*We are stranded – Commutters
*30,000 drivers will lose jobs – Union
*We will readjust, then relaunch mini -buses ban – FCTA
By Caleb Ayansina
Lugbe, Kubwa and Nyanya-Keffi highways are unarguably the busiest roads that connect Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to other satellite towns such as Nyanya, Karu, Kubwa, Dutse, Zuba, Bwari, Gwagwalada, Lugbe, Kuje, etc.
About 90 percent of the workforce in the FCT reside in these suburbs. This brings to the fore why there is always traffic jam in the morning and at the closing hours on daily basis on these roads, as well as some strategic business areas of the Nigerian political capital.
As part of the effort to bring sanity to the transport system in the FCT, the FCT Administration, on January 14, announced the suspension of mini-bus operations in Abuja. The move that did not go down well with commuters and drivers of the green buses sparked off violent protests in all the routes that enter the nation’s capital.
The Minister of FCT, Senator Bala Muhammed, said the administration had approved designated points where commuters from the satellite towns would drop, to join SURE-P buses that will take them to the city, noting that about 191 buses had been purchased to ease the plight of the residents.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that commuters coming from Nassarawa /Keffi road in the mini bus town service vehicles were expected to drop off under Nyanya Bridge, while those coming from Kubwa would now have Berger bus stop as the terminal point.
Meanwhile, the enforcement of the ban on January 14 halted economic activities in some satellite towns of the FCT on January 15, as commercial bus drivers, under the aegis of Self-Employed Commercial Drivers Association, Abuja, SECDAA, violently protested the transportation policy of the FCT administration.
Not comfortable with the policy, the drivers, who were forced out of Motor Park at Nyanya with the help of solders on Monday (January 14), for the long buses to take over, had announced that they were embarking on a peaceful demonstration to the National Assembly and the FCT Minister’s office to find out whether the new policy was approved.
The protest, however, assumed a violent dimension as the drivers allegedly smashed windscreen and glasses of SURE-P vehicles as well as setting bonfires in the middle of the road. For fear of the unknown, many offices and shops in the area remained closed while the protest lasted, as there was traffic jam resulting in commuters trekking long distances to get to their destinations.
The drivers had to beat a retreat after discovering that the initial plan to march to the National Assembly and the minister’s office had been thwarted as a result of the blockade at the major roads to the capital area occasioned by the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration.
For three days that the mini buses, popularly known as ‘Araba’, was banned by the FCT administration, commuters and stakeholders, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, said they suffered untold hardship.
A commuter at Karu, Clement Ajiboye, wondered why FCTA was bent on frustrating the masses, lamenting the non- availability of the high capacity buses which were supposed to replace the mini buses.
“Before embarking on this kind of policy, there ought to have been high capacity buses on ground or even rail line in the FCT to convey people to various destinations,” he said.
“Meanwhile, transport fares have increased by 100 per cent as few privately owned buses were seen plying the Nyanya-Keffi Road”.
Blessing Uzoma, an apprentice, said, “During the three days of ban, people were stranded in the city centre, especially at Wuse zones where people trekked long distances”.
A nursing mother, Cecilia Nwagwu, said she was very tired and worried after trekking a long distance without hope of getting a bus. “I thought the world was about to end”.
A civil servant, Aminu Azeez, said government should have enlightened the people and provided buses before implementing the policy in order to reduce suffering of the people.
“The policy has not only affected human beings it has also hugely affected productivity”, Azeez added.
National Secretary of FCT Owners and Drivers of Mini-Bus Town Service Association, Prince Charles Ikwegbu, said described the policy as anti-masses, stressing that if the FCT Administration is allowed to carry on with the policy, it will bring large scale hardship to drivers and commuters in an obnoxious manner.
“The policy will make 30,000 members of the mini-bus association jobless. We call on the FCT minister to consider the consequences of the policy in the interest of people”, he insisted.
A bus operator and member of the National Union of Mini-bus Drivers, Abuja, Okechukwu Chukwu, bemoaned the manner of the enforcement, saying the action has affected their business. “Initially they instructed us to paint our vehicles in national (or Abuja) colours, we complied. They asked us to register our vehicles and obtain fresh driver’s license, we did. Now we don’t know what they want,” he said. He alleged that the government-owned mass transport or high capacity buses, which the FCTA intends to replace mini buses with, have proved insufficient to cater for the transport needs of FCT residents. Meanwhile, in an interview with the Head of Public Relations to the FCT Transport Secretariat, Mrs. Stella Ojeme, she said that the FCTA had already provided 78 capacity buses for the Nasarawa/Keffi axis and 15 buses for the Kubwa route, adding that Kubwa had only 15 because the ‘araba’ buses were allowed to ply the road.
On whether there was a notice before the implementation of the new policy, she said: “We gave them notice. We distributed flyers and the announcement has been on the radio since December 1, 2012 and if you tune on your radio today to WAZOBIA FM and Aso Radio they have been doing the adverts since December 1, everyday”.
Noting that the banning and the reaction of the people are turning to a dangerous dimension and that it might be hijacked to bring down government, the Minister of FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed, announced the suspension of the ban on the use of green mini-buses in the FCT for three weeks.
He said the rationale behind the suspension of ban on mini-bus operators in Abuja was to enable the administration make re-adjustment to reduce the hardship commuters faced during the ban.
His words, “Drivers of mini-buses are not helping matters; we will see how we can provide some succour in the form of hire purchase as a way of sustaining their families. “We have over 700 hi-capacity buses in the FCT, the Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company (AUMTCO) has about 300, the NURTW has about 200, and other licensed operators have about 200.
“But the mini buses will not allow them to work seriously. You only work on the basis of profitability, you will see the high capacity buses burning their gas without any passenger because the mini bus people will not give them any breathing space, moreover they are reckless and indisciplined. “So we want to get a minimal cavity of monopoly for the highcapacity buses and routes have been designated for the mini buses and the high capacity buses, this will decongest the traffic gridlock being experienced in the city”.
The Minister through his Senior Special Assistant on Information, Hajiya Jamilah Tangaza, also said the February 7 deadline remains unchanged to relaunch the policy.