Despite several odds, the Kano-Nguru train corridor has remained in operation, serving business interests. As a result of the train services, other activities, including social life, have been enhanced at the two train destinations, creating many opportunities and improving the cost of living for residents.
In 1930 when the old model train was introduced during the time of the European missionaries, the locomotive travelled for 300 kilometres between Kano and Nguru, passing through various towns and villages with hundreds of passengers and goods worth millions of naira.
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With 12 coaches, the train operates four times a week, twice from Kano (Mondays and Thursdays) and twice from Nguru (Tuesdays and Fridays).
Our correspondent who travelled in the train on Monday last week to get a firsthand experience of its operations and business opportunities on the route, discovered that it usually leaves Kano by 9pm on Monday and arrives Nguru on Tuesday by 6am or 7am, and on Thursday it leaves around 9pm from Kano and arrives at Nguru on Friday within the morning hours.
Although majority of those in Kano know little or nothing about the weekly operations of the train to and from Nguru in Yobe State, it was observed that the locomotive aids business activities, not only between the two states but the entire North West and North East. To some extent, it also makes business relations between Nigeria and Niger Republic easier.
Before the development of modern highways and airports in Nigeria, the railway was the only means of efficient transportation of humans and goods from one point to another. This created the leeway for the modest development witnessed from colonial times and before the early 1970s.
Our findings also revealed that despite improvement in road infrastructure in the country, residents and marketers in the Nguru-Kano axis prefer the train for their daily activities. Among many other reasons, they told our correspondent that the railway was safer and cheaper than road transportation.
During the trip, our correspondent discovered that despite all the odds, the train is highly patronised by businessmen and women. Also, women who are into petty businesses take advantage of the train services as it is cheaper and easier for them to move their goods without obstacles.
A staff member in charge of coaches that carry loads, who asked not to be named, told Daily Trust Saturday that without the patronage of business people, the train would have stopped operation as the money generated from passengers cannot sustain its services.
“You can see that from the arrangement, we prioritise the coaches that carry goods because they are the soul of the business. We have up to eight coaches for goods and only three or four for passengers. If you depend on passengers only you can’t survive. How many are the passengers? And they are mostly women who often come for business or wedding purposes; and they don’t usually pay for their loads,” he said.
He said that whenever the goods were below seven coaches they won’t move the train.
One of the passengers, Hajiya Adama Buhari, who supplies kettles and bowls to Nguru, said she had been patronising the train for over 10 years. She considers going to Kano from Nguru as easy as going from home to the market because of affordability and ease of moving goods.
“Almost every month, I come to Kano for my business. The train has been of great support and advantage to me. I pay less and still put my entire load inside without paying a penny, unlike road transportation where I have to pay for myself and my load,” she said.
A resident of Nguru, Sunusi Tanko, said that over the years, the train had been supporting small and big businessmen and women in the region by making it easier for them to transport their goods, especially farm produce, to Kano.
“Although the train is old, it is still relevant and plays a significant role in helping people, especially women who supply goods to Kano. They can’t afford to pay for motor vehicles,” he said.
It was also learnt that the major attraction for passengers is the fare, which is N650 for a one-way trip. This is against the N2,000 or N2,500 on road transportation for the same trip.
Women with children are also allowed to pay N350 for each of their children. This indirectly includes the money for luggage as many of the passengers carry loads.
Hajiya Adama also said, “I buy a lot of things from Kano to Nguru, depending on what my customers need. And from Nguru, I also supply many things to Kano. Sometimes I have two full sacks, but I only pay for my seat, which is N650. I don’t have to pay for my loads; I will find a place and put them inside the train, unlike motor vehicles where I have to pay for myself and the load, and maybe three to four times the train fare.”
It was also discovered that businessmen who send large goods to and from Kano could pay for a coach at the rate of N75,000. A staff on the train explained that a coach was equivalent to one and half trailers, and can carry over 40 tonnes of load.
According to the staff who spoke with our correspondent, a trailer-load of goods will cost over N200,000 to Nguru, “and it is not up to one coach.”
