By Mercy Osajiugi
Minna, Oct. 1, 2020 Passengers have now turned to trucks, trailers and cars to move their goods to various destinations due to the decline in train services in Minna and Zungeru towns in Niger.
A check by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Minna and Zungeru railway stations, revealed that the passengers use the alternative means of transport to move their goods, including foodstuff and livestock to different parts of the country.
The Zungeru rail link, an inter-state train station, was built by the British colonial government in 1896. It serves as a link for those travelling by rail to Kaduna, Lagos and other parts of the country.
Nigeria’s first President, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Biafra secessionist leader, Odumegwu Ojukwu were born in Zungeru in 1994 and 1939, respectively.
NAN gathered that the trains used to come to the two railway stations on Mondays Thursdays and Sundays, but had stopped since the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic.
As a sign of the situation, traders, especially those around Kasuwar Gwari, are displaying their wares on the rail tracks, not minding the risks involved.
A retired worker of Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Malam Hussaini Bongos, explained that railway services started declining in the country when the expatriates managing it were laid off by the Nigerian Government in 1982.
“Our government sent away the Indians, Chinese, Americans and other foreigners who were managing the corporation, and since then, things have never been the same again.
“The machineries such as the locomotives, tracks are not functioning well, and without adequate care of the machineries and manpower we cannot get it right.
“The locomotives operators need training and retraining to be able to thrive comparatively with their western counterparts,” he said.
He recalled that train fare from Minna to Kaduna was N25 as against N1,200, presently.
According to him, in the 70s after independence a lot of trust existed amongst Nigerians, as trade by batter flourished between them at the railway stations in Minna and Zungeru.
“Then trade by batter existed and was predominant in the two railway stations, and traders were happy to exchange commodities because there was trust amongst Nigerians then.”
Similarly, a serving staff of NRC in Minna, who preferred anonymity, told NAN that the rail tracks at the station were bad and needed to be changed.
“These tracks you are seeing are more than one hundred years old; they have been here before independence and they needed to be changed, in fact this is the work of the colonial masters,’’ he said.
A trader, Sarkin Goro, Dan Asabe Danlami, told NAN that Minna railway station used to facilitate interstate trade between Yoruba states and the North.
He said the trade in kolanut, bitter kola, walnut that come from the West to the North helped many people economically and conversely the West carried back shea butter, yam and local rice amongst others, using the trains.
” Many of us you see here used the proceeds from such trades to train our children and wards, and render many other support services to our families in various ways, but not anymore.
“A good number of us here had also used the profits of such businesses to visit the Holy Land for pilgrimage, ” Danlami said.
A resident of Zungeru, Malam Shehu Musa, recalled that the railway station brought Zungeru town to limelight, because of the economic activities going on at the time.
Musa said that the town used to be extremely busy because people from far and near went there to join the train to places such as Minna and Kaduna.
“Then students on excursions were always in the station to join train to Kaduna, while some students were going from Kaduna to Minna on excursion because it was a tourist centre.
“Many of the students on excursion came here to see the town where Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu were born.
“Many came to see where the military cemetery is, where most British army officers and a few Nigerian soldiers were buried.
“All these things are no longer happening here,” Musa said.
Efforts to reach the Railway District Manager, North Western District, Mr Sulaiman Obafunso, proved abortive, as he declined to pick calls put across to him.