Saturday 1 February 2014

Railway museum...Rescuing history from antiquated technology

By Tajudeen Sowole
There is no doubt that modern rail transportation has left the “obsolete” Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC)'s machines in Lagos behind and turned it into one huge yard of antiquated technology. But inside this vast NRC complex, which stretches across Yaba to Ebute Meta is a museum, quietly evolving, courtesy of a non-governmental initiative.

  The museum, which is the first part of what is projected as a three sections facility, Legacy Nigeria Railway Museum is known as Francis Jaekel House. Named after the British colonial era railway authority's General Manager, Jaekel, it houses objects, pictures, documents and  other related materials of railway history in Nigeria.

Rail car, at the Legacy Nigeria Railway Museum, Lagos.

Jaekel was the first. GM of the then railway management, and served for 27 years, living in the house that was then known as Quarter 17. Jaekel wrote a 3 Volumes of History of Nigeria Railway and retired as a Chief Superintendent.
Jaekel served between 1938-1965.

Occupying a lesser space compared to the expansive lawn in the front, Jeakel House's architectural work appears as the first museum object that welcomes a visitor to the Legacy Railway Museum.

The concept of a railway museum for the 119 year-old corporation originated from an NGO, Legacy 1995, led by renowned British-born and Lagos-based architect, Prof John Godwin.

As the curator of the museum, Seun Adeniyi leads the only visitor through the complex on this Thursday afternoon, a plaque outside the building offers brief history about the museum. It dates the opening to 2010 under the restoration of Godwin with the support of BG Exploration and Production Nigeria Ltd.

The immediate attractions at the museum are two railway workers' tools; a Pump Trolley and Rail Car. For those who were familiar with the railway transportation in Lagos, of about four decades or more, the two machines were common objects. Then, one of these machines was given a local name Olomo Ku Iya (Burdened Parenting). "That's the Pump Trolley" Adeniyi clarifies.  The native name must have emerged from the high manual energy required to power the wheeler by a driver while the other two passengers stands behind.

 Collecting objects for the museum goes beyond the confine of the railway yard, so suggests a relic of track said to be among the first sets used in the early days of railways in Nigeria. Placed outside the museum, the track, it’s said, was rescued by Julius Berger’s workers at a construction site in Lagos Island few years ago and brought to Legacy 1995.

But rail tracks on the Lagos Island sounds strange. Is Iddo Terminus not the end point for train transportation in Lagos? There used to be railway line along the Marina and somewhere in Onikan, Adeniyi explains.

Inside the building, pictorial documentation dominates the contents with few objects tracing the role of railway transportation in connecting, and physically, merging the south and north of Nigeria two years ahead of the historic1914 Amalgamation.
 Also of note was the effect of rail transportation on rapid development of communities along the railways as seen in a nap of Nigeria that highlights the expansion of rail from Lagos through Otta , Ifo and Abeokuta,  as well as the advancing from the north towards the Niger Delta. One of the archival photographs shows workers laying rail tracks in 'Enugu - Port Harcourt Lines'. Another picture dated 1966 shows that the "the Gombe Maiduguri Lines were the last, built."

 Pump Trolley or Olomo Kuya (Burdened parenting)
According to a text, the first section of rail tracks in Nigeria were laid from Iddo to Otta in 1896. ‘With more sections added, in the following years’ the line from Iddo to Ibadan, was opened on 4 March 1901."

 Explaining the background of how rail transportation got to Lagos Island, the text says the Iddo  terminus was 'connected to Lagos Island, by the 2 ft. 6in. gauge Lagos Steam Tramway.'

Officially, the name Nigerian Railways,' came into existence on October 3, 1912 by the merger of the Lagos Government Railways and the Baro - Kano railway.' The first passenger train rolled into Kano in 1913, “but it was not until 1916 that the bridge across the Niger was completed which replaced a temporary ferry.”

However the railway management 'became an autonomous public corporation by an Act of Parliament, the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act (1955), as amended in 1990.’

While some of the images and objects available at Jaekel House do not exactly cover a bulk of the history of railway transportation in Nigeria, they offer link to crucial part of Nigeria's history. For example the development of railways was dragged into the politics of coal between Federal Government and the Eastern region, therefore bringing into the scene the diesel engine to fill vacuum of coal locomotive. Also, the civil war delayed the laying of rail tracks in some parts of the Eastern Nigeria.

Objects such as Platform Seat for sitting at train stations and Air Alarm to alert railway workers of oncoming train revisit history.

While the other two houses of the three sections project of Legacy Nigeria Railway Museum are being awaited, the difference between the subsisting, but obsolete railway system in Nigeria and what would make the contents of antiquities in these facilities could be so thin to draw a line of museum concept. In fact a source discloses that the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCCECC), contracted to revive Nigerian railway seems to have lost touch with the kind of technology the NRC still uses. "They take samples of objects from Nigeria to reproduce parts for repair because the Chinese no longer have the kind of obsolete engines found here in their country."

