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Train ticket racketeering is how corruption kills

When he was a candidate those many years, President Muhammadu Buhari’s most common refrain was that corruption will kill Nigeria if Nigeria does not kill…

When he was a candidate those many years, President Muhammadu Buhari’s most common refrain was that corruption will kill Nigeria if Nigeria does not kill corruption first. And how prescient have these presidential words proved to be. Corruption will not only kill Nigeria, the country. Quite often, it also kills Nigerians, the citizens. The racketeering of train tickets by all manner of actors in active connivance with the officials of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) is precisely one of the many ways in which corruption kills Nigeria and Nigerians as the tragic events of the terrorist attacks on the Abuja-Kaduna train on Monday, 28th March 2022, clearly shows.

It’s been nearly two weeks since the attack on the train, but it is still not clear exactly how many people were on board that train on that night. News reports first indicated there were a staggering 970 passengers on board, but the railway corporation had details for only 362 “validated” passengers and 20 crew members. It was not until last Wednesday, 6th April, nearly ten days after the attack, that the NRC was able to say with some measure of confidence that it had still not been able to establish contact with 163 passengers and seven crew members.

NRC’s Managing Director, Fidet Okhiria, further disclosed that “191 persons on the manifest are now confirmed safe and at their various homes. Additional five persons confirmed safe today. 46 phone numbers on the manifest are still either switched off or not reachable since Tuesday morning. Thirty three phone numbers on the manifest are ringing but still no response from the other end. Sixty two phone numbers on the manifest when called, response ‘non-existent’. 22 persons are reported missing by their relatives. Eight persons confirmed dead.”

In other words, the 62 phone numbers that signaled “non-existent” may be fake details provided by supposed passengers at the time of the purchase of the tickets online. This is, in fact, the real reason why the NRC could not determine soon enough the exact number of passengers and crew on board the train. The train ticketing process is shot through with corruption. On 30th November last year, Daily Trust published an investigative story detailing how ticket racketeers connive with the officials of the NRC to create artificial scarcity of the train tickets so that passengers will be forced to buy at often exorbitant black-market rates.

While the e-ticketing platform requires all passengers to enter their personal details, including names, addresses, and phone numbers, and provides spaces for these, racketeers simply enter fake names, email addresses, and any 11-digit numbers in place of actual names and other details, and then buy off a sizable chunk of the tickets, to resale them between N4,000 and N5,000, sometimes much higher, to travellers desperate to make the next train journey. This way, a male passenger could end up with a ticket reading a female name or vice versa. And all of these despite the fact that the e-ticketing service was introduced by the NRC to check the corruption that had riddled the original over-the-counter sales of the tickets.

Like other Nigerians, both high and low, who engage in corrupt practices in a myriad of circumstances every day, the racketeers probably think themselves “smart” or “sharp”, reflecting our linguistic tendency of using positive terms to dress up criminal activity. Of course, the general tendency among Nigerians to cut corners rather than play by the rules also reinforces the corrupt practices. But corruption has its consequences, not just in the form of perpetually unrealized dreams of national development, but often directly in the form of human lives. The racketeers may have been out to make quick bucks, but their actions have had direct implications for the lives of fellow citizens at the hands of murderous terrorists.

And yet, for the deadly attack of the past fortnight, all of these appear to have been foretold, and by none more than President Buhari himself who had warned repeatedly about the dangers of corruption to the development of a young nation such as ours. All of which, raise the question of what the NRC had done, through all these years, to check corruption in its ticketing process. Over-the-counter sales had not worked. And now, the e-ticketing service has not worked either. There is one simple reason why: the rogue officials involved with ticketing at the NRC. As long as officials continue to see their position through the prism of self-gain, rather than public service, no ticketing method will be free of corruption because none can be free of some intervention by the officials of the NRC.

We call on the NRC to conduct a thorough investigation of this incident to fish out any culprits involved in racketeering and bring them to book publicly. This will serve as a warning to other officials whose actions give the corporation a bad name. Moreover, the NRC should also conduct a review of its ticketing service and come up with a fraud-free method whereby any ticket purchased will leave a paper trail of the passenger’s personal details, after all, the airlines do not face a similar problem. The NRC must realize that data is security.