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There is heavy traffic of commuters to the southern parts of Nigeria from Abuja during the Yuletide season, just as it is to the northern parts during Salah, Muhammad Yahaya said.

Mr Yahaya is the chairman of the Abuja to Kogi commercial drivers’ union and was explaining to a PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter what is called “road seasons” in his parlance.

Traffic during the festive seasons forces up transport fares and compels many commuters to seek even risky alternatives to daytime commuter service at the regular motor parks.

Taking risk to cut cost

Christopher Ekele has never travelled by a night bus before. But on Saturday, he felt had no option.

The 34-year-old has worked in Abuja for almost five years as a barber and did the last three successive Christmas holidays in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

He said he has to travel home to Agbor in Delta State for Christmas this year for part of the ceremonies of his younger brother’s wedding on December 27.

The artisan had planned to travel early to beat the usual hike in transport fares during the festive period but could not.

Bus fares to Delta from Abuja averaged N12,000 on Saturday morning in various parks within Jabi, the commercial nerve of Abuja where commuter vehicles going in and out of the capital city mostly converge.

That was double the normal fare and Mr Ekele said it was “way above my budget”. He then opted to board a luxury bus for a night journey.

Bearing different company names, three 60-seater buses heading to Delta and other parts of the south-eastern region lined the western side of the Utako Motor Park.

Mr Ekele said he paid N6,200 to secure a space in one of the buses. A stern-looking ‘conductor’ had told our reporters that the fare was not negotiable.

“This is my first time travelling by night bus”, said the Delta-state indigene. “I am always wary of this kind of journies because of the security risks involved but I don’t have an option this time around.”

Like Mr Ekele, many other Abuja residents travelling home to celebrate Christmas on a low budget are exploring several cheap options because the bus fares have gone up.

Another passenger who simply identified himself as Ifeanyi said he was surprised that even night buses now charge as high to N6,200.

“Before, we used to pay N3,500 to N4,000 for such trips, but now everything has gone up,” he said.

Clutching a pack of naira notes, the ‘conductor,’ as he issued tickets to passengers, said, “you can pay N3,500 for attach”.

“Attach” means no seat for the passenger. You have to stand or sit on your luggage throughout the journey.

An AMAC official said the fares are determined by bus operators and cannot be influenced by the authorities.

Luxury buses travelling to Lagos by night charge N13,000, as confirmed from various companies such as G.U.O, E. Ekeson, and Chisco.

A passenger, Charity Oyifie, said even though she paid N6, 000 for a ride on a bus from Abuja to Lagos about a month ago, she was not surprised about the current fare. It is a normal recurrence during festive periods, she said.

We Have No Choice

An NGO worker, Taiwo Ishola, travelling to Ibadan in the South-west, lamented the increment to PREMIUM TIMES.

He said the N1,500 increment in his fare did not come to him as a surprise because he is not new to the drivers’ practice during the festive season.

“This is Nigeria. There is nowhere that transport fare for this period will remain the same. Though we know it is not fair, this is one of Nigerians’ syndromes and we have no choice but to pay.

“Christmas happens once in a year and I have to see my family. It is one of those rare moments that most establishments willingly allow their staff to travel to spend quality time with their families, people they have not seen since last year. This is what this period means to me,” he said.

PREMIUM TIMES also spoke with Halima Musa, a frequent traveller to Kaduna. She said she often travelled by train to Kaduna from Abuja but was deterred by the intimidating crowd she met at the railway station.

“I travel almost every weekend, mostly by train but today the train station is something else, I had to come here. This is because a lot of people are going home due to the festive period.

“As I speak to you, there is no more ticket. There is not even space to stand even if you decide to torture yourself by standing. So, it is hard on us who normally travel every weekend.”

She said a train ride from Abuja to Kaduna cost only N1,300 for the ‘normal economy class.’ But Ms Halima said she paid N2,500 for a car ride as against the standard fare of N1,500.

Godwin Sunday was travelling to Idah in Kogi State. Apart from his complaint on the extra N1,500 being charged for the journey, he said the deplorable condition of the roads in his state is his major worry as their vehicle was set to leave the park.

Why the hike in transport fares?

Tairu Muritala is the Vice-Chairman of Jabi Park Commuters Drivers union, which controls over 1,200 interstate ‘cars’ registered with the park.

He cited Ibadan, Lagos, Ekiti, and Kogi among the destinations for which they increase fares mostly due to low traffic of commuters on their return trips during this period.

