I would have loved to be on that first train from Lagos to Kano, which cruised off on Friday, December 21, 2012. I would have kneaded my nostalgia even more. Last time I rode the trains in 1997, they were led by 11 class engines; today, that is old school. They are pulled by 22 class engines. The comfort has improved, the safety level is modern and the journey is faster.
One thing that I never forgot was the way in which I would register right before my eyes the transition from the southern mangrove to the northern plains; the ravenous view of plantations of cocoa, plantain and rubber, the beautiful layouts of farms, the unbelievable topography of this country; the mountains, the plateau, the vast plains. I still remember those tall trees, and monkeys frolicking on them.
When I peep through the railed windows, I get marvelled by the length of the train, which sometimes extends to twenty five coaches, snaking through jungles and crossing bridges. In fact I even made music and crafted songs in my head from the symphony of its tracks, which vary with speed, altitude and sometimes even location
The industry of the rail side villages always attracted me. Once the train slows down, villagers skirt around trying to sell their wares; fish, foods, handcrafts, bush-meat, all in melodious tones. Others carry load into and off the train and try to make a kobo or two; to them, that is employment. Farmers use the trains to move their produce from their village to the next town, where they can make better deals. To these village people, the death of the train meant a death to their livelihood.
As for the bigger stations, that is where you see the strong women ordering men around with their cargo of fresh fruits - oranges, pineapple, paw-paw, plantain, sour sop and many others loading into the cargo compartments of the passenger trains; like planes, each passenger train had a cargo wagon to accommodate heavier freight.
In the trains, even though some would prefer to enjoy the first class and air-conditioned coaches, I preferred the general coaches where I can mix and make friends, use the aisles to investigate, count people, see different kinds of tribal marks and appreciate the richness of Nigeria. It was in one such coach that I borrowed a newspaper to read one day and discovered my admission into the university. You can imagine the barrage of claps I got from the rest of the passengers.
In fact way back when I was in my second year in secondary school, I had encountered an experience that very few Nigerians had. A local train stopped right in front of my school to drop me and my friends. We had begged the driver to help us as we were out of money and probably captivated by our shiny white Sunday kaftans, he took pity and obliged.
To me, the trains are more than a story; they are an experience I will never forget. I remember what I learnt on Nigeria's cultural diversity, the rich vegetation, the transition in climate. These and more had made me a better student when it comes to Nigeria. I even made friends, some of which I still maintain. The train is a school on tracks; it has many books with open, colour pages for easy comprehension and I wish that every Nigerian, no matter their position would board a train and attend this school.
In welcoming the trains back to Nigeria, I wish to thank all those responsible. I see the train serving the purposes of unity, commerce, development, art, environment, knowledge and empowerment. I see the creation of more inter-regional friendships and businesses; I see less of rural - urban migration. I see fewer accidents on our roads, more fuel available in our towns and longer lasting roads with fewer vehicles plying them. It is good to reminisce; that way, you get to be thankful for big and little mercies.