Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Kaduna-Abuja route: Railway workers, police in ticket racketeering, rake between N450, 000, N1m daily

Commuters plying the Kaduna-Abuja route via rail transport system have cried out over alleged ticket racketeering at the Idu (Abuja) and Rigasa (Kaduna) railway stations.

They said the illegal business deal yields between N450, 000 and one million naira daily.

The commuters said they were being short-changed by some “unscrupulous elements” who had turned the illicit act to fast businesses at the stations where they fleece passengers.

Modus operandi

One of our correspondents reports that passengers face lots of challenges obtaining ticket to Abuja, as the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) staff members hoard the tickets which they in turn hand over to touts to sell at exorbitant rates often more than double the official rate.

Blueprint observed that few minutes to the departure of the train, the officials would start selling tickets at official rates to those willing to stand for the two-hour trip, thus congesting the train.

However, the regular tickets, which normally go for N1, 300 for the midmorning and afternoon shuttles and N1, 500 for the early morning and 6pm express train, would still be on sale for as high as N2, 000 and N2, 500 or even N3, 000 respectively in the black market driven by touts in connivance with the workers. 

Narrating his recent experience, Mr. Oluwole Ayodele told Blueprint that when he took his sisters-in-law, to the Rigasa train station on their way to Abuja, they were there 30 minutes ahead of the 10:35am departure time but met a large crowd waiting for tickets without any official to direct them on how to get it.

“While waiting, I approached a policeman who has been moving around the crowd. I sought his assistance in getting two tickets and he told me to wait and he disappeared. 

“The policeman reappeared and took me to one of the toilets where he gave me a ticket and asked me to pay whatever I deemed fit. I paid him N1, 800 which he initially refused to collect, saying he should have linked me with the ticket owners as they would not be happy with that amount. 

“But when he realised I wouldn’t offer anything extra, he grudgingly collected the amount. We later bought one standing ticket, but surprisingly, both of them got seats and sat down all the way to Abuja,” he said, while calling for an improved ticketing system that would eliminate touts in whatever guise. 

Also, another passenger, Malam Shehu Musa, went to the Rigasa train station to board a train with his wife to Abuja and was told  by a staff who asked why he had to disturb himself coming early to the train station when he could have just called ahead to book his ticket. 

The staff offered his contact and when Shehu asked what amount the ticket bookings go for, he was given a rate that almost doubled the official rate with profuse explanations on the rigmarole involved in getting the tickets. 

Similarly, Mr. Anthony Bulus, whose office is in Abuja, commutes Abuja and Kaduna, where his family resides every week by train, at times more than twice. His biggest challenge “is the ticketing system. The staff usually give the tickets to touts. You hardly get the ticket at the counter. But the touts, at the snap of a finger, will make it available to you at exorbitant rate. 

“It doesn’t matter how early you arrive the station, the ticket cubicle will be closed with no official, but minutes to departure when people started boarding the train, they will open sale of tickets; sell few seating tickets and start selling tickets for standing at same rate. When you board the train with a standing ticket, you may be lucky to find a seat as not all the hoarded tickets are sold.”

Yet another different experience

But Taofik Olayemi’s experience differs a bit. He took his brothers returning to Abuja after attending a naming ceremony in Kaduna to the Rigasa train station. “As we walked towards the ticketing area, a policeman approached us and offered us seats. He took them through the exit gate into the train where they were given special seats belonging to the police escorts. 

“They thought they were lucky to be accorded the special treatment only to be told they had to pay N2, 000 for each ticket without being given the ticket they paid for. The policemen sold their seats, collected their money and stood patrolling the train for the duration of the trip.”

Racketeering at its peak

The ticket racketeering is at its peak at the Rigasa station on Sundays and after public holidays, particularly  for the northerners who came home for weekend and holiday and returning to resume work, and on Fridays at the Abuja stations for those coming to Kaduna and other northwest states for the weekend and for holidays. 

While some of the NRC workers are to blame for the racketeering, they have accomplices among the passengers, especially at the height of insecurity along the Kaduna-Abuja highway, as many of the passengers prefer to call ahead and have tickets reserved for them before reaching the station. Some reserved the tickets days ahead of their trip, while others make their reservation a day to the trip.  

Idu station

It’s same old story at the Idu station in the FCT, as some officials now devised other means of selling train tickets at under-the-counter rates.

The business is booming with the increasing fear of sudden abduction on the Abuja-Kaduna highway, which compels passengers to patronise the touts. 

In recent times, the fear of armed kidnappers along the route is the beginning of wisdom for travellers, including even military chiefs.

And for their safety, many of these passengers do not care even if they would have to stand all through the trip. 

An NRC source who preferred to be anonymous said, these officials sell more than 300 tickets to standing passengers per trip and there are four trips in a day. The source further said the days they make so much money are usually weekends and Mondays. 

