Lagos City has seen its fair share of dangerous train rides which have resulted in the death of some passengers and the escapes of others albeit with varying degrees of injuries. TOLA ADENUBI, AKIN ADEWAKUN, CHUKWUMA OKPARAOCHA, QUDUS KASALI and CHIMA NWOKOJI look at this deadly trend and the reason it may persist.
DELE Abiona shuttles via train transportation between Ijoko in Ogun State where he resides and Brewery Bus Stop, somewhere around Iganmu, in Lagos, where he has his office, on a daily basis. Despite not spending more than one and a half hours, on every of those rides, none of those trips was ever short of experiences ranging from the ridiculous to the bizarre.
For instance, while residents of the city have continued to use the train as a means of transportation within the city, the increasing number of people climbing the rooftop of the train left him shell-shocked the first time he was introduced to rail transportation by a colleague in the office, about five years ago.
Though this dangerous practice has been on for some time, what perhaps confounded this 41-year-old computer scientist are the seeming audacity of those that engage in the act and the seeming helplessness of relevant authorities in bringing such culprits to book.
This remained a mystery to Abiona and many other residents of the city until he (Abiona) decided to take a closer look at the people who prefer the rooftops to train seats while in transit.
According to him, people that climb to the rooftop have different reasons for doing that. He expressed the belief that the majority of them indulge in the practice to escape the long arm of the law. For him, the rooftop of trains in Nigeria has become a den for criminals.
“While some do it to escape paying for the mandatory tickets issued by railway officers, some are actually there to carry out some nefarious acts.
“Some of them have formed a clique and what they do is to smoke Indian hemp and take other forbidden drugs on top of the train. And unfortunately, the law enforcement agents seem to be helpless,” he stated.
A visit by Saturday Tribune to the Ikeja terminal of the station, however, confirmed many of these claims. Most of these people carry out this unholy practice in the full glare of the ‘law’, without any fear of being apprehended.
Although attempts at taking some snapshots of some of these scenes at the Ikeja station of the train were thwarted by some hoodlums, investigations revealed that officials at the railway station are helpless
when it comes to dealing with this ugly episode.
“It is a common spectacle in Lagos, so it is no longer strange to us. I see this as an illegality which has been allowed to fester, otherwise how could one explain a situation where people travel on top of the train and they are never arrested and punished?” said Bolaji, another frequent train passenger.
Most susceptible rides
Findings by Saturday Tribune also revealed that due to occasional raids by men of the railway police command, evening trains have become particularly susceptible to these dangerous rides. Many of these die-hard passengers take to the rooftop of the train from the Ikeja station down to Ijoko on a daily basis.
Every day, people fall off trains’ roofs and die, yet this does not serve as a deterrent to other “illegal” train riders. Many fall off the trains due to the fact that they are drunk.
“Many of these rooftop riders consume alcoholic drinks while on top of the moving trains. They drink as the train moves. That is why often, while inside the train, you suddenly hear people shout outside that somebody has fallen off.
“The misfortune of those that have fallen from the rooftops of trains has not served as a deterrent to others. Instead, others think the victims were not smart enough to avoid the fall. That is why rooftop riding on Lagos trains has gone unabated,” Shakira Moruf, a roadside seller at the Oshodi train terminus told Saturday Tribune.
Is NRC helpless?
Although the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has consistently labelled people found in this practice “illegal train riders,” efforts by the management, in conjunction with the police, seem to have been insufficient to stop this trend.
Speaking to Saturday Tribune, the Lagos District Public Relations Officer (DPRO), NRC, Mrs Qodijat Adekunmaya, explained that rooftop riders have constituted a menace to the corporate existence of the NRC.
“The Railway Police Command and the Task Force are currently helpless because they have been outnumbered by these miscreants. We also have Man O’ War that comes to our aid sometimes, but then, all of these are not enough when compared to the number of people that flout the rule,” Adekunmaya said.