Christmas Wedding Bells and a Train to Oyo [Part 2]

Have you read Part 1? During the inbound train journey from Lagos, we heard announcements about schedule adjustments for the Christmas and New Year holidays on the Lagos-Ibadan route. Hence, we had decided to make enquiries on arrival at Moniya to know the new times for the Ibadan-Lagos trip. Unfortunately, we managed to forget to stop at a ticketing booth to make enquiries. It was as if the three-hour train ride had made us anxious to exit the train station as fast as we could, especially, as we planned to first attend our friend’s traditional marriage ceremony scheduled for Christmas Eve before the Christmas Day white wedding. How would we remedy this error?

From the announcements enroute Ibadan, we knew there would be four trips from Lagos on Boxing Day, which meant there would likely be four trips from Ibadan. With this knowledge, we found a simple solution—plan to reach Moniya Train Station latest 10:00am and at worst, we would miss the first two trains, but would not need to spend more than four hours waiting for the third train to depart. We arranged with a taxi driver to pick us from our hotel in Oyo Town latest 9:00am and take us straight to the train station in Ibadan. To his credit, he arrived ahead of time, but first ensured we understood that additional financial benefits were required to inspire a Christian make that pickup on a Sunday morning that happened to be Boxing Day.

As we arrived at the dusty surroundings at Moniya, I wondered if State Governments were collaborating with the Federal Government to facilitate rail transport. Whereas the train stations are owned by federal authorities, I assume that the access roads and surroundings are under state control, hence, a state government might consider it in public interest to pave the roads leading to the train stations and maybe even beautify the surroundings rather than let people inhale copious amounts of harmattan-desiccated dust and take that dust via their clothes into the train station and train coaches. I noticed similar situations at all train stations along the route, except for the Omobola Johnson Train Station in Lagos. While some might argue that the stations are yet to be completed, I do not think they have to be 100% complete with their Punch Lists closed-out before access roads and surroundings can be fixed.

We entered the Obafemi Awolowo Train Station to learn that the first train had left at 8:00am, and the next would leave at 12:00 noon. This gave us just over two hours of waiting time during which this article was started. On enquiring, we learned tickets for the second train would be issued from around 10:30am. We had paid ₦2,600 each for standard class tickets on Christmas Eve, although on arrival at Ibadan we learned of a federal announcement offering free train rides from 24 December 2021 to 4 January 2022. This time, tickets were to be free! Honestly, our holiday budget did not complain about the ₦5,200 gift, but I wondered about the financial wisdom of the extended giveaway during a busy travel period on a train service funded via a Chinese loan. If the giveaway had been restricted to maybe Christmas Day and New Year Day, I would have had no reservations. A friend argued that the revenues from the train services cannot repay the loans, but whether this is true or not, I think every kobo should count. If train revenues cannot repay the big loan, they should at least cover operating expenses and a portion of the loan. Another friend argued that politicians steal public funds, so citizens should be allowed to enjoy the national cake, but I think we should be able to address corruption without worsening our debt profile.

Getting the free tickets required us to leave the departure lounge to the ticketing booths located in front of the building, with queues that extended outside the building under the hot sun, providing yet another reason for online booking to be made possible. Just before it reached our turn, I noticed that the lady in front was being turned back because she did not carry any means of identification. As she begged for herself and her four children, all dressed in matching clothes, I could not imagine her having to leave the train station and head back to the road transport parks to get a vehicle to Abeokuta. Hence, against my better judgement (“don’t try this at home”), I offered to use my own ID to cover tickets for all of us, although we got assigned to different coaches. This meant we had to re-enter the departure lounge together since tickets and IDs were now being checked at the entrance. For all intents and purposes, we were all part of a large family that had secured seven train tickets. Hopefully, my rambling sermon encouraging her to always have some means of identification would make a difference but I wonder how many persons are aware they need to have an ID to buy a train ticket since our IDs were not checked on the inbound trip from Lagos.

I have been in Nigeria long enough to know that helping people can easily put you in trouble, and that many persons would not bother about expressing gratitude. Hence, nothing had prepared me to see that lady leave her assigned coach just before the train departed Moniya to come find me and my wife in our assigned coach to dramatize her thanks for helping her get the tickets. While I pondered about her sense of gratitude, she shocked me again when on arrival at Abeokuta, she passed through our coach to say thanks again before disembarking with her children. That was enough thanks to take us to Ebute Meta, Lagos, where we ended our first return train trip in Nigeria.


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