As Jaekel House receives more relics of railway objects, the building as a separate museum piece would remain a reference point in tropical architecture and art of restoration. Though Jaekel House derives its origin or inspiration from the Victorian age, the design of its ventilations is unmistakably tropical: at a very high temperature afternoon during the visit, and without power supply to get the fans working, the interior was still very airy. Reason: the doors and windows are built with ventilated-head rooms enough to stand an average height person.

Jaekel House (1904), still standing inside Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Ebute Meta, Lagos 

And in the restoration work, it is of note that the wood used for the decked floor when the house was constructed in 1904 has been retained. "It's termite resistant pitch pine wood that has lasted for over 100 tears." Adeniyi says of the importance of retaining the old plank used for the decked floor.  

For the restoration architect, Godwin, the Jaekel House adds to his credits of works such as the Lumpkin House on Abibu Oki Street, Lagos Island, renovated in 1993 for the Leventis Foundation and the ongoing renovation of the Ilojo Bar at Tinubu Square, Lagos Island.

Despite the current “obsolete” technology of the NRC, the railway transportation in Nigeria has come along way in the area of routing. For examples, part of the text on the history of the routes include the Northern Central District with its administrative headquarter in Kafanchan has rail stretching about 517km from Benue, Plateau and Kaduna states.

“Based on the state coverage, the district is bordered in the east by the Lafia in plateau State in the North by Kankomi in Kaduna state and in the south by Igunmale in Benue state.
With its spread across three states the North central has enormous traffic and this creates the enabling environment for enhanced revenue generation for the NRC.”

From the western axis, which has its headquarter in Ibadan the routes run through Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Kwara and part of Niger State. These routes are noted for large movements of goods and passengers traffic.

In the North Eastern District with headquarters in Bauchi, it runs through Makurdi and Maidugri the with “cement, gypsum and clinker freight traffic from Ashaka cement factory and barites which yields some revenue to the NRC.

Other facts about railways in Nigeria:
The Eastern District Of Nigerian Railway Corporation with headquarters in Enugu covers part of the eastern section of Nigeria and stretches from the oil city of Port Harcourt to Igbede in the hinterland.

With a total number of 37 main line stations spanning a rail length of 314km, the district though small in comparison with the size of others maintain a very high density of traffic operation and are engaged in a bee-hive of activities aimed at maximizing its revenue. Its economic importance coupled with the aggressive marketing strategy of its management and the unalloyed dedicated of the staff combined to earn the district “Heart beat of NRC”

The Northern District with Headquarter in Zaria has a rail main line stretching from Minna in Niger state to Kano in Kano State with branches lines from Minna-Baro, Zaria-Kaura Namoda and Kano- Nguru.The District spreads across seven states of Nigeria namely Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Sokoto and Yobe. Major commercial cities/town within the district includes Kano, Zaria, Kaduna, Minna Gusau, Funtua and Nguru.

The Lagos District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation covers a rail line from Iddo to Ifaw Junction including Ebute Metta Junction to Appapa and Ifaw to Idogo Branch- Lines giving a total of 96km. The Lagos district comprises of major depots such as iddo, Apapa, EBJ and other sub depot stations like Agege, Agbado Oshodi and Ifaw in Ogun State. The Lagos Area is further blessed with the two major seaport- Apapa and Tin Can Islands with Iddo Jetty where imported goods are discharged for the upward distribution to the hinterland.

  The Northern Central District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation with its administrative headquarter in Kafanchan has rail stretching of about 517km covering three states of the federation. Benue, Plateau and Kaduna. Based on the state coverage, the district is bordered in the east by the Lafia in plateau State in the North by Kankomi in Kaduna state and in the south by Igunmale in Benue state.
  With its spread across three states the North central has enormous traffic and this creates the enabling environment for enhanced revenue generation for the NRC.

The Western District Of the Nigeria Railway Corporation which has its headquarter in Ibadan runs through five states namely Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Kwara and part of Niger State. There is a good deal of goods as well as passengers traffic offering in the district.

The North Eastern District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation which has its headquarters in Bauchi runs through Makurdi and Maidugri has cement, gypsum and clinker freight traffic from Ashaka cement factory and barites which yields some revenue to the NRC. There is also cattle traffic which is seasonal from Maidugri, Buni, Gombe and Bukuru.

Route Development
The development of the Nigerian Railway Corporation commenced in 1898 with the construction a 32km line of 1067mm gauge from Iddo to Ijoko to 96km Lagos – Abeokuta Railway \line which was further extended to Ibadan covering a total of 193km in 1901.
  Railway line construction continued incrementally in such manners between the years:
1901-1910- Ibadan –Jebba (295km)
1907-1911- Kano-Baro (562km)
1909-1915- Jebba-Minna 255km
1914-1916- Port Harcourt-Enugu (243km)
1916-1924- Enugu- Makurdi (220km)
1924-1927- Kaduna-Kafanchan (179km)
1922-1927- Kafanchan-Jos (101km)
  Further development from 1958 after thirty-one years of interregnum took the tracks from Kafanchan to Bauchi in 1961(238km) and ultimately to Maidugri in 1964 (302km). This development brought the total route kilometre to 3505 and track kilometres to 4332.

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