Saturday, 22 December 2012 00:00
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Yuletide travels of economic pangs, fears, frenzy

 A section of East-West Road in Niger DeltaTherein, the President promised that some traditionally very busy roads during the yuletide such as a the Sagamu-Ore-Benin road will be made very motorable during the Xmas period.

Expounding, the day after the nationwide broadcast media chat, Minister of Works, Mike Onlememen, said such routes as the  Enugu-Port Harcourt road among others will be ready for travellers during the season.

The Nigeria Compass on Sunday went to town and found that the gloomy state of the economy, as well as the, still very poor state of roads, overshadow the enthusiasm for travels and holidays within this season.Though many respondents hope to be part of the global preparations for a Yuletide marked with pomp and celebration, cautious attention for economic, social and political circumstances tend to rub-off heavily on the dreams for a grand Christmas and New Year.

Though many anticipate the usual astronomic rise in transport fares, especially to the hinter southern parts of the country, as has been the hallmark the season, transporters seem not to expect so much of that this year. At the motor parks passengers currently arrive in trickles unlike what used to obtain in past years.

However, Chike Obinna, a transporter in Jibowu, Yaba, Lagos, explained: “We usually experience a rise in the rate of travellers from December 15. But the pressure really starts from December 20, annually.” 

Asked to comment on the reason for the hike in transport fares during the Yuletide, he said: “It is a simple economic law, which states that there is an increase in price when demand exceeds supply.”

In his view, it is the season when transporters generally make huge profits, as many people are desperate to travel home.

But in an interview with our correspondent, the Deputy Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Babatope Olowokere,  Ojota New Garage, captured the low mood of the season. His words: “I have been in transportation  business for over 30 years.

The situation of the country is nothing to write home about. The economy is so terrible that an average Nigerian cannot afford three square meals. So, people that cannot afford to feed themselves will not think of travelling during the festive period. The government should really come to the aid of the masses. The conditions of our roads are bad. Though the government is trying its best to repair the roads, it should go beyond what it is doing presently.

Government should work with people with the same mindset and professionals should be appointed to key government positions. This is to ensure that people in government positions are capable of performing their duties. For example, how can a state government appoint a medical doctor as a commissioner of transport? A medical doctor knows nothing about transportation.

This has been the trend and has been a spanner in wheel of the country's development. Generally, people are not happy because of the economic situation of the country. Our expectation that people will be travelling en masse for Christmas is low, though we are trusting God that things will change.”

Also, Mallam Shehu Sanni, a transporter based in Ido Park, Lagos, said there had not been any difference in transport fares at the park.  “We increased our fares when there was fuel scarcity recently.  Even then, the increase was minimal. However, I don't expect much increment during Christmas or New Year because the Northerners travel home mostly during the Ramaddan and Eid-il-Kabir festival.”

Further investigation on air travellers reveal that privileged individuals who  would prefer to fly may also have to battle some challenges. This is so because there are only two or three airlines currently plying the airspace in the country. Thus there could be a situation of qusi monopoly. At the Murtala Muhhamed Airport Terminal Two (MM2), Mr. Richard John said, “It is a shame that Nigerians have to jostle for just two airlines.

This has brought an incredible hike in air fares in recent times. Imagine a trip of just an hour costing N32, 000 and above. It is even worse during Christmas as people have to queue to travel. Sometimes, during this period, you may wait for days to get a flight to places like Abuja. My experience last year during the Christmas period was hell. I got to the airport and couldn't go to Abuja because there wasn't any flight. I waited for three days to board a flight”.

Also, a Chinese, who spoke under anonymity, said:  “This could be avoided if Nigeria begins to use the rail system because it has the tendency to reduce the pressure on roads and air. In my country, a lot of people go a long distance on rail rather than by roads or air.”

