columnBy Murtala Opoola
In the prison of his days/Teach the poor man how to praise. - W. H. Auden
In recent days, Nigeria has witnessed certain salutary occurrences that have contributed in lifting up the collective spirits of the people and indicated that when we put our minds to it good things can happen to put everyone in a feel -good mode. The first of such events, for me, is the fact that the Nigerian Railway Corporation has commenced regular rail transportation from Lagos to Kano. Note, I did not say regular shuttle rail services between Lagos mainland and Ebutte Metta, Oshodi or any such suburb of Lagos--- because that have been going on for years, taking commuters from their residential areas to their work places at the mainland and Victoria Island. So, for them rail service may be not a big deal.
What is a big deal however is the resumption of rail service that commences from Lagos and terminates at Kano. Those who are old enough to know would recall that immediately after independence up to the mid-80s, the railways was the major means of transportation in Nigeria. From its western flank in Iddo- Lagos, the trains fan out through cities like Ibadan, Oshogbo in the old West through Offa, Ilorin, Mokwa and Minna in the North central part of Nigeria, before they proceed to Kaduna from where some branch to the North east to Jos, the Plateau state capital en-route to Maiduguri in Borno state. Others embark on a South east itinerary through Kafanchan onwards to Enugu and Port Harcourt. Still, others continue from Kaduna to the North in Kano and Kaura Namoda where the rails terminate.
The trains- when they were running= served a number of socio-economic purposes. First, they served as a means of transportation for people and goods up and down the country and by doing so they facilitated and encouraged the interaction of the Nigeria people and their various cultures and contributed to breaking down myopic notions of division and hatred. Students found them particularly useful whenever they were going on holidays or going back to school. They were charged a far lower rate than the adults hence they found it cheaper whenever they had to travel. But students being students, some still travelled with the trains without paying for tickets and when apprehended by the uniformed ticket men, who marched such erring students up and down the coaches; they took on a pitiable and ludicrous sight!
Yes, the railways forged national unity. And this was done at a number of levels including the fact of the trains literally traversing the length and breadth of the country with its human and material cargoes, and in the process giving many people the opportunity to know their country as it truly is. But at a deeper level, the railways helped in giving expression to the notion that any Nigerian had the right to go and live where ever he pleases, thereby facilitating settlements of Nigerians in places other than their own. Some of these people have blended well with their hosts through inter-marriages and in the process concretizing the evolution of the real Nigerian unencumbered by blinkered views about his other compatriots.
It follows therefore that when due to official mismanagement and callous neglect, the trains stopped moving, all these encouraging developments came to a halt, or at least we would like to think so. And it is saddening that entrenched vested interests, including the all powerful road haulage interests - were allowed to impede decisions to revitalize and modernize the operations of Nigeria railways for so long in spite of the yearly huge budgetary allocation to it. It is heartening therefore that after many years of having been made dormant, so to say, the trains have started moving again. True, from accounts of those who have travelled with the railways, the journeys are not smooth yet, for instance, it takes upwards of 36 hours to go from Lagos to Kano. Well, to that I say not to worry soon everything will be put right. At least for now the coaches are not slumbering in the various railways sheds across the country; it is enough that they have been spruced up and ferrying people up and down the country. For this, a big hurrah for the Nigeria Railway Corporation, may its wheels never stop again. As long as it continues to move, soon its speed would be upgraded to enable it to improve on the number of hours it takes between destinations
Now, it must be recognized that the rejuvenation and resuscitation of the Nigeria Railways happened during the watch of President Goodluck Jonathan and for that he must be told that he has done well. Yes, he has. Whoever needs convincing should go back and check how much the Nigerian Railways Corporation guzzled during the immediate past two administrations and he would know why the president deserves commendation. At least GEJ has given value for money and the proof is the moving trains, covering the vast Nigerian terrain. For me, it is a sign of good things to come; soon the trains would be transformed into bullet trains like the TGV in France or its latest fastest model just built by the inimitable and ubiquitous Chinese.
Another reason why the president must be told that he has done well is Nigeria's emergence as the winner of the 2013 African Nations Cup dubbed AFCON 2013. For 19 years Nigeria had languished in the wilderness of African soccer no hopers. It got so bad that Nigeria could not qualify even for the finals hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in 2012 marking a big psychological let down for many soccer loving Nigerians who had hoped that Nigeria -correctly recognized as one of the foremost soccer nations on the African continent--would showcase its talents at the biennial fiesta. Over the years it had been recognized that failures in football tournaments have been due to the bungling of the sports ministry and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). Note that the Nigerian contingent to the 2012 Olympics games in London won nothing whatsoever. Not even a bronze, it marked the first time that Nigeria would come back home empty handed from the Olympics.
But lo and behold here we are with the golden trophy of the AFCON 2013 football fiesta, which makes one wonder how the feat was accomplished. What a dramatic transformation from the empty handedness of the 2012 Olympics to the Super Eagles Squad brandishing and carrying aloft the golden AFCON 2013 Cup. I arrived at one reason-and that is that the president must have read the Riots Act to the sports minister , Stephen Keshi and his boys not to come back home except with the prized cup. And having taken the warning to heart, they brought home the trophy. Well done, President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan for ensuring that the AFCON 2013 CUP was won under your watch.