General News

Christmas: Insecurity, petrol scarcity, aviation fuel, compound travellers’ woes

Twenty-four hours to Christmas, many Nigerians have been unable to travel to different destinations due to astronomical rise in bus fares, acute petrol and aviation fuel scarcity, rising insecurity and declining household income.


Usually in this period, many citizens travel to different parts of the country to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. While some return to their ancestral homes to reunite with their kith and kin, others take breaks from their regular schedules to visit tourist destinations.


However, the situation this year has left many unable to embark on such fancy journeys, while those who have travelled or are planning to do so are complaining of high fares and raising fears about their safety.


Media reports say that road transport operators have significantly increased the fares to different destinations across the country and this has left many intending passengers stranded, while others have simply abandoned plans to travel.


The transport operators blamed the current biting fuel scarcity, bad roads, rising costs of operations and vehicle maintenance and insecurity on the routes as the major causes of the fare hike.


There have been similar increases in train fares, while air fares have also risen significantly due to a combination of factors, including high cost of operations, multiple levies, rising price of aviation fuel and operational hitches.


It was observed usual passenger traffic at motor parks in the Ojota area of Lagos State on Wednesday and a slight increase on Friday.


Many of the travellers, who spoke, lamented the high fares compared to some months earlier and last year.


While some stated that insecurity in the country would not stop them from travelling, others noted that incidences of kidnapping and armed robbery had reduced a bit in the last one year.


On a visit to the Agofure Motors’ lounge at Ojota, many of the seats were not filled up as the usual Yuletide rush by commuters going to Port Harcourt, Yenagoa, Warri/Ughelli, Sapele, Benin and Abraka was not so pronounced.


A traveller, Solomon Ego, attributed the low turn of travellers to the high bus fares instead of insecurity in the country.


He said, “The bus fares were far lower last year. Apart from the fact that transport operators like to increase fares a bit, this year’s fare issue is also compounded by fuel scarcity.


“For me, I only hear about insecurity and attacks in the news. I think insecurity has reduced a bit compared to some months ago.


“My mum travelled to Ugheli last year and the fare was around N7,000, now that my wife is going to Ughelli, it is N13,000, and she is going with our children.”


Although Ego said many would still travel, the rising fares had frustrated the plans of many to go home this Christmas.


Another traveller, Mrs Judith Lucky, lamented that apart from the high bus fares, dispatching goods for commercial purposes or as presents to loved ones through commercial buses had become very expensive.


She stated, “I came from Delta to Lagos in April and I paid N9,000. Now, I am going back to Delta State and paying N12,500 for a bus ride, so you can imagine if it was a Sienna, it would definitely be more expensive. It will be over N17,000.”


“The fares have really reduced the number of people travelling home. One of my Igbo friends who is supposed to go to Imo State, said the bus fare from Lagos is now N30,000.”


At the Federal Government Special Mass Transit at Ojota, a traveller, Segun Koleoshun, who boarded the only available bus with his family members, said many people might not visit the villages as they used to do during the Yuletide.


He said, “The fares have skyrocketed compared to two years ago. On December 27, 2020, I paid N8,500 for a trip to Port Harcourt, but going there now, I am paying N15,500, while other commercial bus operators are charging N17,500.


“This is a festive period when people are supposed to travel from Lagos to their hometowns. If I should compare that of the previous year with this year, it seems that people are not travelling much compared to other years, probably because of the rise in bus fares.


“Here will normally be flooded with intending travellers at this time of the year as buses would be moving in and out, and even the roads would be so busy, but this time, it seems as if nothing is happening.”


At the De Modern Bus Enterprise terminal on Oregun Road, Ojota, a civil servant, Tinubu Olaitan, noted that the human traffic usually recorded during the Yuletide had not been visible.


She said, “I travelled to Benin earlier this year and the fare was N5,500, but getting here now it is N8,300; it is unexpected and not fair at all.


“The economy has affected everything, including people travelling. Like me, if this trip is not important, I won’t think of going because the expense is not something you can toy with.”


It was gathered at the Jibowu park in Lagos that the bus fare to Port Harcourt and different cities in the South-East such as Owerri, Umuahia and Aba had risen to between N20,000 and N24,000 from around N13,000 a few months ago.


