Ticket racketeering is done openly. Passengers are made to pay fares unreceipted and then boarded into the train with no seat allocated. Little wonder we have overcrowded trains with passengers standing!
My day had started in the ancient city of Benin where I had spent the past few days. With my assignment in Benin coming to an end, I felt like experiencing the services of the revived Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), a behemoth of yesteryears that is awaking from a deep slumber. I have heard that the NRC operates scheduled train rides from the oil city (Warri) to Itakpe in Kogi State. I longed to experience that ride from where I planned to visit Abuja, the nation’s capital.
I had enjoyed the train ride from Lagos to Ibadan and then from Ibadan to Abeokuta and Abeokuta to Lagos. The rides were nostalgic as they brought me back to the years of my childhood when Lagos was the centre of my universe and my holiday trips to Lagos from Ibadan on the cape gauge rail track. While the new tracks run through a different route, looking out of the coach window I revel at the sight of the countryside. Unlike the old coaches, the modern invention called air conditioning while providing comfort denied me the opportunity of taking in the scents of the rivers, swamps, small scale plantations, the cattle being herded and lush vegetation that we saw on the trip.
With thoughts of the Lagos-Ibadan experience on my mind, I arrived at the bus park in Benin City and joined a cab going to Warri, just a little over 100kms. We arrived Warri in the mid-afternoon and I checked into an hotel in Ujevwu so as to make my arrival at the train terminus the next morning easy. Early the next morning, I arrived at the Ujevwu train station to a shocking sight – there were literally hundreds of people outside the train station. It was a chaotic sight and my spirit was immediately dampened.
The train was on the tracks and given the massive demand for its services, someone high up in the decision-making hierarchy of the NRC, chose to open only two counters to attend to this crowd of passengers. I couldn’t stop myself from asking “Who have we offended that we have to experience this demeaning level of service quality in the 21st century?”
I thought that was all, but it got worse. While a few of us felt encouraged that by staying on a queue, somehow by magic, we would get attended to, the powerful and highly connected were being approached by men wearing NRC uniforms as well as touts and being ushered into the station and from there into the train. I was not close to the ticketing counter so I cannot say for sure that these people obtained tickets for the journey they were about to make. The train was billed to depart the station by 8am and at 10 mins before the hour, the station was still crowdy. I gave up all ideas about departing with the train and concentrated my efforts at observing all that was going on. I noticed that there was a gate on the right side of the ticketing booth which was probably an emergency gate but not supposed to be opened for pedestrian traffic to access the train. An NRC official was manning this gate and was collecting cash from whoever wants to by-pass the ticket counters and make a quick dash into the train. With the train ready to depart, I looked to my right and noticed that some group of people were taking to the little bush separating the tracks from the road. I followed at a distance to observe what was happening. The path being taken leads to the train tracks and at the end of the path, exactly where the train engine stood on the track, was an official of the NRC. He was busy collecting money from passengers without issuing tickets and handing them over to other NRC trin attendants to be ushered into the train!
The corruption was bold open and brazen that a blind man can see it. There is no way the station manager can claim ignorance of the ticketing fraud going on in the Ujevwu. While on the queue, a lady and his brother standing in front of me had shared their experience with me. According to them, they had travelled from Itakpe to Warri the previous day. Having arrived at Itakpe from Abuja following a 3hr road trip, they were unable to get a ticket to buy. They said they had been approached by an NRC official who asked them to pay the full price of a first class ticket and they were then ushered into the train. With no ticket, no allocated seat, they stood all the way from Itakpe to Agbor when sufficient passengers had alighted for seats to be available.
As I depart the train station, the train blew its whistle and soon after started her slow journey pulling out of the station. I was sober for Nigeria and Nigerians. While we focus on the government in Abuja as being corrupt and ineffective in many spheres, right under our noses we allow abuse of many forms and even encourage same by our patronage. In a sane clime, the Minister of Transport and the station manager in Ujevwu would have been long sacked for lack of capacity to manage the service and revenue leakages.
Maybe we need to ask :
- Why should any government establishment run on the payment of cash by service consumers?
- What is difficult in effecting electronic ticketing of passengers?