When voting becomes uphill task for citizens
• Even With Subsidy, Air Fare Still High
• Surge In Passenger Traffic, As Voters Savour Promo Offers
• Stakeholders Laud Reduced Fares
Even though Wandoo Terver resides in Lagos, he is very active in local politics in his native Benue State. When time permits, he dashes down to the middle belt state to cast his vote and attend political meetings, where key decisions are taken. So it was when he endured a tortuous trip to Makurdi, the state capital in a bid to chose who represents him at the National Assembly, as well as at the Presidency, which was slated for Saturday February 16, 2019.
But he had the shock of his life when Alechenu, his younger brother roused him from sleep at 5am that Saturday to inform him that the election had been postponed by one week. It took a while before the import of what Alechenu said sank. However, since Wandoo was determined to return to Makurdi to cast his vote yesterday, he headed back to Lagos same day in order to cover lost grounds and also prepare for the next trip.
Also from Lagos State, Urenna Okafor jetted to the East to vote for his candidates in the botched presidential and National Assembly election. Okafor, who said he deliberately registered to vote in Abia State insisted on returning to Aba to help in electing a representative that would deliver on his promises.
It is for Nigerians like Terver and Okafor that a wide spectrum of platforms and organisations have displayed unprecedented goodwill by subsidising air tickets, reducing transport fares and providing free inter-state bus ride in a bid to assuage losses incurred by registered voters, who travelled to far-flung parts of the country to vote.
While announcing the deferral of the poll from Saturday February 16 to Saturday February 23, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said, “following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan and the determination to conduct free, fair and credible elections, the Commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible.”
Yakubu added: “Consequently, the Commission has decided to reschedule the Presidential and National Assembly Elections to Saturday, 23rd February 2019. Furthermore, the Governorship, State House of Assembly and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Elections is rescheduled to Saturday 9th March 2019. This will afford the Commission the opportunity to address identified challenges in order to maintain the quality of our elections. This was a difficult decision for the Commission to take, but necessary for the successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of our democracy.”
A day after the cancellation, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) was reported to have directed its members nationwide to reduce petroleum pump price from N145 per litre to N140. National President of IPMAN, Chinedu Okworonkwo, in a statement released last Sunday said, “IPMAN was prompted to slash N5 from the N145 per litre official Petroleum pump price in a bid to motivate Nigerians to return to vote again on February 23,” the statement read.
“We urge all our members across Nigeria to immediately reduce the fuel pump price from N145 per litre to N140 per litre. This is because of the political situation that hit the country after INEC suddenly announced the postponement of presidential and National Assembly elections after Nigerians were fully prepared.”According to the statement, which was signed by Bashir Dan-Malam, chairman of the association’s Kano chapter, the price slash would be in force between February 20 and Monday February 25.
But this was later denied by factions in IPMAN. Field reports also also showed that the IPMAN directive was not adhered to at filing stations across the country.But two Nigerian carriers, Aero Contractors and Arik Air introduced promo fares to help registered voters who wish to travel to actualise their dreams.
The airlines made the announcement in separate statements issued by their spokespersons on Monday, in Lagos, where they cut their fares by about 50 per cent.According to the spokesperson for Aero Contractors, Mr. Chika Ubendu, the airline embarked on the promo as its own contribution to support the conduct of successful general elections and also to encourage the citizens to travel to where they can cast their votes.
“Effective February 18, Aero would begin sale of tickets from N16, 000 for travels between February 21 and February 25 on all her routes to encourage Nigerians to travel to their various destinations in order to cast their votes,” Ubendu said. Arik Air’s spokesperson, Mr. Adebanji Ola said the N16, 000 Fly to Vote promo was in place to ameliorate the effect of the postponement on the traveling public and encourage voter participation.
“The N16, 000 promotional fare is the one-way ticket cost to any domestic destination on Arik Air’s network and customers must present a valid Permanent Voter Card (PVC) at the point of purchase and at check in to be eligible to fly.“The Fly to Vote Promotion is available for sale from Feb. 18 till March 11 for travel between Feb. 21 and Feb. 26 as well as March 7 till March 12.
As part of its corporate social responsibility, the management of ABC Transport Plc, a road transport and logistics company equally announced subsidised fares for passengers travelling on its Sprinter and Executive Express Coach services nationwide,
for the purpose of elections.
