opinionBy Ibrahim Biu
There has been a mixed reaction about the new transport policy introduced in the Abuja city centre by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) within the past two weeks or so. Though the new measure was introduced by the Senator Bala-led administration to primarily reduce or at least control and de-congest the worsening traffic situation in the city centre, many commuters and some members of the mini buses transport union see it from a different perspective and have even risen against it.
Under the planned policy, high capacity buses and the mini buses are allowed to ply some specific routes in the city centre. More than 500 of the high capacity buses have been secured to ferry commuters from one part of the city to the other. Specific areas will be plied by the new buses to usher in sanity in the Abuja transport sector as actions by some motorists, especially the drivers of these mini buses, often make things difficult for commuters and the general public.
Under 24 hours of the introduction of the new transport order and especially after action had been taken on the issue by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), owners of the mini buses angrily reacted to the new policy and engineered a lot of confusion in the city which necessitated the temporary suspension of the policy by the FCTA.
Immediately the new system was introduced, owners of the mini buses and their drivers ganged up and recruited touts and other dangerous characters who chased away the high capacity buses and scattered its take-off.
In order to properly review the policy and allow for proper sensitization of the new scheme, the FCTA Minister, Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed decided to postpone the take off of the new policy until the next three weeks or so. FCDA officials, especially the AEPB insist there was need to put a stop to the dangerous activities of the mini bus drivers and touts which had hindered the smooth operation of previous transport policy in Abuja for many years now resulting in the continued sufferings of commuters and transport owners generally.
It was reliably learnt that on the day the new scheme was introduced, touts and the mini owners used dangerous weapons to chase away owners of the high capacity buses at the Nyanya, Mararaba and Karu axis. The touts were even said to have threatened to burn some of the new buses and the owners fled away to save themselves.
Officials of the Abuja Transport Association had showed their anger and dislike for the new system when they mobilized their members and other aggrieved commuters to stage a peaceful demonstration in Abuja. They disrupted bus services along some major roads, notably the Julius Berger roundabout in Wuse, Aminu Kano Street and some roads in Wuse II adjourning the Banex Plaza end of the street in Maitama.
Motorists and commuters who ply roads in the FCT and its environs have always suffered incessant harassments and attacks from these touts while hiding under the guise of being members of the Abuja Transport Workers Union.
The introduction of the new system is intended to checkmate the activities of these touts and mini bus drivers apart from the fact that it will strengthen the movement of vehicles within the city and also drastically reduce criminal activities in not only the city centre but other parts of the FCT.
Even though the new policy is intended to bring about orderliness among motorists and to correct the existing clumsiness on Abuja roads, the issue has not gone down well for the mini-bus owners and some commuters who regard it as a deliberate act to deny them their means of livelihood and survival. But what is really the grievance of the bus owners and their drivers? This group of people have complained that over 20,000 persons or so will be rendered jobless if the new system is allowed to take-off since the mini buses would lose their customers.
The owners of these buses are also not comfortable with the new system as they perceive it is a means of marginalizing them and eventually easing them out of the business of road transportation within the FCT.
But this information is not true. While introducing the new system recently, the FCT Transport Secretary insisted that it is aimed at sanitizing the present confused state of the transport system which did not favour commuters. He said the policy will also be friendly to the people and that commuters will be better off under the policy as jointly planned by the FCTA and the private bus owners.
The FCT Minister had spoken about serious security challenges and the need to sanitize the entire transport system for the benefit of the generality of Nigerians, especially FCT residents who use buses as their means of transportation to and from their places of work or to the market and other places of social engagement.
In introducing the new system however, it is necessary for the FCTA/FCDA and other stakeholders to make sure that the new buses are adequate in number and its fares should not only be reasonable but affordable to the poor masses, especially in view of the fact that majority of workers in the city centre are poor or middle income earners who reside in the satellite areas of the FCT. They travel long distances every day to and from their places of work. They need palliative measures.
- Biu, a veteran journalist sent in this piece from Abuja