25 January 2013

Nigeria: The Hidden Cost of the Abuja Commuter Bus Ban

The Daily Trust editorial of Thursday 24 January 2013 appropriately cautioned on new transport policy of the FCT administration, which imposed restrictions on the routes and areas that mini-buses and tricycle (popularly called KEKE NAPEP) are allowed to operate. Coincidentally in the same edition Mr Nosike Ogbuenyi, the media aide to the FCT minister wrote on "Why route delineation for buses is desirable in Abuja".

The FCT through the Transport Secretariat did not do any proper analysis before rushing to implement the policies that in its entirety runs contrary to many of the transformation program and the promises of President Goodluck Jonathan to the poor people of this country in the area of poverty eradication and employment generation.

Route allocation released by the Transport Secretariat restricts the KEKE NAPEP to operate only within Gwarinpa, Life Camp, Kado Estates and inside all large estates. The media aid to the FCT Minister named the mini-bus route but failed to state the fate of KEKE NAPEP. The main concern however is consequences the plan will have on the poor people and on the worsening employment situation in the north in particular and the nation in general.

One needs not go into the genesis of the operations of the tricycle in the FCT and the positive effect it has had on the poor working class in the FCT. The tricycle operation in the FCT was the result of a federal government effort at addressing the alarming youth unemployment and the need for poverty alleviation under the National Poverty Eradication Program (NAPEP). The effort is still one of the cardinal programs of the current PDP-led government.

There is need for the FCT minister to stay the implementation of the above "Feeder Route Mini-Bus transportation services in the FCT" permanently on the following reasons, among many:

It hurts the economic interest of the North.

The transport sector within the FCT business districts uses the following types of vehicles:

High density vehicles that bring in people from the suburbs into the City

The minibuses that have capacity of 12 to 16 passengers in addition to the routes covered by the high density buses also commute within the business districts of Wuse, Garki, Asokoro etc.

The taxi cabs, with a capacity of 4 passengers mostly cater for the inter-zone movement and passengers who desire "drop or charter" services.

The tricycle operates only within zones found essentially within districts. They carry only three passengers and the driver. The tricycle service passengers that alight from the high density and mini buses into the inner city as the tricycles are best suited to move within or use small lanes.

A profile of transport operators in the FCT shows a preponderance of the following:

The mini-buses are largely operated by people from the eastern part of the country;

The taxis are largely operated by people from the west.

The tricycles are largely operated by people from the North.

One is being careful not to play the regional or the ethnicity cards or put the FCT administration in an awkward position of being seen to serve only regional interest. One is only tries to draw attention to the fact that restricting the tricycle (popularly called KEKE NAPEP) has alienated from the economic centres the northern peasant that are in the FCT for lawful economic pursuits.

Unemployment and insecurity

The second area of concern is that the restriction (which is an outright ban) would worsen the um-employment situation of the poor northern operators of the tricycle. The tricycle is banished to the estates where they (tricycle operators) are also facing increasing hostilities. Please page 34 of Daily Trust edition of 08 January 2013. In the report, residents of the EFAB Estate at Life Camp have banned the operation of tricycle in the Estate citing as their reason entirely on "allege security threat by tricycle drivers" who we may say are northerners.

Accident and risk factor

The tricycle carries a very low risk in public transportation. It is for this that the tricycle is much preferred to the motor cycle (popularly call "Okada") as a means of transportation. It is also for reasons of high fatality accident rate that the FCT banned the use of Okada and assisted the operators of the Okada to convert to the use of the tricycles in the FCT. One therefore is at a lost that this time around, the tricycle is being banned from the economic centre of the FCT thereby rendering many operators jobless.

The Federal Government set up the National Poverty Alleviation Eradication Program (NAPEP) to champion poverty eradication throughout the federation. How does the FCT administration think it is helping the cause of the poor when they- poor people, are being driven out of the economic Centre (where a greater proportion of the FCT budget allocation is spent).

Transportation is better handled by the private sector while the government set regulations given the Vehicle Inspectorate Unit the power to enforce regulations. The decision to invest in any of high density, mini bus or taxis should be that of the operator. Let regulation set the type and quality of the vehicle through licensing. There is really a need for the minister to address the high passion to "hate the common man" that current exists in the current FCT administration. Examples include the incessant arrest and the subsequent too excessive fines imposed on KEKE NAPEP operators by the Directorate of Roads Transport Service. Also the rampant arrest of poor persons by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) on charges of hawking without making out any alternative means of livelihood for them. It is the same AEPB that pretends it does not know of the foul stench coming out of the waste generated from the Abacha barrack on the Nyanya-AYA road thereby worsening the health condition of motorist on that road during slow traffic hours.

The authorities of the FCT should appreciate the positive image the success of the operations of the tricycle has had on states of the North and the fact that many Northern State governors that include Niger, Bornu, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Kano and very recently Yobe State have purchased large quantities of the tricycles to spur employment in their respective states and further stem the alarming tide of joblessness and insecurity.

The dialogue, which the minister promised, should be open and frank. Let it involve stakeholders in the transport sector. Meanwhile, the minister should save the poor operators of the tricycles in the FCT from imminent loss of a vital means of their livelihood. Their operations have no threat to public safety and security.

Dodo wrote from Lakecity Plaza, Gudu, FCT

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