This subsidised fare, it said applies for travels between February 22 and 25, and aimed at encouraging and assisting Nigerian citizens who would need to travel in order to participate in the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections.In an attempt to contribute its quota to a successful general elections, Travelstart, a Nigerian online travel agency, also declared that its customers would enjoy a 25 per cent discount on all local flights between February 19 and December 31, 2019.Themed, “Based on Logistics,” the agency said it is looking to ease the financial burden of travel due to the postponement of the general elections.
Speaking about the campaign, Commercial Manager, Travelstart Nigeria, Bukky Akomolafe while shedding light on the promo said: “At Travelstart, we empathise with our customers and the financial burden that the additional travel expenses may have.“We care very much about their welfare, which is why we have put together this campaign, especially at such crucial time. We are also extending our working hours on Friday to enable us treat all incoming customer requests.”
PASSENGER traffic at the nation’s busiest airport, the Murtala Mohammed Airport surged at the weekend as some passengers took advantage of the promo offers of the two airlines to travel for election purposes.The Guardian, last Thursday, observed a fair turnout of passengers at both the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) and the Murtala Muhammed II (MM2) terminals in Lagos. Both passengers and travel agents requested for Fly to Vote promo, with some displaying their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) to confirm eligibility.Among routes that registered voters patronised most were Abuja, Benin, Kano, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Warri, Kaduna, Asaba, Uyo and Sokoto.
Arik Air spokesperson, Ola, described the patronage as “encouraging” across all routes, with prospective passengers buying online and at the booking stands.He stated that the comparative traffic boost was already obvious, even though it would take a while to properly measure the differentials.
Publicity Secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Yinka Ladipo, said it was a good development to see affected airlines slash their fares to support the government and people alike.“A lot of people travelled last week for the purpose of the election. Good money and time were lost due to the shift. So, the rebate brought a lot of relief for most of them. It would have been really great if all airlines bought in,” Ladipo said.He added that though both Arik and Aero Contractors were financially struggling and under the acquisition of the Federal Government, the promo offers was still in their best interest.
Ola further explained that airlines were better off with maximum load factor at about N20, 000 per seat than less than half capacity at about N40, 000 per head.“This is because, if you look at it, it is still the same operational cost that is incurred for both half and full load capacities. But at rebate rate, airlines gain more and even attract new passengers to have a taste of their services,” he said.
Aviation Security Consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) reckoned with the initiative, “if only it would increase their load factor considerably more than their daily average.”Going forward, Ojikutu advised airlines to consider low-fare flights to certain airports at night, especially to Abuja, Enugu, Owerri, Port Harcourt, among others, in order to compete with the “luxurious” buses the way Valaris of Mexico does with 40 per cent difference in fares.
“If this is done, without served refreshments with attendant reduction in cabin crew, it can reduce the operating cost by about 10 per cent. The airlines may see the wisdom of continuing with this experience or experiment after the elections.” THE voting public in Rivers State received the news of the subsidised fares with mixed feelings. Passenger traffic from Port Harcourt (International Airport) to Abuja on Thursday morning was normal.
A traveller who identified himself as Bassey Kennedy, told The Guardian that he does believe that reason for the reduction was altruistic, rather the airlines were just out to increase their passenger traffic.“I paid N25, 500 for Arik Air ticket, which is almost their normal normal one-way fare. One would have considered the motive altruistic if the airlines had slashed airfares to about N5, 000 from Abuja to Port Harcourt and from Port Harcourt to Abuja beginning from Tuesday to Friday. A lot more people would have travelled if there was a drastic reduction. But for now, I don’t think the reduction encouraged many people to be on the move” he said.
Another air traveller, a staff member of a multinational oil firm who pleaded anonymity said she decided to travel to Kaduna State where she registered to vote, not because of any reduction in airfare, but because she felt it was obligatory for her to make her voice heard through the ballot.
According to her, no amount of sacrifice was too much for one to pay to stem Nigeria’s drift.
“It is not financially convenient to have travelled last week for the elections only for it be postponed abruptly. The ticket fare is not really cheap as we were meant to believe. I had personally resolved that whatever it costs me, I would make my vote count. I consider it an obligation to vote in this election and that is why I have taken the pains to travel once again to Kaduna via Abuja to vote. I have to make a difference and that is why I am travelling. If the airlines were sincere that they wanted to encourage people to travel and vote, the fare should not have exceeded N10, 000,” she said.