He said the fares to most of the northern states stay unchanged because drivers get passengers while coming back to Abuja.

“For instance, Abuja to Kebbi is still N5,500. N1000 has been added to the fare of Abuja to Ibadan and Lagos, which used to be N7,000 and N8,000 respectively.

“The extra N1000 being charged on passengers from here to Ibadan is to compliment for fuel in case they don’t have passengers when coming back, which is usually the case in this period.

“If the drivers in this period decide to load their vehicles, they won’t be back here until after the festive period (January),” Mr Muritala explained in Yoruba language.

His explanation was also corroborated by Nelson Elvis, a luggage supervisor at Ever Ready Transport Limited, at Utako District.

Mr Elvis blamed the deplorable state of Nigerian roads, shortage of vehicles compared to a large number of commuters and settlement of police officers at check-points among the factors as the reason for the hike in transport fares in this period.

Quoting the company’s fares list, he said: “Abuja to Owerri is now N11,500 (formally N7,500); Abuja to Port-Harcourt is now N13,500 (formally N8,500); Abuja to Onitsha is now N10,000 (formally N7,000); while Abuja to Lagos is now N13,500 (formally N8,000).”

He added that the fares will continue to increase till the festive season is over.

Safety First

Mr Muritala also stated the steps taken by the Jabi Park Commuters’ Drivers’ executives to ensure the safety of commuters.

He said the union had sensitised its members on road safety during this season and reached an agreement with the FRSC and security operatives.

“We agreed with the Federal Road Safety Corps and the Nigerian Police Force to position their men on the roads, most especially where the roads are not good, to caution drivers in haste.

“In this park, we don’t joke with the issue of tyre. We don’t buy Belgium tyre (a term for fairly used tyre). We buy new tyre which could cost as much N28,000 each and you are expected to use it not more than eight months, depending on the number of times the vehicle travels,” he said.

He showed the reporters round the park to corroborates his claim on the premium they place on their drivers using new tyre rather than “Tokunbo” (fairly used).

PREMIUM TIMES also called the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) spokesperson, Bisi Kareem, on the agency’s arrangement to ensure an accident-free Yuletide Season.

Mr Kareem referred our reporter to a press release which he said provided answers to questions on the agency’s collaboration with commercial drivers this season.

“Pursuant to the commitment towards the realisation of its corporate mandate and the imperatives of making the highways safer during the yuletide, the Federal Road Safety Corps has mobilised a total of 39,450 of its personnel including special Marshal’s, 806 patrol vehicles, 120 Ambulances, 204 motorbikes, and 27 tow trucks along designated routes as part of measures to ensure sanity on the nation’s highways, during this year’s Christmas and end of the year celebrations.

“The Corps Public Education Officer, Bisi Kazeem revealed that the special patrol which is scheduled to hold from 15 December 2019 to 19 January 2020 entails 24 hours enforcement along major highways, robust public enlightenment campaigns across the nation, prompt rescue/recovery services, stakeholder collaboration, Road Safety Observatory, uninterrupted motorized patrol, day time route lining, traffic control, operation of Mobile Courts, activation of high alert on internal and external medical facilities, establishment of road camps and help areas, aerial surveillance, and purposeful synergy with other security agencies.

“Motorists are also warned to ensure strict compliance with all traffic rules and regulations as well as proper maintenance of their vehicles. Passengers are equally enjoined to monitor their drivers over reckless driving, driving under the influence of alcohol and other road vices,” an excerpt from the statement shared with PREMIUM TIMES read.

Message to the IG of Police

Mr Yahaya, the Chairman of Jabi Park Abuja-Kogi Commuters’ Drivers, also lamented the increase in crime along Abuja-Lokoja Expressway despite the number of roadblocks on the road.

“Between Lokoja and Abuja, you will see more than 10 checkpoints. All the kidnappers have moved to Kogi axis. For instance, the day before yesterday (last Thursday), they kidnapped a driver and 11 passengers coming from Bayelsa to Abuja along this same road.

“If I have the opportunity of seeing the IG, I will simply advise him to reduce the number of roadblocks and work more on ensuring road patrol.

“Where the policemen man roadblocks in the morning are the same points that kidnappers mount roadblocks in the evening to carry out their operations.

“Drivers easily fall victims, thinking they were being stopped by the police, not knowing they are kidnappers.

“Kidnappers now collect N100,000 for ransom. My in-law was kidnapped two weeks ago and we paid 100k to get her released,” he said.

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