By Tope Akinnola
And so, finally, I was at the much bragged about or flaunted Ebute Metta Train Station, otherwise called the Mobolaji Johnson Train Station yesterday; and I can say for certain that it lives up to its reputation of great aesthetics and fine architectural design. Subconsciously though, my mind began to make comparisons between it and train stations in Coventry, Banbury, Birmingham, Oxford, London and few others that I’ve visited and used and I can veritably say that what I saw was comparatively equivalent to global quality.
Now, when I see a new project like this, inevitably my instincts kick in based on my training in the development sector. I began to think in terms of the impact assessment of this social investment project; and I immediately started to think in terms of budget tracking, evaluating user experience; and making quantifiable projections in terms of sustainability.
I noticed the moment I approached the structure from the main entrance that this train station is deliberately designed to be massive. It appears to me that it’s even bigger than Frankfurt Airport in Germany which I have also used before. And, definitely, I have no doubt that from outside, the train station is bigger than either the Birmingham or Coventry train stations in England.
Though I realised too that the building of the Mobolaji Johnson Train Station being bigger or taller in proportions doesn’t necessarily translate to a more efficient railway or train service. I think it would have only translated to unnecessarily overbloated cost of implementing the project, especially against the backdrop of austere times.
And if the money to execute the project was principally sourced from the Import and Export Bank of China, then that means that the loan taken to finance the project would have been more than twice the cost of implementing a functional and fairly comparable train station project of this type in Europe; and even in Asia.
But of course, I think that the train station itself is supposed to be just one of the components of the constructiom of the rail tracks/railway from Lagos to Ibadan to Kano.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the train station to buy a ticket to travel, I was just attracted by the beautiful structure when I passed through the place to conduct my business of the day. Unfortunately too, I was disallowed to take pictures within the ticketing hall — which is strange though. Anywhere in the world, you can snap photos or take selfies at the ticketing hall of train stations in civilised nations. And this reminds me of the smallness of the ticketing hall. I mean I was lost a bit because that hall is tiny compared to the massive proportion of the train station from outside and especially, for a metropolitan city with the kind of populatiom where the train station is located. It’s as if someone is not expecting much crowd to line up on the queue to buy tickets!
Then, the ticketing hall was provided with scanty seats than one would have expected of a waiting hall. In most or virtually all the train stations in the civilised world, the ticketing hall is large enough to also serve as a waiting hall (for both depature and arrival). Even in India, that’s the way it is. Though exceptions are not unusual. I was told that the first class ticket to Ibadan goes for about 6,000 naira, business class for about 4,000 and economy for about 2,500. I promised to be back to travel economy to Ibadan and do a first class on my return journey soon just to compare and contrast.
I jumped out of the ticketing hall and headed on my way to exit the entire gigantic premises, but I was still uncomfortable with the idea that the ticketng hall (which also appeared to be a waiting hall, at first glance) was unbelievably tiny. So I retraced my steps and reverted to one of the officials standing just outside of the ticketing hall, and asked him for the waiting hall or departure hall. He first pointed to the ticketing hall, to which I said it couldn’t be. I told him it was too small to be a waiting hall. The seats there wouldn’t even sit ten people conveniently at once. So he pointed to another structure hanging overhead about 60-80 metres away from where we stood just outside the ticketing hall, and which is some distance away from the rail tracks, labeling it as the waiting hall.
I concluded that there must be some kind of indolence of thought in the design of the train station. The ticketing hall is supppsed to seamlessly flow into a depature lounge or waiting hall without having to walk a rather long distance, and from where passengers will exit to the platforms to board a train when it arrives or wants to take off. Noticing that wanting to check out the section he pointed my attention to was written all over my face, this official said I would only be allowed to go there if I bought a ticket.
So I slipped out of view, hit the parking lot on the expansive grounds of the train station, and tried to beat the insane Lagos traffic for the umpteenth time. My mind gravitated to sustainability and profitablity as I saw only trickles of passengers at the train station. Or perhaps I was there at the wrong time. And I couldn’t shake away the massive generator house built adjacent to the train station and I thought of the hundreds of millions of naira that would eventually be said to be the annual amount used in fueling the facility 24/7.
One last thing before it slips out of my mind. I also observed a heavy presence of the Chinese construction company responsible for this project both in print and in activity beside the train station, as work was still being done close by to the already completed infrastructure. But I didn’t get to see the presence of Nigerian engineers there as well. I once worked as the media and editorial consultant to a quarterly 16-page newsletter and about 42-page magazine published by two branches of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (in Ondo and Ekiti states respectively) and even had interactions with two of the former national presidents of the Nigerian Society of Engineers with their headquarters in Abuja, namely engineers Mustapha B. Shehu, FNSE and Ademola Olorunfemi, FNSE.
And I remember vividly that one of the key concerns of the Nigerian Society of Engineers is the lack of adequate patronage from the Nigerian government and a dire lack of sufficient utilisation of the skills of Nigerian engineers with a view to developing their capacity on the one hand; and to reduce government spending in foreign currency (the dollar!) in importing foreign engineers or in giving hundred percent of the country’s engineering construction contracts to them, on the other hand.
Personally, I will like to see these kinds of engineering/construction contracts having a heavy dosage of local content and Nigerian engineers used fully from start to finish alongside the foreign engineers in constructing our train stations, in building our rail tracks and then in maintenance of the railways and even the trains as well.
If given the opportunity, we have Nigerian engineers that can perform great. Shouldn’t we ask why is it that when Nigerian engineers travel and settle abroad, they perform wonders? It’s because of opportunity. When given the opportunity, they rise up to the occasion.
The other day, about a couple of months ago or thereabout, a young Nigerian man who built sophisticated drones from scratch by himself was snatched by the head hunters of a company from Finland while the Nigerian government watched with a lack of interest. This Nigerian guy would soon make drones in Finland that the Nigerian government would lobby to buy at great costs and import with hard currency. Such an irony.
Only a few months ago too, I think around May this year or thereabout, the Ghana Gas Company replaced 52 Chinese expatriate engineering staff running its technical operations at their Atuabo plant with their own homegrown local engineers; and as a result of that, the government of Ghana has been able to save up to US$3.5 million monthly. That’s pretty. The Nigerian government should wake up from slumber and start rethinking and resetting its mindset and modus operandi and begin to think in this direction too.
So, somehow, with that beautiful looking train station (train station! what ordinarily should be wontedly available!), I found something to celebrate about Nigeria despite… well, don’t let’s talk about ‘despite’ today!
Cheers. 💕🤗 👍
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