I am at Oyingbo.
There is this “Lagos Terminus” building here.
I looked it up online. It says there’s a train that goes all the way to Kano, from there.
I need to go see what’s going on. I need to go know what’s happening.
Usually the thought of visiting Kano or anywhere in Northern Nigeria, would infuse my mind with dread. Boko Haram and a number of other terrorist factions and sub-factions, have been wreaking serious havoc in the north.
And usually for people whose experience living in Nigeria is mostly within the southwestern region, all the Northern states sound the same. Kano. Katsina. Jigawa. Borno. They’re all pretty much the same thing. Just another state full of Hausa people.
A classmate originating from Northern Nigeria once pointed out to me- somewhat bitterly, that I was being unfair. That Boko Haram’s activities were predominantly within Borno, and that the other Northern states were relatively safe.
I heard something in the news about some kidnappings in Katsina a few days ago.
I don’t know- Maybe the stereotype “All states in Northern Nigeria are under siege by terrorists” might not be so unfair, if it’s fairness was weighed against it’s usefulness with regard to traveler safety and welfare.
I am at the Lagos Terminal.
I am walking about excitedly, looking around and asking questions.
As is usual with a lot of places in Nigeria, my excitement feels very absurd and out of place. The overwhelming weight of the incumbent socio-economic climate is evident in the general demeanour.
The hall is mostly empty. I don’t think any train is leaving soon. The workers are talking in relatively low voices. Some of them give very brief and not-so-enthusiastic responses to my questions, as they walk away.
My excitement is definitely misplaced.
I don’t really care.
I step back and take a look at the arched ceiling, comparing it in my head with the Hauptbahnhof at Frankfurt.
There are commonalities- there definitely are.
Hm, I wonder what sort of an aesthetic the architect was going for. I wonder what train stations in the world they were inspired by.
The ambience of the waiting hall fits just right with film recordings from the times before I was born. Like something you’d see in an old documentary about Nigeria- overlaid by the commentary of a very nasal British journalist.
“The Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria boards a train to Kano, to discuss a collective response to the extant British influence in the nation.”
And you’d see like Obafemi Awolowo, looking all made and affluential and important, striding into the booking office while adjusting an arm of his agbada.
There is a mouldy-looking inauguration plaque on the wall. It says the plaque was unveiled by a Sir Hugo Marshall, and Honourable Tafawa Balewa. Balewa’s face is on the Five unit denomination of the Nigerian Naira. I don’t know who Sir Hugo Marshall was.
You know, I’m really not sure what the whole point of nationalism is. I’m not sure why I should feel an unconditional sense of allegiance to, and identification with, the country I found myself having originated from. I’m not even sure what the point of a country is, to be honest.
With Nigeria specifically, the whole thing feels a lot more ambiguous and ill-defined.
“Nigerian”. What does that even mean?
Denotatively, I do not know. Other than the trivial geographical implication- which has limited usefulness, I’m not sure if any coherent meaning exists.
Connotatively, ah. That one is generally terrible. To some people, it means “Internet fraudster”. To some others it means “Drug dealer”. The list goes on and on.
And so as I walk around this Terminus, I engage myself with concepts divorced from any sort of nationalist perspectives or interpretations. Like concepts involving architecture. And engineering.
Hey! You! What are you doing there? Why are you taking pictures?
I knew it. I knew this was too good to be true. I knew at some point that overbearing, demoralizing Nigerian psychological virus would lunge out of the ominous darkness beyond and attempt to claw at my skin.
That brooding virus that causes otherwise innocuous behaviour to be consensually perceived as absurd and suspicious and even dangerous.
I was walking about in a train station and taking pictures. In most countries I don’t imagine anyone would even have the time to pay attention to me. But in Nigeria, no. It’s a crime. It’s a motherfucking criminal offence.
I turn towards the voice. It is one of the workers at the train station.
He walks up to me and asks to see my phone.