Twenty-four hours to Christmas, many Nigerians have been unable to travel to different destinations due to astronomical rise in bus fares, acute petrol and aviation fuel scarcity, rising insecurity and declining household income.
Usually in this period, many citizens travel to different parts of the country to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. While some return to their ancestral homes to reunite with their kith and kin, others take breaks from their regular schedules to visit tourist destinations.
However, the situation this year has left many unable to embark on such fancy journeys, while those who have travelled or are planning to do so are complaining of high fares and raising fears about their safety.
Saturday PUNCH reports that road transport operators have significantly increased the fares to different destinations across the country and this has left many intending passengers stranded, while others have simply abandoned plans to travel.
The transport operators blamed the current biting fuel scarcity, bad roads, rising costs of operations and vehicle maintenance and insecurity on the routes as the major causes of the fare hike.
There have been similar increases in train fares, while air fares have also risen significantly due to a combination of factors, including high cost of operations, multiple levies, rising price of aviation fuel and operational hitches.
Saturday PUNCH observed usual passenger traffic at motor parks in the Ojota area of Lagos State on Wednesday and a slight increase on Friday.
Many of the travellers, who spoke to one of our correspondents, lamented the high fares compared to some months earlier and last year.
While some stated that insecurity in the country would not stop them from travelling, others noted that incidences of kidnapping and armed robbery had reduced a bit in the last one year.
When one of our correspondents visited the Agofure Motors’ lounge at Ojota, many of the seats were not filled up as the usual Yuletide rush by commuters going to Port Harcourt, Yenagoa, Warri/Ughelli, Sapele, Benin and Abraka was not so pronounced.
A traveller, Solomon Ego, attributed the low turn of travellers to the high bus fares instead of insecurity in the country.
He said, “The bus fares were far lower last year. Apart from the fact that transport operators like to increase fares a bit, this year’s fare issue is also compounded by fuel scarcity.
“For me, I only hear about insecurity and attacks in the news. I think insecurity has reduced a bit compared to some months ago.
“My mum travelled to Ugheli last year and the fare was around N7,000, now that my wife is going to Ughelli, it is N13,000, and she is going with our children.”
Although Ego said many would still travel, the rising fares had frustrated the plans of many to go home this Christmas.
Another traveller, Mrs Judith Lucky, lamented that apart from the high bus fares, dispatching goods for commercial purposes or as presents to loved ones through commercial buses had become very expensive.
She stated, “I came from Delta to Lagos in April and I paid N9,000. Now, I am going back to Delta State and paying N12,500 for a bus ride, so you can imagine if it was a Sienna, it would definitely be more expensive. It will be over N17,000.”
“The fares have really reduced the number of people travelling home. One of my Igbo friends who is supposed to go to Imo State, said the bus fare from Lagos is now N30,000.”
At the Federal Government Special Mass Transit at Ojota, a traveller, Segun Koleoshun, who boarded the only available bus with his family members, said many people might not visit the villages as they used to do during the Yuletide.
He said, “The fares have skyrocketed compared to two years ago. On December 27, 2020, I paid N8,500 for a trip to Port Harcourt, but going there now, I am paying N15,500, while other commercial bus operators are charging N17,500.
“This is a festive period when people are supposed to travel from Lagos to their hometowns. If I should compare that of the previous year with this year, it seems that people are not travelling much compared to other years, probably because of the rise in bus fares.
“Here will normally be flooded with intending travellers at this time of the year as buses would be moving in and out, and even the roads would be so busy, but this time, it seems as if nothing is happening.”
At the De Modern Bus Enterprise terminal on Oregun Road, Ojota, a civil servant, Tinubu Olaitan, noted that the human traffic usually recorded during the Yuletide had not been visible.
She said, “I travelled to Benin earlier this year and the fare was N5,500, but getting here now it is N8,300; it is unexpected and not fair at all.
“The economy has affected everything, including people travelling. Like me, if this trip is not important, I won’t think of going because the expense is not something you can toy with.”
It was gathered at the Jibowu park in Lagos that the bus fare to Port Harcourt and different cities in the South-East such as Owerri, Umuahia and Aba had risen to between N20,000 and N24,000 from around N13,000 a few months ago.
A cashier at the counter of one of the transport firms explained that the fare hike was due to fuel scarcity and increase in pump price of petrol and diesel.
Transport companies and commuters travelling to the eastern part of the country for the Christmas and New Year celebrations lamented that the poor state of the economy, fuel scarcity and insecurity were significant setbacks this year.
A booking officer at a transport firm in Jibowu, Gloria Anene, said passengers travelling from Lagos to Aba and Port Harcourt had to part with N15,600 and N19,000, respectively.
She stated, “People are not turning out like the previous year. We had a major turn-up last year, but this year is somehow hard. We run our services from Lagos to Aba and Port Harcourt. Currently, we charge people N15,600 for travelling from Lagos to Aba on a Coaster bus and N19,000 for Port Harcourt. Last year, Port Harcourt was N15,000, while Aba was just N12,000.
“Last year was better in terms of passenger turnout. This year is quite slow because before a vehicle gets filled up, it takes like 8am or 9am unlike last year when the second bus would already have been filled up. There is not much complaint from our drivers about the roads and there is not much insecurity too. We only have them occasionally apart from robbery attacks. Everybody knows that Nigeria does not have good roads so Port Harcourt, Aba and Abuja roads are bad.”
A driver, Ugochukwu Ugonanya, who plies the Lagos-Enugu route, said the fare, which was around N15,000 in 2021, had jumped to N20,500.
He said, “Fuel scarcity is the number one problem and has made the drivers to increase the fares; if the cost of buying fuel goes down, the fares will come down as well.
“They (passengers) are not turning out well for now. We don’t have many passengers like we used to in the past years. Maybe as the day goes by, things might change, but for now, we have a low turnout, and I don’t think it is everybody who will have the capacity to pay the fares to travel. Some people are postponing their travels until the festive season is over because of the fares.”
A traveller to Umuahia in Abia State, Stanley Okezie, expressed disappointment about the fare increase, noting the situation was better last year compared to now.