Despite the recent intervention by the federal government, many passengers across Nigeria said they have shelved their plans to travel home for the Christmas and New Year holidays due to lack of money among other issues.
Others who trooped out to bus stations said they wondered why the discount was yet to commence.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had, on Wednesday, approved 50 per cent rebates for Nigerians willing to travel via some specified minibuses and luxury buses across various states in the country for the Christmas and New Year.
The president also directed that commuters on all train services be granted 100 per cent free trips across Kaduna-Abuja, Lagos-Ibadan, Warri-Itakpe routes from yesterday, Thursday, December 21, 2023 till January 4, 2024.
Subsequently, the federal government enlisted five transport companies for the fare subsidy, including GIG Logistics, Chisco, Young Shall Grow, God Bless Ezenwata and Area Motors.
Many people who spoke to Daily Trust yesterday said they thought the initiative covered all commercial vehicles especially those in recognized parks, but discovered that the intervention was limited to certain transport companies.
Drivers and commuters in Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, Bayelsa and other parts of the country who spoke with our correspondents, yesterday, complained of low turnout of passengers and the hike in fares.
‘President’s directive too late’
In Lagos, transport fares have spiked ahead of the yuletide forcing many people to shelve travel plans for the festive period.
Checks by our correspondent showed that transport fares from Lagos to the South East and South South regions have remained on the high side despite the government’s intervention.
At Iyana-Ipaja Park, one of the popular interstate parks in Lagos, it was learnt that most of the vehicles leaving for the East had been fully booked.
The motorists told our correspondent that many people were not travelling this year because of the hike in transport fare.
Despite the president’s directive, it was gathered that Okeyson Motors at Iyana-Ipaja to Owerri was charging N32,500 from N27,000, while God Is Good Motors charged N41,100 to Port Harcourt from Lagos.
One of the drivers who spoke with our correspondent, Chukwuemeka Ike, said, “My vehicle is filled up for Thursday and Friday but I can tell you that you would still get a bus or a car anytime you come around because many people are not traveling.”
The Young Shall Grow bus service at Iyana-Ipaja on the luxurious bus charges N30,100 for Owerri from N27,100 charged a few days ago.
Another passenger, who acknowledged the 50 per cent cut by the president, said it was coming late as many of them had booked way ahead.
“For instance, many of us traveling on Friday have already paid N41,000 with God is Good; before it was N20,000. What we learnt is that this affects only the luxury bus. What about small cars? We are still paying the same amount,” said the passenger at Iyana Ipaja park.
At Oshodi Interstate Park, luxury bus operators including Bonnyway Motors, Chimezie and Bros, God Bless Ezenwata and Izu Chukwu were yet to slash prices.
For instance , Lagos to Onitsha, Owerri, Aba, Ihiala and Delta, which used to be N16,200 is now N22,500. Port Harcourt on Chisco was increased from N19,200 to N25, 200.
At Jibowu yesterday, Ekesons Bus to Owerri was N26,500 and N30,500 to Port Harcourt; Young Shall Grow charges N26,500 to Abakaliki and Enugu while God is Good to Owerri is N42,300 on the mini buses.
One of the operators said, “We read about the development in the paper. Government should reduce the cost of fuel and diesel before giving such a directive to reduce prices.”
No reduction yet in Kano
Our reporter in Kano reports that the 50 per cent slash was yet to take effect as confirmed during a visit to luxury buses parks.
One of the park attendants, Ramatu Hassan, said “The issue is that there is no money for people to travel. The truth is people are thinking about what they can eat first and everything will be okay,” she said.
“If you use the little you have to travel because of 50 per cent reduction, you will go and come back to continue living. What happens to those who exceed the deadline? How will they come back?” Ramatu asked.
When our reporter visited Kano Luxury Park at Hotoro Eastern bypass, it was gathered that the number of vehicles leaving on a daily basis had shrunk while many people had resorted to sending messages through waybill to family members.
Speaking on the development, Bashir Muhammed, an official at the park, said, “People are travelling but not like last year. There is no money in people’s hands. They only come here to send items through waybill to their respective family members.
“Last year, from Kano to Onitsha was N18,000 to N20, 000 but now it is N30,000 and Lagos is N26,000,” he said.
Also speaking, Umar Idris, another official, said, “Last year by this time, you will see a mad rush by people going back home for Christmas. You will see the park very full of people.
“By this time last year, at least 20 buses must have left but now it is only two that have left since morning. People are not travelling because of the high cost. In fact, many have started resorting to going by truck,” he said.
“The fare to Enugu, Aba, Port Harcourt is N28,000 from Kano now while coming back is more than that,” he explained.
Residents forgo Christmas trips in Kaduna
Our correspondent who visited the Kawo Motor Park in Kaduna reports that there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of travellers due to the high cost of transportation caused by the increase in pump price.
The situation is similar at the Mando Park in Kaduna where it was gathered that transport fares to Kogi State have increased from N6,000 to N9,500 while that of Enugu has gone up from N7,000 to N18,000.
A resident, Juliet Nyang said, “Since I cannot afford to travel home for Christmas, I just sent the little money I have to my parents for the celebration while I do my own little one here. Things are really difficult but we are hoping it will get better.”
