The Federal government says it will flag off the Lagos-Abeokuta railway transport and offer passengers three- months-free-of-charge service.
Riding from Iju in Lagos State to Abeokuta in Ogun State to test the service were Governor Ibikunle Amosun, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, Gbenga Ashafa and some members of the National Assembly among others.
On ground to receive the party on arrival were Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; Alake of Egba land, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, other traditional rulers and pockets of crowd that entertained the visitors, singing and dancing.
Speaking during the ceremony, Amaechi commended the Abeokuta community for making the execution of the project hitch-free, noting that they were the only ones in Nigeria that did not demand compensation.
“This is not a commissioning ceremony. We just decided to put the train on the track to convey passengers for three months free of charge. We are done here and we are grateful that Ogun State government organised this to welcome the third standard gauge in Nigeria. Itakpe-Warri is the first while Abuja-Kaduna is the second.
“The first tunnel in Nigeria is in Ogun State. This work is not free of charge, you will have to pay for it and the only way to pay is for you to vote. If you want us to take the project from Ibadan to Kano, then we need your vote.
“Vote for APC, that is all we are asking for but this train will run from Saturday free of charge and I will compel them to do about three trips a day so that more persons can go to work in the morning and come back in the evening.
“We are also trying to build our stations and in a year’s time, we would have finished the stations and everything will be running normally and then you will be paying your money,” he said, promising to fix some of the issues raised by community members that the rail project passed through.
According to him, the issues include; access roads to schools, restriction of movement of community members, lack of overhead bridge and portable water, just as he revealed that two coaches would be added to beef up the number on ground.
In his goodwill message, Soyinka who commended the government for the project, described part of the project ground as his former hunting ground.
His words: “This is not a political gathering but my house is not far from here and this place used to be part of our hunting ground and so, I came to see for what my hunting ground was appropriated for and so far, so content.
“One of these days, a rocket from this platform will go to the next platform but for now, we are keeping our feet on the ground and looking at the opportunity for our small traders, commuters. I don’t give a damn who puts it there; it does not matter. There is a saying in Yoruba that if a man sees a serpent and a woman kills it, it does not matter provided the serpent is dead.
“This is not a question of killing; we are just being creative. This is not a do-or-die occasion but a do-and-do occasion. Congratulations to everyone involved in this enterprise; next time we shall launch a rocket up,” he said.
Also speaking, Governor Amosun said the project showed that the APC administration was not playing politics with its people, stressing: “This is a life- changing event to us and I congratulate all Nigerians because what we are doing today is what will change Nigeria to be among the comity of developed nations, of emerging markets and nations.
“There is no way there can be any socio-economic development without infrastructure in place. What we are doing today will revolutionise Nigeria in a very special way. The time it will take before to get to Abeokuta from Lagos has reduced. We are not playing politics here. We are not window dressing; we are simply working our talk and not campaigning,” he argued.
The governor also said that the commencement of the passenger train would reduce the pressure on most roads, boost productivity and create more employment. “With this ride, pressure on our roads will reduce and goods that used to take days through the roads to get to their final destinations will get there in good time and in good condition. Burden will be off our roads.
“This will also create employment and transfer of technology by the Chinese to our people who are about 90 percent workers on site since the construction of the project began.”
Also commenting, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, revealed that the project had seen over 11,000 workers employed by the Nigerian Railway Corporation and about 2,000 studying in China.
On his part, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo commended the Federal and the Chinese governments for the execution of the project.
“We thank Almighty God and the government who have made this possible because coming from Lagos in minutes means that all the empty houses in Abeokuta will now have tenants because people will work in Lagos and even get to Lagos earlier than those who stay in some parts of Lagos.
“It also means that refined products in Lagos will get to Abeokuta. There used to be an Idobo train in those days that took food to Oyigbo; this can be repeated now and it means those in Lagos have to work harder because their foodstuffs will get to us before them.
“It also means that more of our people will get employed. We thank the federal government and the government of China and the contractors and we pray that this kind of corporation will go on from time to time between us and other countries of the world,” he added.
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