In an interview with the Nigerian Compass on Sunday, Mr. Segun Oyebolu of Fly4cheaper Limited explained that the problem could be tracable to lack of leadership. He asked: “What is so special about the Christmas holiday to warrant passengers not having flight? Why should Nigerians be paying so much for air travel at this period?”

He said that in other parts of the world there, passengers are usually rewarded with a lot of promotions and possibly reduction in fares by the airline operators in such seasons. “So, it is time the Nigerian government learnt to make adequate planning for the period,” he said.

Although many would readily reel out a long of reasons why they travel home during the Yuletide, so many others, for obvious reasons too, do not see any sense in leaving their base during the period. In the thinking of people who don’t fancy travelling during the Christmas, the fear of our roads is the beginning of wisdom. And they have a good reason for expressing such sentiment. From Lagos to Abuja and from Enugu to Port Harcourt, the roads are just death traps.

It is even worrisome that over the years, successive governments have paid lip service to the rehabilitation of the roads.  It will be recalled that in 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his inaugural speech, painted a picture of a better road network.

“Transportation is the lifeline of the economy and social interaction .An inefficient transport system implies stagnation in all sectors. Our priorities in this sector will be designing and implementing a new policy on road maintenance,” he said. Although such a statement had buoyed the spirits of both the road users and transporters alike, it sadly turned out a mere political statement.

Only recently, the current Minister of Works, Mr. Onaleleme, promised that the Lagos- Benin road would be ready in January.  For instance, until now, not a few had hoped that the Lagos- Ibadan Expressway would have been given a facelift. But it has now suffered a setback following the revocation of the concession given to Bi-Courtney Limited by the Federal Government recently.

Indeed, the Ministry and government’s agencies saddled with responsibilities of rehabilitation and maintenance of our roads have not shown judicious use of the allocations in their annual budget, and nobody is called to give account of what happen to those allocations. This has, therefore, left our roads in bad shapes and turned them to death traps. But what is the fate of travellers in this season when there is usually a higher volume of transportation?

The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Nigerian agency in charge of road safety, always warns road users to drive with caution, especially during the Yuletide.

 The myth that more accidents occur during the Christmas has been dismissed in different quarters on the grounds that such tragic occurrences are as a result of reckless driving.

 However, statistics released by the FRSC on road accidents, at the first half of this year, showed that 1,936 persons lost their lives, which is 12.7 per cent reduction from what was recorded at the same time in 2011 when 2218 deaths were recorded. In 2010, there were 5,330 deaths and 18,095 injuries from accidents. Also, in 2011, a total of 4,065 deaths were recorded, while there were 17,464 injuries.

 The FRSC statistics further revealed that “2009 had a record of 4,120 deaths while there were 20,973 injuries. Vehicles that were involved in accidents were 11,031. In 2008, 6,661 lives were lost, while 27,980 injuries were recorded.”

 At Chisco Transport Company, Yaba, Lagos, a journey from Lagos to Onitsha, Owerri, Portharcourt, Umuahia and Aba now costs N4, 250. But travellers currently pay N5,000 from Lagos to Enugu at the popular Ekenedili Chukwu Park.

Speaking with a staff of the company, who spoke under anonymity, he said, “There is the possibility that the fares will increase by 100 percent soon. This is our time to make profit.”

Faced with these seemingly cutthroat fares, one pertinent question is: Must one travel during the Yuletide? A trader, who simply gave her name as Yetunde, said, “It is a sign that you are not suffering wherever you are based and it is also to prove to your age grade that you are hardworking.  Besides, many bachelors use the period to look for suitable wives.”

Not a few transporters are also worried about the state of our roads. For instance, Moses, a bus driver, stated that he usually faces a lot of challenges during the period. “At times, if you don't take proper care when driving, you may be involved in an accident, thereby endangering the lives of the passengers,” he said.

But Lola Adeola expressed a different view, saying, “It all depends on where you are travelling to. So, I don’t face any see any problem travelling during the Christmas.” She also advised that it is wrong for the entire family to travel at once in the same vehicle because of the hazards on our roads.

