By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
For how long will this hardship continue? This is certainly not what we bargained for when we defied that April deluge and came out en masse to cast our vote for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in the last presidential election with the belief that he has the magic wand to transform our ailing economy.
How do I bring back my four kids who are now stranded at Azuzuama where they had gone to spend the yuletide with my aged mother? Where do I start from? How can my mother, a poor rural woman who is barely struggling to eke a living, foot their transport fares back to Yenagoa,” sobbed a troubled widow who simply identified herself as Edaere at the Yenagoa waterfront.
This nursing mother of five had gone to the jetty to enquire about the cost of transportation and was alarmed when told that it now costs N4,500 to get to this far flung community in the hinterland close to the Atlantic ocean as against the initial cost of N3000. This meant that she has to cough out about N27,000 to travel to the village and return to Yenagoa at a time most families have prioritised their spending, going for only essential needs.
This was the predicament of most passengers who thronged the Swali and Ovom jetties, two of the take off points in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital to the hinterlands of the state that cannot be reached through water craft or helicopter.
Interestingly, the use of chopper is the exclusive preserve of top government officials and the multinational companies operating in the mangrove creek of the Delta.
Vanguard Metro, VM, correspondent who in company of other journalists visited this far flung community in the deep mangrove swamp of Southern Ijaw on the Atlantic where the natives preferred going to Gabon to trade due to its proximity to them instead of Yenagoa about two years ago, recalls that chartering a boat to this isolated settlement cost as much as N25,000.
The spiraling effect of the oil subsidy removal is already having its toll on the populace as could be adduced from the lull in activities at the various jetties in Yenagoa in the predominantly riverine state. Although Bayelsa is an oil producing state, ironically the natives pay more to procure fuel even before the recent hike in the price of the product.
Most Bayelsans from the coastal enclave whose past time is regular trips to their communities to see beloved ones as well as savour the serene beauty of the rural enclave free from the hustling and bustling of city life, are now being forced to stay away given the high cost of transportation on the waterways.
Given the near scarcity of the product in the riverine communities where a litre of PMS before cost between N250 and N350 per litre, the recent removal of petrol subsidy by the Federal Government and the spiraling effect on all sectors of the economy means many may eventually not visit home again until the situation improves.
Presently a trip from Yenagoa to the Brass Island on the Atlantic fringe in Bayelsa East senatorial district has escalated to between N3,000 and N3,500 as against N1,800 and N2000 before the price increase.
100 percent increase
Also before now there are some routes in Southern Ijaw which due to long distance, boats hardly ply with the result that passengers travelling to such places on missing their boats are compelled to stay over night till the next day, hoping to catch any boat that will pass through such communities. The cost of a trip to Oporoma, Opuama, Ofonibiri, Olugbobiri Krokrosei to mention just a few has increased by almost 100 per cent.
Unknown to many in the more fortunate dry upland parts of the country, marine transportation is more expensive in the sense that the quantity of fuel consumed on a trip by road is three times what a boat consumes on the same distance on river.
The oil subsidy removal is already having a crippling effect on riverine transportation and this was obvious in the various jetties visited by VM last weekend.
For instance, the Swali jetty before the removal of the fuel subsidy and the attendant hike in petrol pump price used to be a beehive of activities given the large turn of riverine travellers that thronged the place on daily basis.
Strategically located inside the popular ultra modern Swali market, it is known as one of the busiest transit routes for riverine travellers and traders ferrying goods to and from the far flung communities to mainland Yenagoa.
However, the usual boisterous nature of this entry port was missing weekend when VM visited the place.
Unlike the past when speedboats were seen sailing out with passengers and others coming in to disembark passengers at an interval of 30 minutes on a good day, there has been a lull in business in the last couple of days with boat drivers waiting endlessly for passengers, many of whom appeared to have cut down on their frequent trips to their communities ostensibly due to the recent astronomical hike in transport fare.
Also, traders selling close to the loading points complained about the low turn-out of passengers which they claimed is affecting their sale. Adams Domo, one of the Brass- bound passengers waiting at the jetty said he was at a point forced to take a walk round the market to while away time due to absence of passengers.
Though he admitted that the lull could be as a result of the spiraling cost of fare along the routes, he posited that, “the planned Monday strike may have forced many intending travellers to stay away for fear of being stranded in the hinterland if Labour’s threat of shutting down the nation is carried out.”
Domo added that the recent poor visibility along the waterways may have caused some who can afford the new fare to stay away until the situation improves. Another Akassa bound passenger, Ebiyon John told VM that he had spent close to three hours waiting for the boat to be fully loaded to no avail.
“It is not as if passengers are not coming, several persons have come to the booking office but turned back on learning about the new fare which they considered too high. For sure, we would have long gone before your arrival but for the few passengers,” he lamented.
A boat driver who spoke anonymously told VM that the removal of the subsidy and the attendant rise in price of petrol which necessitated the hike in transport fare is negatively affecting their business.
According to him, a litre of petrol which they bought between N250 and N350, has gone up to N450 adding that even with the hike in fares they are still struggling to break even. He pleaded with the Federal Government to revert to the old fuel price.
He also called on the relevant authorities to make the product available in the hinterland by building floating filling stations along the waterways like the NNPC mega stations so as to save them from the black marketers whom they procure petrol from at exorbitant price.