analysisBy Tosin Omoniyi
The last is yet to be heard of FCT's new transport policy, but business minded private car owners have started 'cashing' in on the crisis. Issac Adebolaju is a civil servant attached to one of the federal parastatals located at the Federal Secretariat. On most days in the week, the soft spoken father of two can be seen in his small cubicle at the secretariat passing files and attending to his official duties. He cuts the perfect picture of the ideal civil servant whose duties are carried out flawlessly, with the hope of the monthly stipend a motivating factor. But in the early mornings and after work periods, lately, Isaac finds himself playing the role of a part time cab driver. He has converted the use of his Nissan Sunny vehicle to a small money making venture, which is capable of earning him enough to power the fuel needs of his automobile.
He explains further: 'whenever I am going to work in the mornings, I simply pick up four or five passengers, most of them civil servants like me. I collect a stipend from them which is much lower than what the commercial vehicles take for transporting them. In the afternoons when I am going home, I do the same thing. At the end of the month I find out that I have spent little or no part of my salary for fuelling of the car. So I can use the monies I would have used for buying petrol for doing other things. The people I 'carry' in my car are always grateful that you assist them because the buses are not really enough to convey all the workers in the morning, that is why you still see many of them stranded at the bus stop. So it is mutually beneficial for all concerned.'
There are many others like Isaac. A resident, Emilia Uduak, a civil servant also says that the funds her family gets from such activities go a long way in assisting them in maintaining their vehicle. 'In the mornings we simply pick passengers on our way to work. We do not spend the money on anything at all but fuelling of the car. You find out that at the end of the month, we would have saved the money we would otherwise have spent on buying petrol,' she enthuses.
A commuter, Paul Agbor tells the reporter that the trend is gaining ground much more as a result of the lack of adequate commercial vehicles to take care of the needs of commuters in the FCT. 'It's a good thing for motorists to pick people in their vehicles on their way to work, instead of driving empty cars to town. If you can afford it, convey them for free, and not collect a stipend. Either way you will be assisting others who do not have resources to buy a vehicle like you,' he says.
Findings reveal that private vehicle owners are gradually filling in the gap in the city's troubled transport system. Recently the authorities banned the movement of the green mini buses into the city centre but had to back pedal when protests erupted. The ban, although suspended by a further one week after the initial three week hiatus has started having its immense toll on commuters in the city. For instance commuters going to the central Wuse market now have to trek long distances from the points designated for these 'araba' buses to stop. These points include the Wuse 3 junction and the popular Skye Memorial junction.
Meanwhile, a committee set up by the FCT administration to look into an effective route delineation for both the commercial buses and the government owned ones, is yet to submit its report but many believe that when it does, commuters would further be made to suffer in the course of moving around the city. The fact that private car owners are not banned from entering the Wuse market area make them prized attractions for commuters who need to ply the route daily.
'Once I tell them that I am going to Wuse market, they (commuters) rush my vehicle because they know that no commercial vehicle would be able to take them to the last point in Wuse,' says a motorist lighhtheartedly. He now enjoys a stipend conveying passengers in the mornings when going to his workplace, and also after work hours.
A commuter, Jonathan Dauda, says the authorities are not in tune with the suffering of the masses. 'You can see how I am suffering to get to my destination now. This should not be so. Before policies are put into action they must be studied very well, so that the end users like us will not suffer. It is sad.'
A taxi driver who does not give his name says many of his colleagues have simply abandoned the Wuse route due to the chaotic traffic situation the new policy has engendered. 'For someone like me if you stop me and tell me to take you to Wuse I will simply zoom off. I no longer take the route. Even when it was still peaceful to pass through there 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 more reason to abandon the route,' he enthuses briefly.
FCT Minister's spokesperson, Nosike Ogbuenyi in a recent media chat however says that the policies were not meant to punish commuters, but to make the city rank amongst equals in the global terrain. He added that no worthy achievement was possible without a measure of pain.
While commuters wait with apprehension to know the final outcome of the series of meetings between the authorities and the commercial bus owners' representatives, mum appears to be the word. An assistant of the chairman, National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Nyanyan- Mararaba axis, which is one of the most affected areas says negotiations are in top gear, and thus they were not permitted to comment until the final outcome is made public.
Head of Media and Communications, of the Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company, AUMTCO, Tunde Akintola says the company has in its possession enough buses to cover all the routes. He said in a recent interaction with our reporter that they are equally opening newer routes and that they had enough buses in their possession to take care of the needs of the residents
But for 'araba' drivers like Joseph Ejedi, if the mini drivers are eventually chased off the streets of Abuja, it would be painful. "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 N5,000 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..."