Commercial drivers plying the Abuja – Kaduna highway on Wednesday lamented low patronage as passengers thronged the railway stations because of uncertainty occasioned by kidnapping and banditry.
Daily Trust reports that there has been a spate of kidnapping and banditry on the nearly 200 km highway in the last few days.
Abdulsalam Abubakar, a driver at Zuba garage who plies the Abuja-Kaduna highway said the low patronage started after a series of kidnappings and banditry.
He said the low patronage came at a time they were trying to come to terms with the persistent fuel price increase occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have seen more security men on the road stretching from Zuba up to Kaduna, but the passengers are not forthcoming, they are really afraid,” Abubakar said.
“It takes hours for one vehicle to get filled due to low patronage. My prayer is that relevant authorities would do the needful and assure passengers that their lives would be safe,” Abubakar said. Another driver who gave his name as Bello Murtala said he brought passengers from Kaduna after many hours at the garage.
“I took the passengers from the popular Abuja junction in Kaduna to Zuba garage, but honestly the number of passengers travelling through this road has drastically reduced.
“This is despite the fact that there is a security presence, especially at Gidan-Busa, the scene of Sunday’s incident. It is very unusual, and during the journey, nobody was talking to the other, some of them were quietly praying to arrive safely.
“We are operating at a loss now considering the hike in petrol price and low patronage; I hope things will improve soon,” he said. On his part, Ahmadu Baba said the present reality had compelled them to increase transport fares.
“I collected N5, 000 from each of the passengers I brought to Abuja from Kano. We were charging N4, 000 before for passengers that want to travel using saloon cars and N3, 500 for those that opted for buses,” he said.
“Beyond the increase is the fact that you cannot come to Abuja and go back to Kano same day because the passengers are not there; they now prefer to go to the train station,” he said.
A passenger, who gave his name as Sarki, said he had been waiting at the Zuba garage for over three hours.
“The car is supposed to take five passengers, including the driver, but as you can see, we are still hoping that two more people will join. However, once it is 3 pm, I will suspend the trip because I don’t want to take the risk of plying the Abuja- Kaduna highway through the night,” he said.
Amos Ali, a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) at Suleja in Niger State, said they are not happy.
“You can count the number of vehicles that take off to Kaduna from here these days because of anxiety and fear of the unknown…Train is the best option for passengers now even though they spend more there,” he said.
Findings by the Daily Trust revealed that passengers these days throng the Idu and Kubwa rail stations to find an alternative way of going to Kaduna.
Some passengers going to Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and states in the North East including Borno and Yobe, also followed the train to Kaduna from where they would join cars and buses to their destinations.
During a visit to the two train stations yesterday, our correspondent saw affluent people with their families waiting to go to Kaduna.
They were taken there in expensive cars and SUVs even as some of them were escorted to the station by security operatives and other aides. It was gathered that such people have a corresponding protocol waiting for them in Kaduna. There are four scheduled trips to Kaduna daily, except Wednesdays that have only two services.
“I can’t risk travelling by road,” said Monica Jasfa, a businesswoman heading to Kano.
“I can pay extra to get the ticket, and I would rather postpone the trip if I would not get it,” she said.
Shehu Adamu, an engineer, said the train is more convenient and safer. “Even when there is no insecurity, I prefer to travel by train because the road is bad. I am going to Kano, but I prefer to stopover at Kaduna, my brother is there waiting for me,” he said.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, disclosed that many passengers, especially the low-income earners, had boycotted the rail stations after the resumption of services due to the upward review of the charges.
“Many of them have come back. We have more passengers these days because every other person is ready to pay,” he said.
Another official debunked the claims that touts were using the opportunity to exploit passengers by charging more for the tickets.
“You can’t even see the touts now because we are not taking it lightly with them. You pay for the right amount and get your ticket,” he said.