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3rd Mar 2023 | by: admin

Journey of memories – a ride on the Lagos Blue Line
By Femi Olugbile
On Wednesday, the 22nd of February 2023, you were presented with an opportunity to ride on the Lagos Blue Line, as part of a delegation of ALARHOSPS, the body of retired Permanent Secretaries.
Riding on an intracity rail system of any sort in Lagos has always been a fond dream of yours. It mattered little whether it was a metro line or a monorail, or even a reincarnation of the one-penny-a-ride tramway that ran between Iddo Terminus and Kokomaiko and the Customs Wharf on the Marina, passing through Balogun Street, Ebute Ero, Idumota and over Carter Bridge from 1902. You have nursed this dream since the day you came home from a foreign sojourn in 1983 and beheld stacks of materials on a huge expanse of land near the Presbyterian Church at Yaba. This, you were assured, was the epicentre of the Lagos Metro, which was being constructed by the French firm responsible for the Paris Metro, on the instruction of Governor Lateef Jakande. Your feeling was particularly exhilarating because your last stop before Lagos was in Cairo. There, you had beheld a similar stockpiles of materials and the beginning of excavation for the proposed Cairo Metro. In your mind’s eye, you could picture yourself in another two years, jumping on the Lagos Metro at Yaba and joyriding back and forth, enjoying the familiar sights of your home-city from a window seat.
Shortly after that experience, sadly, a military coup threw the government of Shehu Shagari, and Lateef Jakande, out of office. Someone went on to take the most bizarre, most wicked public policy decision in the history of the nation, cancelling Jakande’s Metroline, and instead, paying $73 million, from public funds, which could have completed the initial project, as penalty.
Two years after the rude abortion of the Lagos Metroline, the Cairo Metroline was completed, and launched with fanfare as the first Metro in Africa. When at length you had the chance to ride on it, the ride left a sad, heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach.
But here you were, in Lagos, forty years after that atrocious decision. Lagos was now a much more complex city. The population had multiplied several times over. There were more roads to be bridged, and many more houses to be demolished to carry out any cross-territorial construction. The engineering complexity, the safety challenges, and the cost, of building an electricity and diesel-powered intracity mass-transit rail system had become infinitely greater than what Lateef Jakande faced in earlier times.
It gave you a happy feeling, despite it all, that the Blue Line was here. And it was good to be here to ride on it.
The Marina Terminus was a huge, impressive structure sitting on the outer Marina.
Two intimidating banks of tall steps reminded you of the endless steps cut into the side of Mount Sinai.
You stopped to catch your breath as you finally attained the landing. You were reassured by helpful officials of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) standing by that the lifts were working, and that there was a plan to have an escalator.
The train was scheduled to take off at half past ten in the morning. Everyone was issued with a cowry card, the innovative cross-all-territories contactless card designed to provide passengers cashless access to buses and trains and other modalities of transport in the metropolis.
In 2003, the government of Lagos formally announced its commitment to the project. In 2008, LAMATA announced plans for the Blue and Red Lines. The Blue Line would run over 27 kilometers, from Okokomaiko to Marina. The Red Line would connect Marina to Agbado, linking up with the Murtala Mohammed airport.
After several delays due to financial constraints, the first phase of the Blue Line was eventually completed and commissioned recently.
It had taken the relentless determination of Babajide Sanwoolu, for whom solving the Lagos transportation gridlock was a crucial policy imperative as the first item in his government’s ‘THEMES’ agenda, to get the project past the post.
The cabin was full of excited people, including your retired Permanent Secretaries in their blue and red ‘Formula 1’ shirts. There were several other groups moving between the cabins, chatting animatedly.
As the train moved out of the station, many people reached for their camera-phones and began to take pictures of the changing scenery.
Little things stoked an adrenaline rush even in the most seasoned traveller. The familiar names of local places flashing on an electronic board in the cabin. National Theatre. Iganmu. Alaba. Mile 2, where the journey would be ending.
The board contained the names of other places that would only be reached in the next phase of the project. Festac. Alakija. Trade Fair. Volkswagen. LASU. Okokomaiko.
The hope, you were told, was to transport 250,000 Lagosians everyday once the Line got going. After the next phase, the numbers would double.
Even the most banal scenery acquired an air of the exotic as you noiselessly rolled past them. The UBA building and other skyscrapers on Broad Street. The Lagos Lagoon, on the other side. Cranes and paraphernalia of construction on the waterfront.
As you approached Iganmu, the familiar stench and sludge of the marshes assailed the eyes and nostrils. Somewhere in there was a canal that was probably blocked.
Mile 2.
In less than half an hour, you had traversed territory on a journey that would normally take one or two hours through Lagos roads.
All too soon, you were done, and the train was heading back to Marina.
Everyone recognised this was a historic occasion, and they snapped away with their smartphones.
Back to the terminus.
Some people chose to take the lifts going down.
A major achievement for the people of Lagos, you reasoned.
Their Metroline might have been aborted forty years ago, and their Tramline, the first in Africa, might have long-since gone into disuse. But, hey, their Blue Line was here, at last. A big step, full of excitement and promise.

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