LAST Sunday was a very frustrating day for many Nigerians who had planned to travel by rail from Kaduna to Abuja. The Kaduna-Abuja road has been largely deserted for a while as bandits took over the road where they kill and abduct travellers at will. Even military and security personnel have abandoned the road, since the rampaging terrorists spared no one. Most travellers between the two cities now prefer the rail.
However, that fateful Sunday, the Rigasa Train Station in Kaduna was an apt description of disorder. Passengers that trooped there were greeted with shock. It was a day that rail transportation was beyond the reach of many ordinary passengers. The on-line electronic ticketing platform of the Nigerian Railway Corporation was down, thereby making it impossible for many to buy the ticket in the comfort of their homes. The situation was made worse as those who got to the Rigasa station and joined a long queue to buy the ticket, were disappointed.
A passenger who could not hide his anger, Ahmed Usman, told Arewa Voice that he spent over an hour on the queue, but that the officials responsible for selling the tickets could not be seen. Ardo Abdullahi, who contemplated the risk of travelling by road but had to be prevailed upon by others not to “attempt committing suicide,” alleged that the ticketing officials through their collaborators, resorted to under the table deals. “Imagine, tickets have found their way into the hands of touts and non-railway workers. What we ordinarily buy at N3,000 was sold to us at N7000, even N10,000,” he complained.
Near the station just before the main entrance, an unofficial ticket selling point was established. However, as passengers rushed to the point close to the FRSC post, one Alyasa told them that even at N20, 000 per ticket, only two sitting spaces were available because it was some minutes to the train departure time and the tickets for the 2.00pm train had already finished.
For those who must travel that day the option was to wait for the 6.00pm train, while others were seen leaving the rail station with their luggage, perhaps till some other times when they could get the train ticket with ease. There were also complaints of travellers not getting full value for their money, as instead of N1,500 for a single passenger, the COVID-19 pandemic was used as an excuse to hike the fare to N3,000, even without spacing in the sitting arrangement. “Now you pay N3,000 and must sit without any spacing. The railway authorities should look into this or revert to the initial N1,500 fare,” an aggrieved traveller, Ms. Julie Andani, lamented.
Another traveller, Suleiman Abdu, said the ticket racketeering was counterproductive, especially during the yuletide, when there would be a spike in the number of travellers occasioned by holiday makers. He said that the railway e-ticketing platform should always be up and running, rather than allowing passengers the trauma of having to purchase ticket at railway stations with its attendant infractions. “This is why railway officials here are being accused of conniving with their stooges, sell the tickets to them and they, in turn, re-sell to helpless passengers at exorbitant rates, without any empathy for the poor,” he said.
As long as the dreaded Abuja-Kaduna road remains infested with terrorists who kill or kidnap for ransom, the rail transportation between Abuja and Kaduna would remain the most attractive option. And unless there is sanity in the ticketing process, the train stations would remain a nightmare for travellers.
Attempts to speak to the station manager at the Rigasa station were not successful. A former adviser to the late Governor Yakowa of Kaduna State, Malam Haliru Maraya, bemoaned the worsening security situation in the North, adding that the lack of security in the towns and highways was beyond human comprehension. He urged the authorities to overhaul the security architecture, with a view to making towns and highways much more safer for Nigerian citizens.
A security expert, Malam Uba Potiskum, advised that instead of stationing security agents on spots along the highway, there should be movement and surveillance on 24 hour basis by the security agents from Abuja to Kaduna, to ensure that the terrorists did not come to the road and the rail track.
He also suggested the deployment of air platforms and positioning of troops at Rijana, Katari and Jere, three communities on the Abuja-Kaduna highway notorious for allegedly harbouring the terrorists, their sympathisers and other criminal elements.