Major goods supplied from Kano
From Kano, the major goods transported to Nguru are mostly foodstuffs and other commodities. The foodstuffs include macaroni, spaghetti, sugar, noodles, cooking oil and other related products, as well as soft drinks they buy at wholesale prices from the popular Singer Market in Kano.
Other goods include electronic gadgets, furniture, vehicles like tricycles, motorcycles, and animal feeds.
Some of the traders said part of the reasons they preferred the train was how it reduced the risk of goods getting damaged as is the norm with road transportation.
Alhaji Muhammed Madu Bukar, who owns a shopping plaza in Nguru town and often supplies foodstuffs from Kano, said that for over 20 years he had been enjoying the train as a single coach can accommodate all his goods.
“The train is very simple for us here as it convenes all our goods. No matter the number of goods we have, the train will carry it. This is unlike trailers where you may end up leaving some of your goods until the following week because of lack of space. The 8 coaches on the train can carry all our goods. Each coach carries 40 tonnes, which is equivalent to 1.5 trailers.
“It is also cheaper. On a trailer, we pay N60 or N65 for each carton, but on the train, it is N30 or even below. Those of us who have many goods always hire a whole coach; and it is cheaper,” he said.
He said that with the train he would not have to go to Kano every week but would send money to his suppliers, who would put his goods on it and deliver to him, a development he described as more secure and economical.
“I have been using the train for long. At the train station we also have people that will collect the goods and load, as well as look after them until arrival in Nguru.
“Few people among us use motor vehicles to Kano but load their goods on the train and come back to Nguru in motor vehicles. They do this because the train operates at night and is not as fast as motor vehicles. It is the olden days train,” he added.
Another trader, Jibrin Isma’ila, who is into animal feeds in Nguru, said the use the train had saved him a lot and generated more profit for him.
“I have been using the train for my business for long. I am among the major dealers of animal feeds. You know we have an animal market here and many people are into rearing. I buy over 300 sacks of animal feed; that is wheat dust. I pay N100 for each sack because it is big. But if the load is too much, I usually pay for a whole coach.
“The train is really helpful because it is what motivates us to remain in the business. I come to Kano every week, depending on what I think is needed in the market. When there is maize around the Kaduna and Zaria axis, I go there to buy and supply at Nguru, through Kano,” he said.
Our correspondent also observed that the trip from Nguru to Kano is similar to that from Kano to Nguru as the train is also loaded with huge commodities. Most of the goods from Nguru that are supplied in Kano are said to be unique and needed for many purposes. It is said that such goods are the reason many women are into business and dominating the train.
Among the major goods transported to Kano are mostly farm produce that do not grow much in Kano, such as gingerbread palm (goruba), rice dust (buntu), sesame, hibiscus (zobo), sesame leaf (karkashi), kajij (used in making fragrance), baobab leaf (kuka) and potash (kanwa).
Others are empty jerry-cans, drink bottles, animal skin and animals, including cattle, camels, rams, goats and sheep, among many other things.
One of the dealers in gingerbread, sesame, hibiscus and rice dust, Jibrin Ahmad, told Daily Trust Saturday at the train station in Nguru that Kano served as his largest market and the train has been supporting his business.
“I send over 200 sacks of biri (goruba) and some other products to Kano every week. And my customers are always asking for more. In Kano, they are using it for different purposes. Companies are even buying from our people there. We are making huge profit because each sack is N7,500, but we get it at less than N7,000. If not for the train, it would have gone higher because of transport fare.
“I send it directly to Rimi market through the train; I don’t go to Kano. I am running the business from here. I normally work to get the goods here and sometimes from Niger Republic and neighbouring villages. So, the train has been of great advantage to many of our people here. In fact, it is a blessing to the entire Nguru town,” he said.
Also, a cattle dealer, Musa Alhassan, who often sends goods to Wudil, Larabar Abasawa and Jogana markets in Kano, said he had been using the train to transport his cattle from Nguru.
