Jos Transportation System Goes “Back to the Future.”
By V. Al-pea
The Plateau State transportation system recently received a boost with the reactivation of a small section of its hitherto morbid railway network. This is obviously coming on the heels of growing transportation needs due to population growth and increasing fuel costs.
Hooting emanating from the old refurbished trains now resonates across a sizable part of Jos metropolis, overpowering the familiar Cathedral bells that had, before now, dominated that early hour of the day. Strange as it might sound to the new generation, the sound is nothing new under the sun. Over three decades ago, when Plateau and Benue were one state, the trains ran regularly, playing a vital role in transporting goods and people.
It is thus fair to presume that the blaring horn from the trains is music to many ears from yesteryears, since it is likely to remind them of the days of JD Gomwalk, then governor of Benue Plateau State. Those were the days when the Middle Belt was the center of power and Nigeria was a stable nation.
Regardless, Kaduna was the first state to reactivate its old rail system–it took place under Governor Namadi Sambo before he moved on to become Nigeria’s latest Vice President. Plateau subsequently reconstituted its old train service, making it the second state to do so in The Middle Belt.
When the reinstated train service initially caught our attention, we spoke with the transportation authorities before reporting this story. To our dismay, there was a hostile reception at the Railway Corporation. A female manager told us–“we have been instructed not to grant any press interview.” “If you want any, you will have to get permission from our Public Relations Officer who is at our district office in Kafanchan,” she added. Sensing that a trip to Kafanchan would likely leave us at the mercy of another power drunk Nigerian official, we decided to go to the train station, board its cars and report the experience.
Upon arriving at the train station, we discovered that our mission was similar to the objectives of several passengers–a sizable number of them bought tickets from Jos to Kuru just to experience the new, but of course also, old train service. While questioning the passengers, a lady told The Messenger Voice (TMV) that she brought her loved ones for the experience because they had never traveled in a train. Likewise another passenger, who couldn’t cage his enthusiasm, said; “since I was born–and now I am 57 years–I have never traveled by rail–this is my first time.”
When queuing to purchase the tickets there was a slight jostle–a childish behavior that continues to bedevil Nigerians. For some unfathomable reason, this unruly act repeatedly surfaces when Nigerians need to line up and take turns. Needless to say, kids were also frolicking about as their parents and custodians struggle to control them while still trying to purchase tickets.
Costing N50 from Jos to Bukuru and N100 to Kuru, the tickets are a bargain compared to traveling by bus which could syphon as much as N100 to Bukuru and N250 to Kuru. It would be interesting to see the effect of the new train service on commercial transportation in the near future.
After purchasing the tickets, the tussle when queuing notwithstanding, we eagerly boarded the diesel-powered train. Within a short while, the engine started pulling the four coaches along with its passengers. Driven by two engineers who were located in the main engine, the train also had two technical staff and three conductors who went from coach to coach checking passenger’s tickets.
Just as the journey began, the train suddenly stopped at a mini station beside The Water Board office in Jos. Interesting enough, some passengers disembarked, a strange development since the stop was just a stone throw from the main station. Regardless, some new passengers also boarded, making it a net wash since a relatively equal amount replaced the ones that got off.
The train then resumed its journey, this time gathering speed. Soon it was outside the city, meandering through beautiful meadows that are covered with fresh green grass from the new rainy season. In the background lay green mountains that are punctuated with large boulders, a distinct feature of The Jos Plateau. Overtaken by this remarkable scenery, it took a while to start paying attention to the occasional cluster of houses close to the railroad.
Now paying more attention to the activities next to the rail, there were occasional farmers manually tilling the ground in groups. Almost as if they were acknowledging the new train service, the farmers often stopped their work and waved at the passengers. Appreciating their kind gesture, the passengers waved back each time the farmers greeted them.
Willfully following the diesel engine, the coaches rocked back and forth, hypnotizing some of the passengers into a, for lack of a better phrase, “train travel frenzy.” The frenzy then graduated into a quasi party, with some passengers now moving from coach to coach, conversing with people they had never seen before the ride. Meanwhile others stuck their heads through the windows, a dangerous proposition. Worse yet, others lean their entire bodies outside the train, hanging away from its doors while holding a support bar. Reckless as it was, it was easy to appreciate their desire to absorb a blast of the cool Jos Plateau air.
At the same time some passengers stayed quietly in their seats, taking no part in the circus. When we were at the height of the festive emotion generated by the locomotion, the train suddenly began to slow down. We were approaching The Bukuru Train Station. Many were shocked that we had already in Bukuru, but time had lapsed fast, courtesy of the festivities.
Not long after stopping in Bukuru, the train headed to its final destination, Kuru. The experience from Bukuru to Kuru was every bit as euphoric as the trip from Jos to Bukuru, if not more. Once in Kuru, the train retraced its way back to Jos, again giving its passengers the same joyful experience hours earlier.
When the train returned to Jos, there was nothing but satisfaction on the faces of the passengers–especially the ones who boarded the train just for the ride earlier in the morning. Many of the passengers looked like they had just flown in an airplane for the first time. Speaking with some of them after the rip, they expressed the desire to see the train services extend to other cities and towns.
Before closing this report, TMV thought it was important, as a matter of public service, to build awareness about the train service. The trains run two shifts–morning and evening from Monday to Friday. On Saturdays a train conveys passengers from Jos to Kafanchan with a third trip. Once in Kafanchan, maintenance is conducted before the train returns to Jos.
On another note, a very important one, we are concerned about the weak security before and during our trip. Though an armed policeman and a “Man O’ War” staff were in mufti to ensure security, passengers and their baggage were not thoroughly searched. Given the threat of terrorism in Nigeria today, more security officers should be deployed to vigorously search all the train cargo– human and otherwise.
Finally, TMV wishes to impart a brief editorial about the reconstituted train service. We found the new service as delightful as it was also sobering. Contemplating the execrable fact that Plateau State had to travel back thirty years to make headway into the future left us profoundly sad–there are no words rich enough to describe our disappointment. While this new-old service is in of itself an indictment of Nigeria’s failure as a nation, we embrace it considering the alternative would have been nothing.