By Chukwuemeka Isanbor
There is no denying the fact that since Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had given approval to the renaming of railway stations along the Lagos-Ibadan and the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri corridors that disagreements have been trailing it from different interest groups and individuals.
According to Amaechi, the stations were renamed after some “deserving citizens that have contributed to the progress and development of their respective communities and the nation at large”.
The honorees and the stations named after them cut across Bola Ahmed Tinubu (Apapa Station), Mobolaji Johnson (Ebute Metta Station), Babatunde Raji Fashola (Agege Station), Lateef Jakande (Agbado Station), Yemi Osinbajo (Kajola Station) and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (Papalanto Station). Others are Wole Soyinka (Abeokuta Station), Aremo Segun Osoba (Olodo Station), Chief Ladoka Akintola (Omio-Adio Station), Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Ibadan Station), Chief Alex Ekwueme (Operation Control Centre), Itakpe-Ajaokuta/Aladja-Warri Railway, Alhaji Adamu Attah (Itakpe station). Also in the list are Dr. Olushola Saraki (Ajaokuta Station), Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (Itogbo Station), Brigadier General George Innih (Agenebode Station), Anthony Eromosele Enahoro (Uromi Station), Chief Tom Ikimi (Ekehen Station) and Brig. Gen. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia (rtd) (Igbanke Station), Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (Agbor Station Complex), Brigadier General David Ejoor (Abraka Station), Micheal Ibru (Opara Station), Alfred Rewane (Ujevwu Station) and Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (Railway Village, Agbor).
As can be seen from the list, the honour was bestowed on living Nigerians and posthumously bestowed on deserving late Nigerians who contributed to the progress and development of their respective communities during their earthly journeys.
However, few days after the renaming of the stations was made public by the minister of transport, it was obvious that not all Nigerians were in agreement with the decision. For instance, the Nigeria Union of Railway Workers (NUR), called on the Federal Government to reverse the name of the Apapa station that was renamed after Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to the former.
It would be recalled that NUR had in a statement by its Secretary General, Segun Esan, said there was no doubt the Minister of Transportation had the backing of the Nigerian Railway workers in his patriotic enterprise of reviving the rail system, but the union owe it a patriotic obligation to lend useful and objective advice to policy makers.
Against the foregoing backdrop, Esan said without prejudice to any of the distinguished personalities whose names have been given to railway stations by the President, the union strongly demanded that the name of Apapa Railway Station be reversed to its old name, Waziri Mohammed Railway Station.
According to him, “Apapa railway station, after the painful death of our beloved Late Alhaji Waziri Kyari Mohammed in a Bellview plane crash, which occurred on 25th October 2005, at Lisa in Ogun State, was most officially named after him, who until his untimely death was the Chairman of Nigerian Railway Board”.
Late Mohammed, according to him, toiled and laboured passionately and relentlessly for the emancipation of the Nigerian Railway system with verifiable intentions to impact positively on the welfare and wellbeing of the railway workers before the cold hands of death took him away. He died while on active service to Nigeria through the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
He added that the only thing that reminds the Nigerian Railway community nationwide of the excellent achievements of Mohammed to the development of Nigeria is the Apapa Railway station named after him, to which he said, “Convincingly so, we exist in the reality of the undeniable fact that late Alhaji Waziri Mohammed, more than any other Nigerian and as a patriot that he truly was, deserves his rightful place in the history and geography of Nigerian Railway Corporation, and also in the indomitable heart of Nigerians and the railway workers, who remain thankful and appreciative of him for his unquenchable passion and enthusiasm for a better railway and happier workers.
“We earnestly demand justice for our glorious dead, Mohammed, by returning his name to Apapa railway station. Let us not rob the dead to pay the living because, someday, we will all be dead,” he added.
Unarguably, the position of the leadership of the NUR showed that not everyone is in agreement with the renaming of the Railway Stations.
Most worrisome of the disagreements being expressed by concerned Nigerians is that the name of the Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was missing in the list, and this is already being interpreted by Nigerians as a deliberate attempt to undermine his achievements. This is even as the minister of transport in the statement, signed by Director, Press and Public Relation, Ministry of Transportation, Eric Ojiekwe termed the honorees as ‘prominent Nigerians.” More so, he noted that the deserving citizens have contributed to the progress and development of their respective communities and the nation at large. Against the background of the foregoing view, not few Nigerians are presently asking in hush tones if Obasanjo has not contributed to the progress and development of the communities that fall within the constituencies he represented as president in two different political dispensations. In fact, since the names of the honorees were disclosed to Nigerians, not a few of them have agreed that there is a political undertone to the omission of his name from the list.
In a similar vein, views that railway stations in other economies are not named after individuals but communities where the station is located are also been expressed since the names of the honorees were made public. To some, the renaming of the railway stations after the honorees smack of political patronage.
The current efforts for an effective and efficient rail travel system is commendable and should be done in a manner that it adds to a better travel experience and tourist attractions to Nigeria. Travelling by train is a scenic and relaxing way to discover any country, adding a real sense of adventure to trips. While we hope that in the near future that our nation will have a rail network that covers the whole country; it is important to save commuters the confusion that will be associated with naming railway stations after individuals rather than the towns at various stops. The rail stations named after individual denies these communities of global visibility on the travel map.
In view of these opposing views and the somewhat misinterpretations that have been trailing the announcement of the renaming of the railway stations, it is incumbent on the President to revisit the issue with exigency and address areas that need to be addressed.
Dr. Chukwuemeka Isanbor is an Associate Professor, and writes from University of Lagos, Nigeria