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Transporters bemoan unusual Christmas downturn, insecurity

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A bus loading at Jibowu park yesterday. PHOTO: OGECHI EZE


Transporters have bemoaned low business activities as COVID-19 restrictions, poor purchasing power and economic recession have affected movement of Nigerians for yuletide celebration, just as insecurity endangers lives of passengers and drivers.
 
2020 is the COVID-19 year and as the pandemic has disrupted the world since March, Christmas and new year celebration will not be different in the light of a second wave of the virus.
 
As Nigerians countdown to Christmas in hours, citizens have been urged to adhere to the recommended measures by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
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Among these measures are avoiding all non-essential travel within and outside Nigeria to reduce the risk of transmission, avoiding mass gathering or hold them outdoors with physical distancing, compulsory use of facemasks and provision of hand washing facilities or hand sanitizer in homes and business places.
 
On Tuesday, the government launched a new awareness campaign titled: ‘Celebrate responsibly and save lives’ in response to the alarming increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases lately.
 
But despite the commercials, Nigerians are carrying on in a ‘business as usual’ manner with little adherence to the safety protocols. While monitoring the activities of different transport companies and their level of compliance to the protocols this week at several bus terminals, The Guardian saw a total negligence and boycott of the safety rules at the parks.
 
At Chisco bus terminal at Jibowu, the buses were filled with passengers, seated three on a row, the normal arrangement, which is in contradiction to the physical distancing rule. Also, passengers were not obliged to put on their nose masks.
 
A mini luxury heading to Owerri and Aba at the rate of N14,000 from the same terminal, also had few passengers using their nose masks, with most of them having the masks on their jaws, while a good number of passengers and terminal workers had no facemask on them. The premises of the park also had no hand washing spots.
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The situation was the same at other parks visited, which include: GUO Transport Company, Jibowu; Libra Motors at Okota Park; and God is Good Motors at Cele terminal.
 
Despite the low turnout of passengers, transport companies say they are caught between hiking the fare beyond the reach of few travellers and running at a loss.
 
The Public Relations Manager of the Young Shall Grow Motors at Ojuelegba branch, Mr. White Ibekwe, said: “Unlike previous years, we have not had up to 10 travellers today and as at 8:20a.m. no bus has left from this park. By this time last year, about five buses had left for the east and minimum of four buses to other destinations.”
 
He noted that besides the low turnout, their drivers encounter irrational stops at military/police checkpoints on the road, which delay their arrival time.
 
At the Peace Mass Transit yesterday, one of the staff, who pleaded anonymity, stated that they had encountered low turnout of travellers compared to other years.
 
“Last year, about 20 to 25 buses leave daily around this period to various destinations. However, this year, barely five buses have left from Ojuelegba Park,” he said.
 
The manager of Chisco Transport at Jibowu Park, Mr Gabriel Bamidele, said: “Apart from the low turnout even with reduced transport fare, another challenge we face is insecurity. Just last week, one of our drivers was kidnapped and a huge some of N20 million was demanded from us. We were able to pay N3 million before he was released. The soldiers/police at the various checkpoints are only interested in collecting money from drivers. They all run away when duty calls.”
 
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