“Assuming they sell the tickets at a flat rate of N1500 to the 300 standing passengers, it means they make nothing less than N450, 000 for a single trip.

“And this excludes the sitting passengers who are over 300 too. With this, it means about N1, 000,000 is supposed to be recorded for the sale of tickets daily.”

It was also gathered that the business thrives because “some senior persons in the corporation are also beneficiaries of the illegal ticket sales.”

A passenger, Andrew Ojukwu, claimed most officials at the NRC are usually involved in the illegal act.  

He further said so much money is made but the money is not remitted into the NRC’s coffers, which most people believe is the reason NRC has continued to maintain they are running at a loss.

“I suspect that they have duplicated the rail tickets. You know we Nigerians don’t pay much attention to things. I feel if more attention is given to the sale of tickets, the perpetrators will be fished out and the unwarranted stress they make passengers go through will stop,” Ojukwu said.

Another passenger, Mr. John Adekunle One said: “We learnt that when the minister paid an unscheduled visit to the station, some people involved in the act were caught and he directed that they should be sacked.

“I think that the minister should pay another such visit soon to put things in shape and reduce the suffering of Nigerians. 

“When the minister visits again, I hope some of the infrastructures in the coaches and the stations would be looked at and fixed because the amount of money generated from the sale of tickets alone, if properly channelled , would contribute immensely to the country’s GDP,” he said.

Moves to arrest trend

And following outcries of exploitation by the passengers, our investigation revealed that there were concerted efforts by the police and NRC staff to nip the trend in the bud.

An NRC source who confirmed the sharp practices at the stations, however said: “This trend has reduced drastically as tickets are now available at the counter more than 30 minutes before departure and up to few minutes before the train leaves the station. 

“Similarly, the recent increment in the number of train wagons also helped reduce the rush, as there are more seats available for the passengers.

Amaechi speaks

On the way out, Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi has said computerisation of the ticketing processes would provide the necessary leeway.  

Responding to the introduction of e-ticketing sale as the solution to ticket racketeering, the minister said: “I agree that it is a solution to the madness that we have in Rigasa station down to Idu. 

“But the most important solution is the provision of more coaches and locomotives. This will go a long way to reduce the madness because if people can buy their tickets from their offices and homes, they will not be coming to the train station to cause the chaos we are seeing there.” 

To reduce the pressure, the minister directed that the coaches used on the Warri-Itakpe axis should be deployed to Abuja-Kaduna rail line to cater to the passenger surges on the route. 

He also attributed the current surge to insecurity in some parts of the country.

The minister said: “We deployed coaches from Warri-Itakpe to feed Abuja-Kaduna axis because of the passenger surge. I have also told them to shut down Warri-Itakpe just to enable us to feed Abuja-Kaduna.

“But even if we do that, we will be taking away about 200 passengers and we will still be left with about 1,900 passengers to cater for.”

To this end, the federal government recently took delivery of 10 new coaches, which were part of a total of 64 coaches that Nigeria expected from China.

“I requested for 10 coaches now because we need to improve on the Kaduna-Abuja line. If the 10 doesn’t come there is nothing I can do but it has to come because they have to manufacture for us to use in Kaduna-Abuja and again, Lagos-Ibadan will soon be ready, we also have to ensure that we get coaches that we can be using, pending when they finish construction of the 64 coaches,” the minister said during a trip to China last April to inspect the speed of work at the Chinese Railway Rolling stock Corporation (CRRC) Tangshan Company Ltd.

NRC MD reacts

The Managing Director of NRC, Mr. Fidelis Okhiria, said he was not aware of such activities in the corporation.

He said as part of measures to rid the organisation of ticket racketeering, three out of   112 companies that applied were shortlisted for the contract. 

On the contract for online ticketing and when it is likely to start, Okhiria said, “It is not the online ticketing that is the problem. I can download an online app that people can use now. 

“But we have to consider the hardware and secure the station so that people without tickets won’t access the platform.”

Police react

Reacting to the allegations of police complicity in ticket racketeering at the train station, Rigasa, the Kaduna state Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Muhammad Jalige said such couldn’t be true because the police were sent to the train station to ensure safety of lives and properties and not to do any trading in tickets.

“We are not aware of that, we don’t know anything about that and I don’t think that is true because our police officers are sent to train station to protect lives and property and ensure safety at the train station. The police didn’t send anybody to go and do trading of tickets,” ASP Jalige said. 

Estimates from e-ticketing

It is estimated that the e-ticket sale will generate N16 billion by 2029, Director General of Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) Chidi Izuwah has said.

Izuwah spoke recently during the presentation of the Full Business Certificate for the concession of the e-ticketing system to the minister of transportation.

Izuwah said: “Financial model shows that NRC and the federal government will earn over N16 billion as revenue from e-ticketing by 2029. That will provide additional revenue for the government. So, basically, we have turned a problem into an opportunity.”

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