Media reports in recent weeks revealed that ticket racketeering, which was believed to have gone down, has once again become one of the most thriving businesses among some workers of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC). Ticket vendors, security personnel and suspected touts at the Kaduna and Abuja train stations are at the centre of the ticket racketeering allegations. A lot of extortions are said to be going at the train stations. Passengers on queue find it difficult to obtain boarding tickets from the counter because the tickets are consistently hoarded by ticket officials; making useless of a traveller’s early arrival at the station. The station staff through their accomplices (as touts) force passengers who can afford to pay more for the tickets; sometimes by as high as twice the official fare to obtain a ticket for economy class. This is even as the ticket fare was officially increased after COVID-19 lockdown by 100 percent; probably to take care of social distancing in the train. Many times, passengers who refuse to be exhorted are left stranded and frustrated at both ends of the train destinations.
The racketeering is so organized that the train in many cases departs destination later than the scheduled time. This delay is usually caused by the touts who do not finish selling the tickets in their hands in time. As a consequence of this also, the train sometimes leaves destination with many seats vacant because of the many unsold tickets in the hands of the touts. Most often, too, passengers who want first class tickets never find one. The response passengers get each time they enquire about first class tickets is that they are exhausted even though no one sees them being sold at the sales counter. These are some of the losses forced by racketeering on government, which is required to pay back the loan it took from the Chinese government to build the railway line and provide the train service.
It would be recalled that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, in August 2017 ordered the removal of the station managers, porters and ticket officials at Idu and Rigasa rail stations over allegations of ticket racketeering. Amaechi’s action was a response to complaints by passengers over ticket racketeering at the stations. The Minister stated at that time that removing all the corrupt officials would put a stop to workers’ nonchalant attitude towards work as well as stop ticket racketeering at the stations. The Manager of the Abuja-Kaduna train service, Mr. Paschal Nnoli, said he had to disguise as a passenger to be able to confirm the complaints by passengers. Nnoli said one of the portal boys was caught in the act. Eleven ticket officials affected at the two stations were replaced. “I believe that if any system fails, it is because the leaders allow it to fail, and I will not allow that”, said Amaechi. The Minister also scrapped the use of boys by porters to carry luggage.
In January this year, Amaechi re-assured that the electronic ticketing solution being proposed for the NRC was soon going to come into effect. This was also a response to the widespread complaints of alleged ticket hoarding and racketeering on the Abuja-Kaduna train service. According to the NRC, the e-ticketing solution being proposed would decentralise the ticketing system to enable smaller and medium enterprises participate in the sales of tickets as the railway modernisation was due to take centre stage across the country. Sadly, more than three years after the process started in August 2017 when the NRC advertised for companies to apply to be engaged, the solution is yet to come to fruition; bureaucratic bottle-necks being a major challenge.
Reports in the media indicate that the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) stopped the process on grounds that it was not carried along in the proposed Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. The NRC however conceded to ICRC’s demand, and in September 2019, the latter gave its nod to the proposal. Thereafter, the Minister of Transportation transmitted the approval to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for final approval. Each time Amaechi is confronted by reporters about the take-off of e-ticketing, he kept assuring members of the public that the automation and e-ticketing system would begin soon. This ‘soon’ is becoming belated.
There are bound to be more passengers at the train stations in the coming weeks especially now that kidnappers and bandits are once again returning to the Abuja-Kaduna highway. As travellers throng to train stations in large numbers, it would soon be a ‘harvest season’ for racketeers to painlessly perpetrate their criminal activities. Many go to train stations without knowing whether they would be able to travel or not because of the usual tenacious doubts over purchase of tickets. Traveling by train is not only safer but also faster and comparatively cheaper. However, the difficulty experienced by passengers in the purchase of tickets is denying them the cherished privileges of a safer, faster and cost-effective journey.
On this page last week, the discourse focused on how modern technology could be used to fight certificate forgery and other criminal tendencies. The planned introduction of electronic ticketing system is one measure that could curb most if not all the corrupt and illegal dealings that currently characterize the sale of tickets at train stations. It’s a sure way of sending ticket racketeers out of the illicit business.
In the same way that air tickets are purchased online, which is greatly helping operators to check corrupt tendencies among airline workers, the same online platform should be explored and adopted for the sale of train tickets. Issues such as over-booking and other challenges associated with sale of tickets at the counter would also be checked when tickets are sold online. Believing that the proposal is before the FEC, we are appealing that it should be looked in to in order to break this jinx in train ticket racketeering. Nonetheless, it is hoped that the concession of the e-ticketing solution would not be regretted by passengers as well as government. ICRC is expected to have made useful contributions to the proposal.
While we expect the use of technology to forestall fraudulent activities traditionally connected to e-ticketing when it finally takes off, we also call on the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to do more at re-orientating the psyche of Nigerians who characteristically and generally tend to be criminally-minded. May Allah (SWT) guide and support us in the fight against ticket racketeering and other forms of corruption in Nigeria, amin.