Another resident, Isaiah Peter, said he was spending Christmas in Kaduna for the first time since he got married eight years ago.
“Christmas is usually the time I take my family to the village to see my people and their mother’s people. Unfortunately, because of the high cost of fuel and transportation I cannot afford to take them.”
He called on government to review pump prices downward to reduce the burden on citizens, saying. “The increase has affected every sector making life very difficult for the common man.”
The Secretary of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), in Kawo, Malam Bature Suleiman, said the number of travelers had reduced by 50 per cent.
Suleiman highlighted the financial strain on travellers, stating that they now prefer to send messages to their loved ones. “Sadly, if you go to our motor parks now, you will see a lot of vehicles waiting without passengers,” he said.
Ticket racketeering returns to Rigasa train station
Our correspondent also reports that despite the declaration of free train rides, many passengers were turned back.
Passengers without valid tickets were barred from boarding the train at the Rigasa train station in Kaduna while black market dealers were making brisk business from passengers.
Daily Trust reports that the federal government had told Nigerians to book online and print their tickets for the free ride before approaching any train station.
A passenger, Moses Egwu, who spoke to our correspondent, said he was forced to buy tickets at N6,000 when he was unable to board the train.
“I came to the station full of hope of getting a free ride to Abuja only for me to be prevented from boarding it. The staff insisted that I could not board the train if I did not have a ticket.”
Travelers in Jos decry non-implementation of directive
Mr Isioman Young, the manager of Young Shall Grow, one of the contracted companies, expressed doubt about the implementation in Plateau State.
He said, “Most of our Luxurious buses are grounded due to the economic hardship, because we can’t maintain them. So, I don’t know how we are going to implement the 50 per cent announced by the federal government.”
Passengers said the discount offered to Nigerians traveling to celebrate Christmas, was yet to be implemented in the state.
The passengers who spoke said though the discount was scheduled to run from December 21 to January 4 of next year, they have not seen any action by transport operators towards implementing the directive.
Our correspondent, who visited some motor parks, reports that while some passengers at the Plateau Riders Motor Park said they were not aware of the federal government’s pronouncement regarding the discount, others said they were aware of the development but paid their normal transport fare while some reportedly paid higher than what they used to pay.
David Aga, a passenger said “There is no discount because as I am talking to you, I have paid N8,500 instead of N6,000 that we used to pay.”
Robert Kwap, who is the terminal officer at the Plateau Express Motor Park, spoke on why the directive has not been implemented yet.
He said “We heard about the story but we haven’t been communicated. We have to be supported because the fuel is very expensive.”
Passengers reluctant in Bayelsa
A commercial driver at Ekeki Motor Park in Yenagoa, Okpokiri Luckyman, said passengers were not forthcoming because of the high cost of fares.
“This particular Christmas, it is only God that will help us, no passengers,” he said.
5m commuters targeted for support – FG
The federal government has said series of meetings and consultations went down to come up with the 50 per cent reduction in transport fares for luxury and minibuses.
The Minister of Information, Alhaji Mohammed Idris, disclosed this yesterday while speaking yesterday in Abuja during the end of year world press briefing.
The minister, who said the decision was taken to cushion the effects of the high cost of transportation during the yuletide, added that the federal government targets to lift five million commuters during the yuletide season with 50 per cent transportation rebate.
He noted that all train services were free for all Nigerians traveling from yesterday Thursday, December 21, 2023 to Thursday, January 4, 2024.
The Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, on Thursday also posted a document showing 28 routes the buses will run.
They include Lagos-Kano, Lagos-Abuja, Lagos-Kaduna-Zaria, Lagos-Jos, Lagos-Enugu, Lagos-Onitsha, Lagos-Owerri, Lagos-Aba, Lagos-Abakaliki, Lagos-Nsukka, Lagos-Uyo, Lagos-Port-Harcourt, Onitsha- Kano, Onitsha-Lagos.
Others are, Onitsha-Jos, Onitsha-Abuja, Onitsha-Sokoto, Onitsha-Gombe, Onitsha-Zakibam, PH-Owerri-Aba-Kano, Aba-Owerri-Abuja, Aba-Lagos, Abuja-Sokoto, Abuja – Lagos, Abuja-Onitsha-Owerri-Port-Harcourt, Abuja-Enugu-Abakaliki, Abuja-Gombe and Abuja-Kano.
On the scarcity of naira, Idris said the government was aware of the challenge and had compelled the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to print more naira notes and make it available for Nigerians.
He said the government was not planning to make naira scarce like the days of the ex-CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele but in the New Year, Nigerians would have lots of naira to spend.
On the issue of unemployment, he explained that the government was doing its best to curb it, stressing that in the New Year, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics figure of unemployed youths would reduce drastically.
First published by Daily Trust on Friday December 23, 2023. Reporters: Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos), Maryam Ahmadu-Suka (Kaduna), Salim U. Ibrahim (Kano), Ado A. Musa, Yusufu Aminu Idegu (Jos), Bassey Willie (Yenagoa), Muideen Olaniyi & Maureen Onochie (Abuja)