LAGOS-KANO RAILWAY — For the first time in a decade, Nigeria is operating a train line that links the north and south of the country, which is Africa’s most populous nation. The 1,100-kilometer trip from Lagos in the south to the northern city of Kano is an adventure that provides a window into the nation.
The train departs from Lagos - Nigeria’s largest city - every Friday at noon, or thereabouts. When we arrive at the station at 9 a.m., the ticket lines already are thick.
When the journey begins, passengers sitting everywhere from the economy class to the private cabins appear eager about seeing Nigeria by train. Tickets cost between $12 and $30, and passenger Aisha Muhammad Shuaib said it’s cheaper than the bus and much safer than the roads.
“You know the roads are bad, sometimes armed robbers. That’s why I’m fearing the road. Because it happens to me. When I was coming from Kano to Lagos, I take the same bus with armed robbers. You can imagine? Eight armed robbers on the bus when we were heading to Lagos,” said Shuaib.
As we make our way out of town, passengers watch the tropical southern countryside pass by. In the first-class car and private cabins, however, there is no air conditioning.
At every station-stop, locals hawk sodas, bags of water, nuts and fruit.
There are no stairs to board the train and no conductors yelling “All aboard." When the train starts moving, passengers scramble on.
The train usually moves much slower than the promised maximum speed of 50 kilometers an hour.
By nightfall we were still in the south.
Filled to capacity
The next morning the scenery has changed, and we are in the arid north.
Despite the progress, the mood has darkened in the economy cabins. At every stop overnight, more and more passengers crammed in.
“I’ve been standing for five hours. Some of us have been standing for eight hours now,” said passenger Jimoh Kolawoe.
And as day two wears on, it only gets worse. By afternoon, the coach cabins are so packed that every bit of floor space is taken and luggage is piled in the bathrooms.
We reach Kaduna about 6 o’clock - the time we were expecting to arrive in Kano, about 200 kilometers away. Security warns us we are now in a region known for violence.
“Kano is one of the most security dangerous areas and we need to be on our toes. We are on our optimum vigilance. As we go to Kano we watch out for every passenger that comes in,” said Benjamin Aletofa, one of those who provides train security.
Around 1:30 in the morning the train finally rolls into the dark Kano train station. After 37-and-a-half hours, in a city officials say is now the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency, the exhausted passengers hit the road quickly.
Back on the train, staffers prepare for the ride back across Nigeria.