I and two of my colleagues – Maryam Ahmadu Suka and Abubakar Auwal, left our hotel room in Abuja around 8.30am and arrived Idu Train station at 9.05am just to ensure we boarded the 10am train back to Kaduna after attending an Investigative and Data Journalism Training organised by Daily Trust Foundation between November 25 and 29.
On arrival at the station, we met a long queue of passengers at the ticketing unit. We joined the queue, thinking the tickets were on sale, but not knowing that they had finished selling the tickets for 10am trip to Kaduna.
After waiting for almost 15 minutes on the queue, passengers started lamenting the slow movement of the queue.
“How come the queue is not moving,” Maryam asked, sounding a bit worried that we may miss the train because it was already 9.37am. “I don’t think they have started selling tickets yet because the unit is locked,” I replied, trying to calm her down.
Maryam’s brother, who accompanied us to the station, agreed with me that we had nothing to worry about since we still had few more minutes before 10am.
As we waited, we saw other passengers rushing towards the departure lounge and then a woman standing behind me asked, “Why are these people moving towards the departure lounge”?
“I told you they have finished selling the tickets because the ticketing unit was closed but none of you believed me,” Maryam replied smiling. “Those people must have gotten their tickets through the back door,” I said. We later discovered Maryam was right; they had finished selling tickets, as we saw other passengers running into the train.
Immediately we realised what just happened, we started making calls to see if we could get tickets from agents, at a higher price of course, because we didn’t want to wait for the 2pm train. Abubakar, who had been a bit worried and silent since we arrived, told me to wait as he disappeared into the crowd to get a ticket at all means.
After Abubakar left, the ticketing unit was reopened and the queue started moving. To my surprise, Abubakar returned with three tickets. “How did you get them”? I asked, “Well, just take. I will explain later,” he replied. Maryam, who was initially smiling when she saw the tickets, suddenly frowned and said, “These tickets are for standing, gaskiya I can’t stand for two hours to Kaduna.”
“What do you mean the tickets are for standing”? I asked, “It means we have no seats inside the train,” she replied.
Abubakar and I felt there was nothing wrong with us standing, maybe because we are men and at the same time we’ve never experienced travelling while standing in a train. So, we told her we’d manage what we have since we had no option.
In fact, other passengers were rushing to buy the ticket for standing maybe because they were used to it or they also didn’t have an option.
Inside the train, Abubakar and I were lucky to have two empty seats so we rested on them as Maryam got a space where luggages were kept and decided to manage it. Two other women already occupied parts of the space as she joined them. We decided to relax a bit on the seats, knowing full well that the owners could appear anytime to claim them.
From Idu station to Kubwa was about 12-15 minutes and we agreed that if nobody came to claim the seats at Kubwa station, then Maryam can join us.
That never happened as an elderly man with his wife and two daughters boarded the train at Kubwa station. We all vacated the seats for them without a word. Most of the passengers that boarded the train at Kubwa stood throughout the journey to Rigasa station.
Well, Maryam was lucky to share the luggage space; at least she had a place to seat. As for Abubakar and I, we joined others standing.
A male passenger sitting with his wife decided to be a gentleman by vacating his seat for a middle aged woman standing by his side. There were other women who couldn’t get seats and so sat on the floor along the passenger’s row. Others even fell asleep on their luggage. Some nursing mothers kept trying to make their babies comfortable as they cried.
A male passenger standing close to me cracked up everyone with jokes about kidnappers, insecurity and garri. His jokes made the grueling journey better as passengers kept laughing.
Abubakar continued writing an assignment to beat deadline, as I also got busy writing this piece while both standing. As I tried to put this piece together, it dawned on me that if not for the insecurity along the Kaduna-Abuja highway, many of us would never embark on a 2-hour journey standing inside a congested train. But despite being very uncomfortable in the train, I still felt it was better to stand for two hours than to be kidnapped by bandits.
We got to Rigasa station after about two hours fifteen minutes and alighted the train feeling fatigued. It was an experience I would not forget in a hurry because I can’t remember ever travelling for that long standing.
However, we pray that the day will come when we will return to plying our Kaduna-Abuja highway, without fear of the ‘devils’, just as we used to, so that all the sufferings passengers go through in boarding the train or standing for hours will eventually end.