A cashier at the counter of one of the transport firms explained that the fare hike was due to fuel scarcity and increase in pump price of petrol and diesel.


Transport companies and commuters travelling to the eastern part of the country for the Christmas and New Year celebrations lamented that the poor state of the economy, fuel scarcity and insecurity were significant setbacks this year.


A booking officer at a transport firm in Jibowu, Gloria Anene, said passengers travelling from Lagos to Aba and Port Harcourt had to part with N15,600 and N19,000, respectively.


She stated, “People are not turning out like the previous year. We had a major turn-up last year, but this year is somehow hard. We run our services from Lagos to Aba and Port Harcourt. Currently, we charge people N15,600 for travelling from Lagos to Aba on a Coaster bus and N19,000 for Port Harcourt. Last year, Port Harcourt was N15,000, while Aba was just N12,000.


“Last year was better in terms of passenger turnout. This year is quite slow because before a vehicle gets filled up, it takes like 8am or 9am unlike last year when the second bus would already have been filled up. There is not much complaint from our drivers about the roads and there is not much insecurity too. We only have them occasionally apart from robbery attacks. Everybody knows that Nigeria does not have good roads so Port Harcourt, Aba and Abuja roads are bad.”


A driver, Ugochukwu Ugonanya, who plies the Lagos-Enugu route, said the fare, which was around N15,000 in 2021, had jumped to N20,500.


He said, “Fuel scarcity is the number one problem and has made the drivers to increase the fares; if the cost of buying fuel goes down, the fares will come down as well.


“They (passengers) are not turning out well for now. We don’t have many passengers like we used to in the past years. Maybe as the day goes by, things might change, but for now, we have a low turnout, and I don’t think it is everybody who will have the capacity to pay the fares to travel. Some people are postponing their travels until the festive season is over because of the fares.”


A traveller to Umuahia in Abia State, Stanley Okezie, expressed disappointment about the fare increase, noting the situation was better last year compared to now.


Okezie said, “I cannot deceive you, I am surprised at the rate being charged here, it looks as if we are travelling out of the country. The fare they are collecting from us is so high. I am paying N29,000 to Abia State in a Sienna bus.


“Last year was a little bit better. It was around N15,000 when I took a bus to Umuahia, but this time the fare is high.”


Kano bus fares


The transport fare from Kano to Onitsha, Owerri and Aba, which used to be around N18,000, has jumped to more than N21,000.


The fare aboard a luxury bus from Kano to Lagos was N21,500 on the average on Friday, while 18-passenger buses plying the same route and stationed at Kwanar Dawaki charge a minimum of N13,000, whereas before the Yuletide, it was between N9,500 and N11,000.


A bus driver, Chidube Nwakanma, said the cost of diesel and spare parts had risen, which informed the decision to increase fares in order to stay afloat.


A bus driver, who did not give his name, said they now travel to Lagos through the longer Bida in Niger State, instead of the usual Lokoja route in Kogi State in a bid to escape security challenges.


The number of travellers to the South-East was said to have fallen to an all-time low due to the fear of insecurity on the one hand and the astronomical rise in transport fares on the other.


When visited the luxury bus park in Hotoro, Kano, where passengers board buses to n different destinations in the South-East, it was observed that there was no mad rush, as witnessed during this time last year.


A luxury bus driver at the park, Chimezie Ugwuoke, attributed the falling number of passengers to security challenges and the rise in transport fares, as only a few could afford to pay the fares.


Commuters in Ibadan


A commuter, Ike Okechukwu, who spoke to one of our correspondents at Peace Mass Transit terminal in Ibadan, Oyo State, explained that it was a tough decision to travel to the East at this time of the year because it was a challenging year and little was saved. He noted that it was hard for his family to decide on him travelling alone.


“A lot of things contributed to the decision to have me alone travel to Anambra for the festive season, but the major reason is lack of enough funds to travel and fund other expenses that will be required for the family during the journey. Also, insecurity is another concern and we are scared of what to meet on the road,” he stated.


Okechukwu explained that usually, his family would travel a week to Christmas but he came to book his ticket for Friday because the family was still trying to put things together.


