Sarah Adegbe, Tijani Sanni & Rasheeda Musa — The incessant cases of ticket racketeering at the Idu train station of the Abuja-Kaduna rail services have led to dissatisfaction among commuters. Some of the commuters lament the rising cases of touts selling tickets at exorbitant rates. Some said they now paid thrice the actual amount of the ticket in a bid to join the train.
When our reporter visited the train station more than one hour before the departure time, the official ticketing point was shut to commuters. The tickets were sold out, one of the security men at the ticketing point said.
As commuters arrived at the train station from different places, some of them from a distance of more than 10 kilometres to the city centre, with returning home not an option they would want to consider, they were left to either wait to purchase standing tickets or patronise touts.
Some of the touts disguise as luggage carriers, and as they approach commuters for their bags, they also advertise their business - selling of tickets.
When the boarding time of the train was announced, the official opened the ticketing points to commuters. It was a survival of the fittest to purchase what some later discovered to be tickets to stand in the train.
At that point, the racketeers do no hide anymore. "Do you have tickets," some of them asked commuters.
"It is standing tickets that they are selling, but I have tickets for sitting position," one of the racketeers added.
From that point, negotiations begin. Few of the commuters pay N4,000 while the not-so-lucky people pay as high as N5,000 for a ticket of N1,300.
One of the commuters who simply identified herself as Jemila said she was a regular customer at the station and had witnessed the good and the terrible days of getting a ticket.
According to her, ticketing booths are usually closed until 30 to 40 minutes to departure time before it opens to commuters and are usually sold out between five minutes after the sales began, which leaves most people to patronise the racketeers.
"They deliberately hoard tickets in order to resell them. Though I got my ticket at the counter for N1,300 today, last week when I couldn't struggle to get ticket before it finished, I got from the resellers (racketeers) at N3,500," she said.
However, an internal memo issued by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) was pasted at the ticketing unit. The memo spelt out conditions on the sale of tickets. It read in part: "Write the name on the identification card borne by every adult passenger at the back of the ticket issued to such passenger. The surname and initials should be written on the counterfoils.
"In the case of a 'minor' passenger, the name on the identity card of the adult accompanying such 'minor' should be written at the back of the ticket and the surname with initials written on the counterfoils."
This directive by the NRC to write names of passengers on the ticket was not only flouted by members of staff in charge of tickets but was totally abused, as commuters were seen purchasing tickets in high numbers without showing any means of identification.
When our reporter approached a man who had bought seven tickets at once and asked why he took such action, he simply responded, "Because I need it."
An elderly man who bought an economy ticket from racketeers at N4,000 refused to speak to Daily Trust Saturday as he simply said he did not want to ruin his relationship with the racketeer as he got to the station 10 minutes before departure.
Another commuter, Ma'aruf Kolawale, expressed disappointment with the level of dishonesty displayed by those who sell tickets at the train station.
"The train is set to leave by 2pm but I came around 12pm so that I could buy a ticket without difficulty. This is because they always say you were not able to buy tickets because you came late. However, most times they keep it and sell to people who come much later and willing to double the price," he said.
A passenger who identified himself as Mall Muhammad said he had been using the train station for a very long time and had also bought tickets from the so-called "black marketers."
"The racketeering comes from outside. People buy tickets and resell, especially when the number of people is more than the tickets available. Government should help provide more trains and coaches to help avert this situation because they have limited tickets," he said.
Another commuter, Abubakar Sadeeq said, "Although I face difficulty getting tickets, I have never patronised "black marketers." The least that can happen is for me to wait for another time when I can buy a standing ticket.
"Some people will just call from the comfort of their homes and book their tickets, then pay more. So the people who sell tickets do keep it for their contacts. Some even give them N5000 for a ticket.
"Such people are contributing to this problem because since these illegal sellers know that they will gain more by selling to them, they reserve the tickets and give to them whenever they come. By this practice they deny those who do not have money or who are not willing to pay more the opportunity to get tickets.
"As at the time I came, the tickets had been sold out. I have been waiting for the time they would sell standing tickets so that I can buy because I need to be in Kaduna today. And it is not certain that I will get because the number of people queuing to get the standing tickets is much. I know it won't get to all of us."
A woman who did not want her name mentioned also said, "I bought a ticket at N5,000 because when I came they said all the tickets had been sold. Because I understand how it works, I quickly went round and found someone who was willing to sell. I paid because I had no choice.
"This is an unfortunate situation. I urge the government to provide more trains so that people can walk into the station, buy their tickets and board the train without paying exorbitant prices."
Another passenger, Abubakar Kabir said, "I think the government should regulate the services of the workers. They should keep a thorough check on them so that they won't hide tickets and sell. It is not fair."
Officials at the train station declined comments.