The Gombe station of the Nigerian Railway Corporation was officially opened to the public for commercial business on April 11, 1963, by the then Governor-General of Nigeria, late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. Fifty-nine years after the historic event, Daily Trust Saturday visited the once vibrant station and reports on the ruin, as a result of several years of neglect.
Three personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) were seated on a bench and chatting at the main entrance of the Gombe Station of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC).
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The rail line linked the Gombe station through Bauchi, Kafanchan, Kaduna with other southern parts of the country.
During its heydays, trains through the station shuttle hundreds of passengers with tons of goods, mostly agricultural products like groundnuts and cotton, daily from Gombe to other parts of the country.
Additionally, thousands of direct and indirect labour was provided for the teeming populace of the then Gombe province and environs, as well as numerous others posted to the station from different sections of the country.
There was a railway quarters built closely to the station for staff, to give them easy access to their place of work.
However, the fortunes of the station began to dwindle in the early 1990s when the frequency of trains visiting the station drastically reduced.
This led to frequent cancellation of train services, an unfortunate development that forced several people to resort to road transport, which was more reliable at the time.
When Daily Trust Saturday visited the station on a working day, only five staff were on duty, out of over 30 still working as permanent and pensionable staff of the NRC.
There are several departments ranging from electrical, technical, administration, to store, customer services and workshop among others, with staff posted to handle each unit. However, due to lack of schedule of duty, most of the staff hardly report for duty, while those that come close after few hours.
Therefore, most of the time, it is the heavily armed security personnel of the NSCDC that are always present at the station to secure the railway tracks and other assets of the NRC domiciled at the station.
During a visit to the station, located at the eastern part of the town; near what is now a major timber market, it was discovered that rice millers, timber sellers and furniture makers have taken over the Gombe Train Station, where they display and sell their different wares.
The entrance to the train station main is covered by shops and workshops belonging to either timber sellers, furniture manufacturers and dealers in building materials, restaurants as well as hawkers.
Along the eastern part of the station, the millers mill their rice and use the tracks to dry the rice. The furniture manufacturers also use the place as their factory.
There are few non-functional cargo coaches on the rail lines, while the workshop is totally under lock and key, with no sign of activity.
A visit by our correspondent to the station at the weekend showed no single staff or security personal on duty, while the offices were under lock and key.
According to a staff who spoke on condition of anonymity, about 30 staff are currently working in the station, receiving salary at the end of every month, “for actually doing nothing.”
He explained that they run three shifts daily, each shift having six staff that sign-in and out at the start and close of work respectively.
He said they just report to duty to chat and close at the end of their working shift without any specific schedule, “since no train has visited the station in the last seven years.”
Findings revealed that the last time a train operated at the station was in 2015 towards the end of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, when some coaches were repaired and commissioned by former Vice President Namadi Sambo.
“Then, some coaches were brought, the station was overhauled and passengers, sesame and cattle were transported from the station to Lagos and Port Harcourt, Rivers State. But that was the last time a train operated at the station. In fact, the few coaches and engines that were earlier brought for the commissioning were later evacuated,” he said.
Theft of sleepers and tracks
Apart from the rot at the station, vandals also steal sleepers on the rail track, especially at night. Also, some staff were alleged to be conniving with outsiders to steal some tracks brought in 2014 to replace faulty ones.
“The project didn’t commence and as soon as the train left to Port Harcourt with the first batch of cattle, the project was abandoned and the equipment meant for the project were taken away,” the staff who craved anonymity said.
Management keep mum
During three separate visits to the railway station, the Station Superintendent declined comment on the matter. He directed our correspondent to channel all enquiries to their zonal office in Bauchi or their corporate headquarters.