Transport companies lament


The manager at the Abia Line Network, Ibadan, Raphael Eze, explained that fuel scarcity had frustrated the business resulting in hike in fares, which had affected customers and led to the low number of commuters willing to travel to the East, adding that insecurity was another reason for the low turnout of passengers.


On fare prices, Eze noted that it was normally N11,500, but had increased to N15,500 due to the hike in fuel prices.


He added that there was also a huge decline in the number of packages being sent to the East, saying, “People normally travel with rice, beans, groundnut oil and other food items, but this year, we have recorded another low turnout in that regard because those who are travelling are not going with these items. It shows how tough the country currently is.”


The manager, Peace Mass Transit terminal, Ibadan, Fidelis Ogbonna, said the fare from Ibadan to Umuahia had jumped to N16,500 from N10,000 previously, while the Ibadan to Calabar route, which was formerly N12,000, had soared to N18,000, blaming it on harsh economic conditions and increase in fuel pump prices.


He said, “A lot of passengers put the blame on transport companies, believing that we are greedy and intentionally increase fares. The truth is no company wants to operate empty buses. If we can, we will want each of our buses to be on the move. But the current situation is out of our control.


“The current fuel scarcity crisis has contributed immensely to these decisions because the fuel that was being bought at N180 per litre is now being sold for N250-N300; there is no way we won’t have a hike in fares with that kind of a surge in fuel prices.”


Ogbonna explained that there had been a huge decline in the number of passengers travelling to the East from Ibadan this year, adding that many passengers were sending gifts rather than having to travel themselves.


Abuja drivers lament


Commercial drivers in the Federal Capital Territory decried instability and increase in the price of petrol in communities outside the city centre.


Some of the drivers told the News Agency of Nigeria on Friday that the high cost of petrol was one of their major challenges and appealed to the Federal Government and relevant authorities to look into the issue as it was affecting their businesses.


The Vice Chairman, National Union of Road Transport Workers, Branch 3, Long Journey, Mr Musa Adamu, said, “The cost of fuel in the northern states is higher than what the drivers buy here in Abuja. As you can see, there are a few buses on the ground now waiting to convey passengers to their destinations.


“This is because they cannot buy fuel at a higher cost over here and go empty just to pick passengers. Despite this, we have not increased the fares so as to enable our passengers to be able to travel.”


A driver, Mr Ishaku Isah, said, “Our fares to the North have not changed in spite of the holidays because we know there is no money anywhere.


“From Abuja to Kaduna is N2,500, to Zaria is N3,000 and to Kano is N5,000. And these fares are what we have been charging even before the season.”


At the New Nyanya Park, it was gathered that the fare for Abuja to Makurdi, which used to be N3,000, had been increased to N5,500.


Train services


A reporter who visited the Idu train station in Abuja on Friday, observed a large crowd of passengers as some could not get tickets as a result of the increase in demand.


An official at the station, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Passengers are coming very well. Last week, we had many passengers; in four days, we had 3,000 passengers.


“Today the passenger turnout is much, some are even going back because the tickets have finished. Ticket prices were not increased.”


A train passenger, Ismail Adamu, said that he could not get a ticket to buy, adding that he was still indecisive whether to return home and return on Saturday or travel by road.


Scores of passengers, who planned to board the early morning train out of Ibadan, were on Friday disappointed as tickets got exhausted before their arrival at the Obafemi Awolowo train station.


Some of them, who spoke with the media, said they arrived as early as 7.15am from the Oke Ogun area of the state, only to be told around 7.55am that the tickets had been exhausted. They later resorted to taking commercial buses.


One of the affected passengers, a retired matron, Wuleimat Muibi, said, “I came all the away from Igboora in the Ibarapa Central Local Government to stay with my son in Lagos, but it’s a pity that I arrived here around 7.15am to go to Lagos by train. I was unable to get a ticket. Now I will go with a commercial bus.


“The initial complaint where I queued was that there was no ticket. They asked us to go to another place, later they said the ticket had finished. Honestly, I’m disappointed in the service because my son said I should just come to Lagos by train because of the safety and comfort.”


In a telephone interview, the District Public Relations Officer, Nigerian Railway Corporation, Wale Ayeni, said the station had been experiencing a large turnout of passengers due to the insecurity on the roads.