The failure of petroleum marketers to reduce the pump price of premium motor spirit and diesel is apparently the reason why commercial buses and taxi cab operators declined to reduce transport fares for passengers traveling within Rivers State and outside.Mrs. Bethel Douglas reckoned that if government actually wanted to encourage people to travel to their constituencies to vote, it should have provided mass transit buses in all major parks in Port Harcourt and Obio-Akpor local council Areas of Rivers State where the highest concentration of persons in the state is.
Mrs Douglas explained that in view of the much-talked about reduction in fares, she had anticipated that the journey from Port Harcourt to Buguma, her home town in Asara Toru Local Council would have been reduced from N500 to about N300.“I arrived Abali Park on Thursday hoping to get a bus to Buguma for about N300 instead of the usual N500. To my amazement, the fare was still the same. I suspect the government merely wanted to make people feel good after last week’s disappointment. I decided to travel because I consider this election crucial for the sake of our state. It is not a pleasant experience to travel again, but, this is the price we have to pay for democracy to be consolidated in our state and the country,” she said.
A university undergraduate, Nancy Osi, told The Guardian that her decision to travel from Port Harcourt to Omoku for the election was to avail herself of the opportunity to express her disenchantment with the state of affairs in the country.“As a first-time voter, I am not bothered about the cost of transportation because I need to express my dismay about the state of affairs in this country. I am not happy about the way things are and the only legitimate means of effecting a change or making a difference is to vote. Even if the fare is increased by 100 per cent, I would have still made the trip because it’s a civic obligation,” she said.
George Ugwu, a medical doctor left his base in Kogi State on February 15, for his village in Nsukka, Enugu State for the botched presidential and National Assembly elections on February 16. Since the elections were postponed less than six hours to commencement, Ugwu, is back in Enugu, where he told The Guardian that no amount of sacrifice was too much to pay in order to salvage the nation’s democracy.
Asked if he was in anyway encouraged to return to cast his vote, Ugwu, who registered at his Imiliki Village in Nsukka said: “I obtained permission from work at the Kogi State Teaching Hospital to come home and register. I did so irrespective of the fact that there were registration points even in the hospital. I wanted to vote in my community and was determined to do so no matter what it will cost me.
“I have my car and I travelled down to Enugu with it. So, the palliatives by these companies have nothing to do with me. Besides, there is no direct flight from Kogi to Enugu State. I don’t also know whether ABC Transport has a terminal in Kogi State. However, whether there is free transport or reduction in fares does not matter to me. All I wanted to perform was my civic obligation. Leaving my place of work to register in my village means that I was prepared for any eventuality.”
That notwithstanding, he described the offers by affected transport companies and airlines as “encouraging, adding that “if every Nigerian has come to a level where he or she understands that there is need for sacrifice to keep the country going, then we won’t have problems. We are in this situation because, everyone wants his own; people are not prepared to give their best. It is our duty to assist INEC to conduct the election and not looking at government for everything or looking at anybody to reward you.
“When I traveled the upper week, I gave people lift free of charge from Kogi State because I knew some of them were coming to vote. They didn’t need to pay me because they were going the same direction with me. This is what it takes to build a nation.”Like Ugwu, Mrs. Jane Nnaji, returned to Enugu on Thursday evening from Lagos in order to cast her vote in her Akpugo community in Nkanu West Local Council, said she heard about the palliatives, “but I didn’t want to rely on them in order to avoid disappointments. That was the reason why I went straight to AutoStar, paid my fare, and got into the state in good time since I had made up my mind to vote in this election, come what may.”
Commenting on those that took advantage of the rebate granted by some airlines to travel down to cast their votes, she said “it was really encouraging and showed the willingness of the people to support the country’s fledgling democracy. Personally, after voting, I will at least travel back to Lagos with one of those transport firms that are giving palliatives as my dividend of democracy.”She expressed happiness that “the pains we passed through upper week when the election was postponed did not diminish the willingness of many to participate in the electoral process. This is something done once in four years and if we don’t make good use of the opportunity now, we will need to wait for another four years. This is probably why the enthusiasm has refused to die down, in spite of the shift. The people were prepared to take their destiny in their hands. This is what this election has demonstrated.”FOR John Effiong, a Cross River State-born businessman no amount of palliatives could cause him to make a return journey because he had scheduled a major engagement for February 23.
