9 February 2013

Nigeria: As Abuja Passengers Await New Transport Policy

Weeks after the temporary lifting of the ban on mini buses in Abuja's metropolis, residents express misgivings on the new transport policy

For two days tranporters popularly known as 'araba' drivers in the city of Abuja took to the streets to protest a new tranpsort policy curtailing their movement into the city centre. Fiery soldiers and combat ready policemen had to be drafted to the streets of Abuja to nip in the bud the crisis. At different bus stops especially at Masaka and Mararaba in Nasarawa State, hundreds of commuters waited endlessly for buses to convey them to their various destinations, but the 'subsidy buses' which the administration permitted to convey commuters to the city centre were not enough to convey this multitude. Many of the irate 'araba' drivers were gathering in several spots around the city to express their grievances so the green buses could not be found on the tense streets. Commuters had to trek long distances to Nyanya where a few government buses were parked under the ferocious security of armed security personnel. Feverish pleas by city officials stating that details of the policy had been effectively circulated to all stakeholders before its implementation fell on deaf ears. Many people just coming from the Yuletide and New Year celebrations in several parts of the country felt the policy was meant to punish rather than bring relief to them.

After three days, the Minster of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Muhammed suspended the policy. He thereafter set up a committee to take a second look at the policy with a view of fine-tuning specific aspects of it that are capable of inflicting pains on the masses. The committee which has three weeks to deliberate has in its fold different stakeholders including the members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW and its affiliate bodies. A source privy to the committee's works says that at present the committee is working to demarcate areas of operations of the government owned buses and the 'araba' buses in such a way that the crisis generated earlier in the year would not be repeated.

But the government appears to have won a temporary battle as the Wuse market area has been effectively seized from the hands of commercial transport owners. This has created enormous difficulty for many commuters, many of which have one business or the other to conduct at the market and its environs. Nowadays the buses plying the route simply drop their passengers at the Zone 3 junction especially those going to the Wuse Market and its environs and at the other Berger junction for those going further.

Although the Wuse market area is now free from the former chaotic situation it was known for, but the plight of commuters has increased in no small measure. Any passenger going to Wuse from Jabi for instance, would simply drop at Skye Memorial to complete the rest on foot which is almost a kilometre distance. Commuters' plight is worsen in this area as taxis had been banned from using the route in question.

A taxi driver in the city says that the new traffic policy has forced many of his colleagues to abandon the Wuse route. "If you stop me and tell me to take you to Wuse, I will simply zoom off. I no longer take the route. Even before the new law, I was not always enthusiastic to pass the route due to the numerous traffic problems there. Now that they are doing all these road projects, it has given many of us reason to abandon the route," he enthuses briefly.

Another source of the worry in the minds of commuters is the availability of the government buses and its ability to effectively take care of the needs of commuter when the policy is reintroduced. Lawrence Nyoror, a business man says that while the government has not done its homework well, his fears are that the buses would not be enough to cater for the needs of commuters. 'When proper sensitization and publicity is carried out, such pains could be minimised. 'You just don't wake up one day and ram down the throats of people policies even if it is for their benefit. You need to carry them along so that they will support you all the way. But am afraid this has not always been so with our leaders. The buses they say they will provide, will they be enough to convey residents on a daily basis? That is the question they should be addressing,' he enthuses.

As if the FCTA heeded to the call of the commuters, the minister yesterday issued a statement to postponed the policy implementation till further notice. The statement said meetings with stakeholders would continue. Though some say it is because of the March L.G.A election in the FCT so that the government does not suffer the wrath of the electorates.

Tunde Ayeni, media spokesperson of the Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company, AUMTCO, says the company has enough buses to cover all the routes. He said recently that they are equally opening newer routes. "We get complaints regularly about the need to supply more buses for certain routes and we always look into such requests speedily after considering our strengths. In the routes at the outskirts, for instance, Nyanya-Mararaba-Masaka routes and the Jikwoyi-Kurudu routes we have about a hundred buses dedicated to the routes because we know that many commuters live in such areas. The truth of the matter is that going by the number of buses we currently have in our fleet we are indeed doing our best to spread them over the city in order to meet the need of residents." He added: 'we are equally opening up new routes such as Gwarinpa-Federal Secretariat, Gwarimpa-Wuse and AYA-Asokoro via Eagle Square routes linking NICON Junction. These are innovative steps to capture newer commuters and all at a reduced price-N50. By January these buses that are parked at our garages and premises will be released to ply all the routes".

Chairman of the NURTW, Nyanyan-Mararaba axis was unavailable for comments. But an assistant told Weekly Trust that they were not authorised to speak on the matter yet as deliberations were still ongoing. It would also be recalled that recently at a phone in radio program, the Special Assistant, Media to the FCT minister, Nosike Ogbuenyi told residents that all the transport policies being embarked on by the administration is aimed at making Abuja to be at par, development wise, with other advanced cities around the globe. While noting that such changes take time, he agreed that no serious developmental stride could take place without a measure of pain on the part of residents.

But for commercial drivers like Joseph Ejedi, if the policy is implemented it would be a bitter pill to swallow. 'We are praying that the series of meeting between our officials and the government will yield positive results. The present transport policies do not favour us at all. Many of us are gradually getting tired of the job as we cannot meet up with 'daily delivery' of N5000 to our employers.' When the policy is finally implemented meeting this target will become impossible because the route will not be able to contain the operations of all the green bus owners and the transport fares will eventually crash leading to losses for us...'

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