He said that unlike other goods that are moved directly to the last terminus in Kano, cattle were offloaded at the Jogana station, an outskirts of Kano city for easy movement to the markets.
“I am from Kano, but every week I come to Nguru to buy cattle and move to Kano via the train. The train is very cheap and really supports the business. I pay N5,000 for a cow in a trailer, but in the train it is N2,000,” he said.
He also said the train was safer for the animals as they could move freely, unlike the trailers where they would be tied.
Businesses along the routes
Another aspect of the corridor our correspondent discovered is how the train also boosts business activities in the various towns along its route. The 12 stations or terminuses of the train have offered so many opportunities to the villages around them to make brisk businesses, either within or outside the train.
It was gathered that the train normally stops at the 12 stations, either to drop passengers or carry others. At such places, children, especially females, sell various commodities.
Notable stations where such businesses take place most are within the axis of Jigawa State, such as Kugama, Malam Madori and Birniwa local government areas.
Also sharing her experiences, a widow and mother of six, Maimuna Bukar, said she had been transporting kajiji to the popular Rimi market in Kano and would buy earrings while coming back, to supply in Nguru. She said the business had given her the means to take care of herself and the children.
“I was able to marry off one of my daughters with this business, which I have been doing since the demise of my husband,” she said, adding that many women like her are into the business because of the train.
Challenges of the Kano-Nguru rail transportation
Many challenges are associated with the train services. For instance, a journey that is expected to last for three hours sometimes takes more than 10 hours and amidst a crowd of passengers, who are usually pressed on one another due to lack of space. Movement from one coach to another, which a train is known for, is nowhere to be found as one can hardly find a place to stretch one’s legs.
Also, the failure of the operators to adopt e-ticketing has provided the opportunity for the train to accommodate passengers beyond its original capacity. The sale of tickets keep going on until the last person on the ground is accommodated.
Aside the congestion, the noise emanating from the engines of the old train, as well as the cry from children due to excessive heat, makes it almost impossible for one to take a nap during the trip.
Unlike what was obtainable three decades ago as attested to by some people, the train no longer has light, not to talk of any cooling system, a situation that gives room for the invasion of mosquitoes.
“You will enjoy the train, my son. I used it twice even before you were born. That time, it was one person per seat; there was no squatting. And you could move freely from coach to coach to stretch your legs. There was light and fans, so there is nothing to worry about,” our correspondent’s mother had assured before the trip. She did not know that the situation has deteriorated over the years due to lack of care by the authorities.
It was also observed that there was no light at the surrounding of the train station and in the ticket collection room. One had to use one’s phone’s light to pay and rush back to the train to get a seat to avoid standing throughout the journey. There was also the struggle to get a seat near a window because of lack of a cooling system.
Daily Trust Saturday also observed that the norm is to get a seat, place identification tag on it and go outside to wait because staying inside could lead to suffocation. About 8:30pm, the engine of the train arrived from Zaria after undergoing some repairs; that confirmed the readiness of the train to embark on the journey.
While the passengers were waiting, on the other segment, traders were busy with their goods to ensure that they were loaded into the coaches allocated for them. About 10:09pm, the journey started, one hour and nine minutes late, according to the schedule.
The journey was also not without hiccups as the train had to stop at least 15 times to allow the engines cool off as a result of overheating, thereby stretching the journey till 1:45pm on Tuesday when it finally stopped at the Nguru terminal.
An old man who has worked on the train for many years said, “We are just not lucky today, we normally arrive at 6am or 7am. But look at what happened; the train is tired, honestly.”
Why government should improve the system
Many businessmen who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday said the rail system was so important that the government should not think of allowing it to collapse, saying such situation would not be good for both Yobe and Kano states, which are benefitting from the train services. They also said that if the government allowed that it happen, many businesses would collapse.
“We want the government to intervene and find the best solution to the challenges associated with the train and its services. This train is helping the masses. The government should try to bring in modern ones to make it easier for us,” one of the traders in Nguru said.