Another respondent, Tayo Adisa, complained bitterly about the traffic gridlock usually experienced during the Christmas, especially on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. He, however, said that he usually travels with his entire family during the Yuletide, not minding the attendant risk. “For me, it is good if the whole family travels for the celebration, because it is a time for merry- making and fun- filled moments.

As for the price of transportation now, there is no increment. But it might go up soon if there is fuel scarcity, which is usually experienced in this period in the country.”

 For Mr Joseph Adeniyi, travelling during the Yuletide is like exposing oneself to armed robbers’ attack. This, according to him, is made worse by the presence of pothole-filled roads in the country. “Yes, it is good to travel home for Christmas celebration, but family members should not go in the same bus, in case of any unforeseen development.”

In   an interview with Maxwell Nnamani, a trader, he said, “Christmas is a season where people travel a lot. I travel all the time, not only during Christmas. I have businesses in different parts of the country, so I travel to those areas. However, during Christmas I travel to see my aged mother, my siblings. Everything becomes expensive during this period.  Moreover, I can't travel together with my family at the same time. It is dangerous; nobody prays for accident, but the unfortunate may happen.

When travelling especially during Christmas, I tell my wife to go first on December 15 with two children. Then, I join them either 20th or 23rd of December with the other kids. The situation of the country does not encourage travelling together with all your family members.” Some families use period for family meeting, association also thrives during this season, especially among the youths. Disputes are settled during the family meeting, especially disputes on land”.

In his view, Nurudeen Shittu, a teacher, said, “It is a routine for many to travel during Christmas. Though I 'm not a Christian, I travel during Christmas because this is the only time I 'm free. I 'm a teacher and this is when students are given holiday so as to enjoy the season. I travel to see my aged parents. This is the opportunity I have to go and see them. Even during Ileya, I don't travel. Ileya is celebrated for only two days and I can't travel down home to see my parents for two days. The time is too short. I prefer the Yuletide period where I have the opportunity to spend more days with them.

However, transporters increase transport fare indiscriminately during this period. I spend N4000 when travelling to Osun State to and from when there is no festivity, but during Christmas, I spend more. Christians travel most especially during Christmas, but Muslims also make use of this opportunity to visit their loved ones. Some travel to attend occasions like funeral, family meetings, etc, during this period”.

 According to Engineer Mba Npaka, “ Most of the time, we are in Lagos and Lagos is not our home. Most of us are in Ghana, Ivory Coast, different parts of the world. There have been cases where people meet themselves outside the country and get married only to discover that they are from the same family. So, this is a period where we come together to know one another. Also, travelling is part of education. If you are travelling from Lagos to the East, you pass through many boundaries like Ore, Benin.

“Travelling this season with our kids, we show these places like the River Niger, Ogunuke Cave, etc. I 'm Ibo and I have travelled far and wide. I've been to Iko Igosi, Odo Erin, where there are big cat fish, which you cannot kill. You cannot know all these places without travelling out of the city.  People travel to their home towns because of the festive season. There are some masquerades you have never seen, but you have the opportunity to see them during the period such.

The white men are not left out; they come to these villages to take shots of events during the season. After which, they go abroad to showcase them. It's fun all around. Moreover, I don't believe bad roads are the cause of accidents. I 'm always on the road; I just came back from the East. It depends on the driver. During Christmas, transport companies want their drivers to drive at a high speed so as to come back for another trip in order to maximize profit. A driver that drives from Lagos to Portharcourt for 16 hours, such a driver is expected to drive without sleep.

You can't cheat nature, any dose on the steering, the driver is gone. That is why drivers are advised not to talk, eat, or receive phone calls while driving. Drivers need to be enlightened on driving on a high speed. When there were no roads, people travelled without involving in accidents.”

And the state of the current roads further make those who ply the routes regularly warn that occasional travelers who are heading home this time with their families should better watch it and pray as they go.

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