WHEN I got the message at short notice that the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Oyo and Osun chapters would be travelling by rail to Abeokuta for the first ever meeting of the South-West chapter of the literary association, that comprise Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti and Lagos states, christened ‘Jamboree,’ I looked forward to the trip with excitement. The excitement arose from the fact that the trip would afford me the opportunity of my first train ride.
Though the sight of a train is not strange to me. As a kid at Kaduna, I remember vividly the childhood adventure of going to hunt for grasshoppers in the bushes beside a train track. I could also recall that on few occasions, the sight of trains in motion crossing the road with its booming horn at Ibadan and Lagos, but I have never travelled by train before until this memorable day.
To meet the call time of 4:00pm, I left Oyo town as early as 2:00pm and arrived the railway station in Ibadan, the take off point, at 3:00pm. While awaiting the train at the railway terminus in Ibadan, the sight of abandoned passenger and cargo coaches, aging structure housing the offices elicited memories of train services in the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s. This important sector of the economy went comatose, but there have been recent attempts to revive it by the Federal Government. While some of us who had boarded train in these golden years recalled that the long wait for the train was a characteristic trait of train services, first timers reasoned that if transportation by train is revived and modernised with efficient service, it has the potential of being an alternative to road transport for passengers and goods. An added advantage is that of easing Nigerian roads of heavy duty vehicles.
After about three hours waiting, the train arrived the Ibadan terminus at 6:30pm. As the train zoomed off at snail speed towards Abeokuta, it was a jolly ride. Though the journey, which is about one hour by road, took us about two hours, 30 minutes, but there was no dull moment. As the train moved, swerving left and right, the long journey to Abeokuta turned a memorable one with readings, riddles and jokes from ANA members. While this was on, the curiousness and inquisitiveness in me made me to stroll to other sections of the moving train. While the seats are as comfortable as that of luxurious buses and planes, there are two toilets, a bar and restaurant to give the passengers the hospitality of an hotel while on a long journey. However, with the door to one of the toilets yanked-off or removed for repairs, the odour of urine assailed the noses of passers-by and passengers sitting near the toilet.
We arrived the Abeokuta terminus at about 9pm. We disembaked and the train continued its onward journey to Lagos. Two buses arranged by the host chapter, Ogun ANA picked us from the terminus to the secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abeokuta (Ile Iwe Irohin). At Ile Iwe Irohin, we were given a warm reception by the Chairman and his Secretary. After a welcome address by the Chairman and information on the programme lined up for the meeting, we were treated to a sumptuous dinner of Ofada rice. Other programmes lined up for the following day, September 1, 2016 were the visits to Professor Wole Soyinka’s residence and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s Presidential Library. We later retired to the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic Guest House to pass the night.
The programme began the following day, with the zonal meeting at the NUJ Secretariat (Ile Iwe Irohin). It was revealed to us that the meeting was the initiative of the Chairman, Oyo State Chapter, Dr. Solomon Iguare. It was resolved that the zonal meeting should be sustained to strengthen interface of creative writings and creative writers in the region. Subsequently, a committee was constituted to suggest the modalities of reviving the moribund Ekiti State chapter. After our breakfast of yam, bread, fried egg and tea, we left Ile Iwe Irohin in a convoy of two buses to tourist sites of Professor Soyinka’s residence and Chief Obasanjo’s library. The plan to visit Fela’s family house and Olumo Rock was suspended due to logistic problems and time.
Our first port of call was the nobel laureate’s residence at Kenta, Idi Aba. Though he was not around to receive us, his domestic servants ushered us into the compound. The house, which occupied large expanse of land, was built mostly of burnt bricks. As we could not access the interior part of the building, we proceeded to the amphi-theatre within the residence. We took group photographs and had a reading season before leaving the environment surrounded by green vegetation for Chief Obasanjo’s Presidential Library.
At the Presidential Library, Kobapo Road, Oke Mosan, we marveled at the large expense of land which houses the library, a five star hotel, a mini zoo and a rocky bar, which are tourists’ delight. Strolling round the library environment shows that it only occupies a small portion of the land, with the relaxation spots of the hotel, mini-zoo and the interior and the exterior of the rocky bar occupying larger portion. The jamboree cum field trip ended with this visit, which leaves us with sweet memories of these tourist sites in the ancient city of Abeokuta. We, thereafter, left the library for the motorpark to charter a commercial bus back to Ibadan. Unlike the train, the journey by road from Abeokuta to Ibadan lasted just one hour.
- Lawal is a member of the Oyo State chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).