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Different strokes for Sallah travellers

It’s virtually a tradition for people to make a trip to their villages, home states or to other parts of the country during festive seasons,…

It’s virtually a tradition for people to make a trip to their villages, home states or to other parts of the country during festive seasons, like Sallah. However, Daily Trust Saturday’s visit to motor parks across the country tells a different story this year.

Days leading to the Sallah celebration always means travellers are expected to ‘flood’ motor parks across the country. This time around, the story is different. In Abuja, passengers did ‘flood’ Utako Motor Park (popularly called Jabi Park) and Mabushi Park on Thursday and Friday. A bus driver, Mohammed Muslim Jibril, who plies the Abuja-Kaduna and Kano route said people started travelling from the beginning of the week, especially to states like Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto and Birnin Kebbi. “Buses come to the park empty and leave filled with passengers,” he said.

“In fact, from Thursday to Friday there were so many passengers at the park that getting vehicles was the problem,” another driver, Shehu Liba, added. “Those for Kano and Kaduna were scarce. I advised a passenger to go to Zuba in order to get a bus to Kano. Now some drivers are even transporting rams in their boots, N5,000 each, to Kaduna.

Jibril however pointed out that taking the Kaduna route is stressful because of the ongoing road construction and diversions. “To add to this, some drivers are impatient,” he said.

Interestingly, bus fare remains the same for Abuja travellers. “If we hike it above N1,500 we will lose customers,” Jibril said.

But this is not the case in Lagos. At the popular Ojota Park, passengers travelling to Ibadan, Osogbo, Ilorin, Iwo, Saki, among other neighbouring cities and states flooded in. Instead of the usual N1,200, 1,500 was collected as transport fare. For a seven-seater Siena bus going to Kuto, Abeokuta, motorists collected N1,200 instead of N1,000. Drivers simply attributed this to the festive season.

At Ojodu Berger Park, motorists lamented the sharp increment in transport fare between Thursday and Friday morning.  They said it was unfortunate that drivers have devised the strategy of extorting them at every festive season, not minding if they have resources to meet their demands.

“This attitude is bad.  I have resolved to go and board a vehicle by the roadside as I don’t have N2,500 to pay to Ilorin which used to be N1,700 or N1,800,” Joe Eniafe, who was headed to Kwara State said.

However, a chieftain of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) at Ojodu Berger, Biliaminu Alaka, lamented that passenger turnout has dwindled so far.  He said many are actually complaining about the economy being tough. He said the low turnout when compared to last year, is as a result of the economy and not high cost of fares.

At the Mabushi Park in Abuja, a ram was tied to a tree stump, Friday morning. Conveying one to Kaduna usually goes as high as N3,000 or N4,000. A few feet away from the ram, passengers had already filled a Zamfara-bound bus. Sani Muhammed Sada was one of those travelling for the Sallah festivity. He had made it to the park early and was having his breakfast just before take-off. “I thank God for being able to afford to go on this trip. I am likely to return next week Thursday or Friday,” he said.

However, at Mabushi Park the fare remains the same to other parts of the country. But a driver said, compared to last year, travellers are not many.

In Kaduna, hundreds of passengers travelling from the capital city to other Northern states were left stranded at the Kawo Motor Park following a protest by commercial drivers against a mobile court by Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) at the Kaduna-Kano expressway.

The situation sparked tension at the park early morning on Thursday when some drivers returned their passengers and abandoned their vehicles to protest the exorbitant fines  charged by the FRSC mobile court amidst traffic gridlock caused by the ongoing road reconstruction along the Kaduna-Kano expressway.

It took the intervention of officials of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to calm the situation and control the angry drivers who are  querying the timing and stationing of the court at the tollgate instead of working to solved traffic gridlock on the expressway return, but the union later pleaded with the drivers to rescind their decision and return to service so as to attend to hundreds of travellers in the motor park.

Utako Motor Park in Abuja witnessed high presence of travellers
Utako Motor Park in Abuja witnessed high presence of travellers

Chairman of the taxi drivers plying the Kaduna-Kano road, Mustapha Abubakar, told Daily Trust Saturday that the action of FRSC is going to affect travellers negatively because, “The FRSC mobile court is charging commercial drivers exorbitant fines for their luggage. No passenger is travelling without luggage and we compelled all our drivers to get their driver’s license and vehicle particulars, but the FRSC have now turned having luggage as a crime.”

Abubakar said, “We are law abiding citizens who are ready to respect constituted authority at all times. We are not going to confront FRSC for their action but union will take the necessary steps. Our drivers have complete vehicle particulars but FRSC placed a mobile court today, Thursday morning, charging commercial drivers fines for having open boots. What provoked the drivers is the open boot fines, ranging from N10, 000 to N15000.”

A passenger who was affected by the protest, Aminu Abubakar, said, “I am travelling to Katsina from Kogi State but I am trapped here in Kawo park for three hours because commercial drivers plying the Kaduna-Kano expressway and other northern states are protesting.”

One of the protesters, Kassim Sani, said, “I kept my vehicle in the motor park because FRSC is charging high fines on open boots. We are already suffering from the traffic gridlock along Kaduna-Kano expressway staying for hours before we pass through the road from Kaduna to Kano. We expect FRSC to deploy their men and officers to address the traffic gridlock and not give unnecessary fines.”

Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the situation prompted the increase of transport fare in the motor park. A driver, Jamilu Abubakar, revealed that some drivers have increased fares to N1700 instead of N1500.

A senior official of NURTW at Kawo motor park, Muhammad Sani, told Daily Trust Saturday that the situation is under control and many of drivers have since returned and loaded passengers to their destinations. He added that the Kawo branch had informed the leadership of the union in the state to quickly intervene for a hitch free and peaceful Sallah celebration for both travellers and the drivers.

At the Mando Luxurious Motor Park, where passengers travel to the Southern part of the country, there were less people.

A ram set to be driven from Mabushi park in Abuja
A ram set to be driven from Mabushi park in Abuja

Efforts to get the reaction of Kaduna State Command of the Federal Road Safety Commission was not successful at the time of filing this report.

In Oyo State, there was low patronage in major motor parks in Ibadan, the state capital. The Secretary of NURTW in Egbeda park, Iwo Road, Mr. Saheed Adigun, said one of the buses of Iwo-Road park going to Abuja was attacked by kidnappers in Obajana and they are demanding for N3 million and members of the union are struggling to pay up.

According to him, motorists in the state have not increased transport fare in order to encourage commuters, yet people have not turned up.

One of the Lagos-bound passengers, Mr. Akin Kazeem Odede, said hardship in Nigeria must be responsible for the low turnout of commuters few days to Sallah. He said, before now he used to travel to celebrate Sallah with his parents in the village but he had decided to celebrate it in Ibadan this year because of the situation.

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