He said, “What normally happens is that due to insecurity on the roads, we have been having a large turnout of passengers. Even the capacity of the trains cannot accommodate everybody and we now resort to first come and first serve, and one thing is that those trains might not be full to the brim.


“The number of passengers that are supposed to be on that train might not really be enough because it is supposed to reserve some space for passengers that will be joining at Omi-Adio and Abeokuta, so we normally make it in such a way that people that come first will get their tickets. Immediately the numbers that we are expected to convey in Ibadan are full, we stop selling tickets so that other passengers at Omi-Adio and other terminals will have the opportunity of joining the train.”


An environment and waste management expert, Olumide Lawal, said the train service between the Moniya station in Ibadan and the Yaba station in Lagos had recorded increased patronage during the Yuletide.


Lawal, who spoke in an interview, said he travels to Ibadan from Lagos often via the train and had witnessed an increase in the number of people struggling to purchase tickets since the second week of December.


Lagos, Benin airports


The conveyor belt at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos stopped working, thereby causing delay in the check-in process for passengers.


In a viral video, many pieces of luggage were seen piled on top of others at the airport.


Similarly, serious congestion was recorded at the screening point of the Benin airport as the screening machine reportedly stopped working, while officials resorted to manual screening, which was said to be very slow.


A senior aviator, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, blamed the chaos on airlines having to reschedule flights as a result of aviation fuel scarcity and explained that the airlines had to deal with a lot more passengers.


It had been reported on Wednesday that domestic carriers under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria warned Nigerians of impending disruptions in scheduled flight operations due to the scarcity of JETA1.


The AON in a statement by its spokesman, Prof Obiora Okonkwo, said the scarcity would force airlines to reschedule flights, leading to late operations and cancellations in some cases.


The airline operators said, “While we do our utmost best to manage the situation and ensure safe flight operations, we plead for the understanding of the travelling public in the circumstance.


“We also call on the concerned authorities, including product importers and marketers, to do their best to resolve this ugly situation so as to ease the stress it brings on the travelling public.”


A senior officer at the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not in a position to comment, stated that the number of passengers moving around the country for the festive season was way more than last year.


“So many people are moving around and flying, so one wonders where the money is coming from,” he joked before adding, “Airlines sure have their hands full and the airports too. You should have a comprehensive and precise report after the airlines submit their manifest and other documents related to us.”


Abuja airport


A reporter who monitored flight activities at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Friday, observed that flights to various destinations were not disrupted.


It was gathered that there were more intending passengers at the airport when compared to Wednesday.


At the Air Peace check-in counter, it was observed that there were no delays; queues were not too long as security officials tagged pieces of luggage, while the passengers moved to the departure hall.


An official at the airport, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there had not been any delayed flights although the crowd was high in the morning.


Similarly, at the Ibom Air, Dana, Aero and Azman Air check-in counters, no delays were recorded as our correspondent witnessed passengers queues reducing.


A Max Air passenger, Rahmatu Bala who came in from Kano, said she booked her flight two weeks ago for N80,000, but could not say if there had been a price increase as a result of the scarcity of aviation fuel and the Yuletide season rush.


Another passenger, Amaka Oboh, said she travelled with Ibom Airline from Lagos to Abuja for N70,000, a similar fare she paid a few weeks ago.


NLC laments hardship


Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress in a Christmas message issued on Friday in Abuja noted that Nigerians were currently going through “dark times.”


The message, which was signed by the national president of the congress, Ayuba Wabba, decried the poor living conditions of workers in the country.


The union also encouraged Christians to “resonate the light of hope birthed through Jesus Christ.”


The message read in part, “This Christmas, we urge Nigerian workers and people to resonate in the light of hope birthed by the love of God conveyed through the birth of His son Jesus Christ. It is the illumination of this hope that inspires confidence in our hearts that however dark our night as a country might be, light would certainly emerge and shine at the end of our tunnel.


“Many Nigerian workers and ordinary people are currently going through the dark tunnel of soaring inflation marked by very steep increases in the prices of essential goods and services. Many Nigerian families are going through the dark tunnel of general apprehension about their security and personal safety as criminals and terrorists hold sway in many parts of the country looting, raping, kidnapping, and killing. Many Nigerians who would be travelling this festive season would be going through the dark tunnel of bruised, broken and battered infrastructure especially roads.”



(The Punch)



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