“Twice, I have had to put up in a hotel for the night because I could not a ticket despite being at the Rigasa Train Station hours before the scheduled departure of the train. Many who were not traveling would get on the queue to buy tickets to sell to travellers at inflated rates”.
When some people say that Nigeria is hopeless, we get angry. We say God forbid. We are ever optimistic. Against the reality, we continue to hope that one day, things will change. We cannot contemplate the sheer bleakness of a hopeless future. We reject it. But the worst continues to happen. No signs that things will ever improve except by some divine intervention.
Take the Abuja-Kaduna rail system for instance. The route was commissioned by the Federal Government in July 2016 as the spate of kidnappings on the Abuja-Kaduna expressway mounted to a peak. Since then, the train has been everybody’s refuge against the bandits and kidnappers on the Abuja-Kaduna highway, even for ministers, lawmakers and other big people. Those highly placed people – don’t they even feel shame when they use the trains with the hoi polloi like us? Sometimes you see a top government official drive to the train in a high security motorcade. The big man takes the train to Abuja while his heavily armed convoy goes by road to pick him up at the other end.
For many years, it was such an ordeal, such agony, to obtain a ticket to travel on the train, especially from the Kaduna end. If, like me, you didn’t want to key into the racketeering or patronize the black market, you would have to go to the train station several hours before the scheduled departure time. You would queue for hours, push, jostle, and shove sometimes to obtain just a ticket to get a standing place for the 2.5 hours journey. Twice, I have had to put up in a hotel for the night because I could not a ticket despite being at the Rigasa Train Station hours before the scheduled departure of the train. Many who were not traveling would get on the queue to buy tickets to sell to travellers at inflated rates.
The black market became the norm. Most people never bothered to go and queue at the train station. They simply called touts and other crooks working at the station to obtain the tickets for them. They paid more than the stipulated price in bribes and tips. Before they officially started selling tickets, most of the tickets would have disappeared into this corrupt alternative system.
We thought that an online ticketing system would solve the problem and clamoured for it. It was a no-brainer. Eventually, it happened. A booking app and a webpage were developed for it. We praised it like a second independence from colonialism. If you did not sing and dance for the epochal event, some people would say you were an ingrate who never saw anything good in the government of the anointed and impeccable PMB.
You know, in Nigeria, you are supposed to express your gratitude to government officials for doing what they are paid to do after collecting salaries enough to pay a hundred ordinary workers, in addition to other perks, documented and undocumented. Sometimes, they are even shameless enough to name things after themselves while in office. Like the agama lizard that falls flat on its belly from a height, they waste no time in thanking themselves. Even as we welcomed the measure, some people could swear that the crooks would soon beat the system. We dismissed them as incurable pessimists and cynics.
Several months later, the prediction of the Cassandras came to pass. The booking is set up such that one cannot buy a ticket more than a day before the travel date. Especially for Monday and weekend trips, you have to stay awake till midnight and start attempting to book at the stroke of the hour. If you wait till morning, it will be too late. But I noticed that no matter how early you wake up, more than half of the tickets are usually gone. Who are the people buying the tickets? Your friends tell you that they were not able to book because all the seats had been booked when they tried. You get on the train and see several empty seats after accounting for physical distancing. Who bought the tickets? Why aren’t so many of them traveling after buying the tickets? We seem to be back to square one.
It emerges that in such situations, tickets are available on the black market. Sometimes, they are not able to sell all the tickets that they have obtained from the system. You see, the racketeers are back. The ticket black market is back to life. We are back to normal. We are back to our corrupt default.
Were the perpetrators of the old racketeering system ever found out and penalized? Will the current criminals be brought to book? Your guess is as good as mine. High government officials are corrupt. Lowly government workers are equally bad. Both thrive in an atmosphere of impunity.
I have written to the management of the Nigeria Railway Corporation using an e-mail I found on their website, but they are yet to respond to me. They need to quickly investigate and put an end to this subversion of a system that was meant to make things easier and more efficient, more transparent.
Perhaps, contracting the management to a private company might solve the problem. But if the privatization of electricity distribution is anything to go by, this might also not solve the problem. Something deep, something systemic needs to be addressed.