Early this year, the federal government, following protests over fuel subsidy removal, brought in many buses for mass transit to mitigate commuters as a result of the policy. Seven months after, passengers hardly see the subsidy buses on the roads. In this report. Sunday Trust went a hunting for the buses in Abuja.
The 300 buses launched by the FCT minister, Senator Bala Mohammed to cushion the effects of the partial fuel subsidy removal has continued to raise questions in various quarters.
Mr Ade Isaac, a civil servant who commutes daily from Kubwa, one of the satellite towns in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) lamented, "I think this is unfair because I believe in fairness and democracy. These buses were introduced to ease the movement of citizens of this city. But now, we don't know whether to call them subsidy buses or removal buses. For instance, when I came to Abuja newly, the price was quite good. It was N50. But today, we pay N100 which sounds ridiculous. The government today cares less about the masses, takes decisions without listening to the cries of the poor and abuse the law arbitrarily because it holds the powerful."
Another passenger, Mr Daniel Okon said, "The crisis has affected daily movements of residents especially students. I don't think it's fair to experience all these difficulties. They keep saying we are the leaders of tomorrow but with such acts coming from the top, it will be difficult to set a good legacy for the future leaders. It is very pathetic to wake up one morning and all you hear is that there's been increase in the fares of these buses. The so called Urban Mass Transit Company is not helping. As you can see, some passengers find it difficult to cope with the rise."
A 50-year-old driver of one of the buses said the subsidy buses donated by President Goodluck Jonathan have been a thorn in the flesh of passengers recently. He also said, "It has been really tough for us the drivers. We try as hard as we can to make peace with our customers because we know how they always feel. When we started driving the buses, the price was N60. Three weeks ago, it was N80 and now we have been told to collect N100 from our passengers. We have to do this in order to get paid too."
In addition, he said, "I don't know the number of buses available but all I know is some are faulty while some are still running the streets of Abuja. The drivers here are paid N30,000 monthly."
Mr Simone Iorsende, another driver who also craved anonymity sound, "The price was affordable when the buses were introduced unlike now. Now, we receive harsh and eruptive reactions from our passengers. They speak to us aggressively, saying we don't have mercy on them but we can't do anything because as you know we are only drivers here and we have little to say to the management about the complaints of passengers.
"We the drivers have been facing a lot of challenges. Now we have been told to collect N100 instead of N80 previously collected. Today, the passengers are unwilling to pay the new price. Before, we used to convey passengers from here thrice in a day but now we go only once, if lucky twice. Recently, we face many hiccups in our business. It is indeed our duty to make our customers comfortable but now we hardly make them happy and even if we try harder, they always make us feel guilty which is obviously not good for us.
"Our passengers are not feeling the succour anymore as opposed to when it started. When I was driving the smaller buses popularly called Araba, there was less stress. Now, unlike the small buses, the control of the big ones is stressful and challenging.
"The brake, clutch and the gear are very big and hard to manoeuvre. All the drivers here experienced one physical problem or the other due to the stress of driving these buses. Last month, few drivers here experienced some physical disorders like stroke, rheumatism and so on.
"Thank God now that we have duty change over time, whereby some drivers drive from 5:30am to 1:30pm while some from 1:30pm to 9:30pm. This is at least helpful and we won't really get as many problems as we used to.
In January, when President Jonathan removal of the fuel subsidy, Nigerians rose against the action. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the civil service groups led protests that culminated in a seven-day nationwide strike. The strike which began on January 9 and ended on January 16 following negotiated with the NLC, the federal government announced N10 billion with additional N15 billion for a mass transit intervention scheme to cushion the effects of the partial deregulation of the petroleum downstream sector on the economy.
With his intervention, the FCT minister, Senator Bala Mohammed launched a 300 bus scheme called FCTA Assisted Public Mass Transit Scheme (PMTS) for the purpose. The bus rapid transit operations were to operate from Eagle Square - AYA - Nyanya - Masaka routes. It planned to further extend to Keffi in Nasarawa State.
Other routes promised to be plied were the Central Business strict through the Airport Road to Gwagwalada, through ONEX in Zuba and to Suleja in Niger State. But today, many commuter complain about the epileptic operations of this scheme.
Today, some prefer the tricycles popularly known as "keke napep" or the poorly operated private green buses driven by reckless drivers. Ironically, in the same environment, one can see many drives in their expensive fully air-conditioned cars to the charging of the masses whose money is being stolen. Now, the question on the lips of the poor masses is "Do we really have subsidy buses?"