in the state.
I watched a video and saw photos of the train in transit. The clean rail tracks, the neat and tidy coaches, and the escalators at the terminals…everything looks like a dream come true.
A dream that originated with the current President Bola Ahmed Tinubu when he was the governor of Lagos state back in the early 2000s. He drew up the blueprint for what we are all celebrating today.
The video of the first set of passengers on board the Blue rail line looked like what we see when we go to foreign countries like the UK. People moving for commerce and life in general via a train system that works. It really does something to you, finally, in 2023, in Nigeria of our time, we get to witness this.
The Governor of Lagos State Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had stated months back. “… the Line would accommodate about 25,000 passengers per hour, thereby reducing travel time, improve the quality of life of Lagosians, and make the state one of the most resilient mega-cities in Africa.”
Will the Blue Rail line truly end up like the Oshodi Exchange?
Nothing more can gladden one’s heart on transportation matters in Lagos state than this. It may seem trivial but to those of us who know how business and life get wasted on the roads from Lagos traffic congestion, this is fantastic news.
So I cheered…albeit with caution, knowing what I know about our dear country.
I reasoned with the man who said, “It’s almost unbelievable…for this our Nigeria?”
I even agreed with another who voiced, “Hey, why do we imagine things can’t work in Nigeria?”
But as a Nigerian, a Lagosian in particular, I had my doubts.
Backtrack just a wee bit to the recently revived national railway lines that we have had in the last few years. You will get a bit of an understanding of what this caution and doubt is all about. We used to have rail transportation back in the day but it went moribund and was revived three years ago.
I traveled from Lagos to Ibadan last year on the new railway line. I was thrilled and a wee bit disappointed. Having traveled from Lagos to Minna and Kano several times in the 80s, I could compare.
They revived the moribund Nigerian Railway Corporation
Yes, the new trains were better equipped for modern travel. They looked fun for countryside views three years ago when they began operations. Three years down the line, they are beginning to look dilapidated, especially the seats in the first-class compartments. The swiveling seats were no longer moving with ease. The seat cover clothes were greasy with dirt, a few windows were broken within the coaches. The clean toilets that flushed well back then…well, they longer flush easily. In fact, we had to abandon one of the toilets for one further down several coaches.
At the counter, a few underhand moves were observed. Some passengers are cutting corners with a few officials for the paltry first-class coach tickets. Some of the terminals are being neglected. The one at Ibadan is a case in point. The road leading up is untarred, a highway for robbers and bandits to attack passengers and even officials with ease.
And I can go on and on and with these, estimate that in another 3 years time, the railway lines will become moribund…again!
The rail tracks from Lagos to Ibadan were mostly littered with waste of all kinds. Granted that the tracks run through the backside of most towns, even when we passed through the cities, Agege, Oshodi, Yaba, the human waste along the tracks would make your eyes water.
Recalling these sights made me sigh upon seeing photos of the Governor of Lagos commission the blue rail line. They looked happy as if they truly believed this would last!
As if all the money spent, taxpayers’ money by the way is justified!
Like our people say, “the cane the master used to flog the first wife is still hanging behind the door for the next wife.” To put it in other words, we lack in Nigeria, what I have heard my parents tout when I was too young to understand, “maintenance culture.” If we treated previous projects badly, we will treat new ones equally.
No Maintenance culture.
What exactly is it, let me just Google it and lay it out. “Maintenance culture defines the values, way of thinking, behaviour, perception, and the underlying assumptions of any person or group or society that considers maintenance as a matter that is important (priority) and practices it in their life.”
This lack of maintenance culture has eroded the best of government intentions. I have begun to wonder if the government truly has the best intentions.
If they did, the railway will not be run the way it currently is…heading for doom. Look at the Oshodi Terminal. This was a project meant to ease movement from the airport, to the different parts of the city. The terminal is a shame, a sorry sight as we speak. Oshodi by its very nature is a densely populated area rife with thuggery, daylight robbery, illegal trading, rape, and vandalism. It is also the headquarters of area boys on the mainland.
Oshodi Terminal is going to rot
The terminal was meant to give it some facelift. So when it was being constructed, the government got rid of the shacks and illegal trading on the rail tracks. Even the illegal shops and all manner of commerce that would hinder its objectives were removed.
It began operations in 2019. Three years on, the filth and stench around it and inside will make you wonder if it isn’t the same government, the same party that began this lofty project is now watching it go to ruins.
The Oshodi bus terminal stinks not just from corruption but from the government’s ineptitude! The road leading into the terminal from Gbagada Expressway is a death trap! Drive past Lastma, and the bribe-collecting police checkpoint. The rest of the road just before the Exchange’s walkway entrance is littered with filth. Areas boys are back, illegal roadside trading is back at full blast and the yellow buses wouldn’t even let you walk freely. It’s chaos!
Not surprising, a punch report stated the Exchange is in a sorry state of disrepair. “… It was observed that some of the facilities were in deplorable states with damaged pipes, dirty toilets, and a littered environment.” And drivers and buses have abandoned the terminal!
When I saw the Lagos state Governor shining teeth with his crew, I wondered if he understood the import of this Blue rail he was commissioning… is he just ticking the boxes like his predecessors?
No maintenance culture
Where are the workshops to ensure the blue rail line continues to function? Where are the engineers, the artisans and the full body of maintenance service providers to step in when anything goes wrong?
A rail track is dislodged for instance, are there fabricators of rail tracks on ground to supply to specification? The electronic rail stops functioning, wiring problems, maybe. Are there specialized electricians to step in to fix it so that the rail is always on schedule? Does the government have cleaning services, not one, not two, several, who can effectively clean on schedule and well enough so that the rail works undisturbed?
Are there plumbing services on ground to fix or replace toilets that go bad or do they have to go through the bureaucracy of signing requisitions for toilet seats and Harpic cleaners…?Are there glass-making factories in partnership with the government to replace parts?
What about security? Will the terminals be safe or will they soon turn out to be homes to derelicts and area boys, thieves and the homeless?
Is there a backup in case of power outage? Will the CCTV cameras continue to work or only when IKEDC provides power?
It’s a whole industry to maintain projects like these and that is why many times we say, Nigeria has no maintenance culture.
It was a lack of maintenance culture that we lost most of the lofty, gargantuan projects successive governments create, knowing they wouldn’t last.