“Incidentally, I patronised ABC Transport upper week when I travelled to vote in Cross River State, and everyone paid the normal fare. After the polls cancellation, I spent three days in my community, knowing that that I won’t be going back because of personal engagements. All the same, it was encouraging to see that some people were able to embark on the trip again. Even though I could not make it, I encouraged my people to use the opportunity to cast their votes and a lot of them have done that by the grace of God,” he said.
He, however, pleaded that such palliative be made available during the governorship and state House of Assembly elections in March, explaining that many Nigerians would be interested “in who their leaders at states would be.”WITH Kano State being home to the second highest number of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) holders, it appears a greater majority of them are resident in the ancient city, as they may not have taken advantage of the palliatives put forward by different platforms to ease travel expense. Activities at some motor parks visited in some parts of the state on Friday, lay credence to this, as they were devoid of large number of travellers.
A visit to the popular Unguwa Uku Motor Park along Zaria Road, showed that passenger traffic was low, despite the reduction. At Konar Dangora Motor Park and the Luxury Bus Park on New Road in Sabon Gari, the situation remained the same. Johnson Emmanuel, a passenger, who spoke with The Guardian at New Road Park said there was no such thing as reduced fare.“I am embarking on a business trip to Lagos and not because of any election. In fact, I don’t know of any reduction in transport fare because everyone paid the usual fare. However, the number of people that travelled for the election that was postponed was noticeable,” he said.
Another passenger, who identified herself as Alhaja Amina, said that she was on a private trip to Abuja, and not election-related. “Election will meet me in Abuja but I’m not going to vote there. I will be back next week but my trip is not because of election.”
Meanwhile, transport fares and price of fuel per litre in Kano did not reflect any compliance with the NURTW and IPMAN directives. At A.A Rano filing station along Sharada road, price of liter still remain at N143.When The Guardian visited some transport companies in Abuja, including ABC Transport, God Is Good Motors, GUO and Chisco Motors, low passenger traffic was noticeable, just as they all confirmed the low passengers turnout.
TRAFFIC within Abuja metropolis remained light as has been the case since work resumed on Monday.An official of the ABC Transport who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorized, expressed pessimism that the company’s 30 per cent slash in fares would have any meaningful impact on passenger traffic.He lamented that since the election was postponed on Saturday February 16, “passenger traffic has been low. In fact, the number of passengers that travelled before election was quite high, but the singular act of election cancellation slowed down a lot of things for us. As matters stand, things may pick up again after election.”
An official of Chisco Transport, who also spoke to The Guardian equally lamented that many who travelled the previous week, especially those who are self-employed decided to stay back for yesterday’s polls considering the danger and cost of retuning to Abuja and going back after four or five days. She added: “Many of those that returned when the polls were postponed may not be in the right frame of mind to make another trip, especially if they are not self-employed. Are there going to apply for another casual leave or what?
The official added: “In addition to this, with all what is going on within the country, some persons were still skeptical that the polls may again be postponed.”At the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport Abuja, the situation was not different on Friday as there was lull in passenger movement. An airport official said, “you can see for yourself that what we have here is lower than the usual passenger traffic that this airport should witness on a day like this.
“Many people had travelled and are yet to return, so what we are witnessing now is very low passenger traffic.”Inquiries at the counter of Aero Contractors revealed that the slash in airfares took off on Monday and would last till after election. Dabur Usman, a passenger, however, told The Guardian that the freebies notwithstanding, Nigerians had made up their mind on who to vote for.
Usman maintained that even if there was a 50 per cent cut in air fares the passenger traffic would not have increased because most airport users, especially politicians, businessmen, especially government contractors, among others had already travelled to their states of origin, where they remained to canvass votes for their candidates and parties.”Prior to the rescheduled election, the Abuja-Kaduna railway line witnessed a surge in passenger traffic as the station manager, Pascal Nnoli disclosed that three days before the botched polls, passenger traffic had shot up. He said instead of the usual 3, 500 passengers they route services daily, the figure shot up to 4, 000 passengers. But on a visit to the Idu-Kaduna Train Station on Friday, the reverse was the case as there was also a lull in passenger movement at the station.
THE reduced transport fares did not have any substancial impact on the turnout of passengers at major motor parks in Owerri, Imo State, on Friday. At the ABC Transport, Ama JK, Okigwe Park, Peace Mass Transit, Imo State Transport Company (ITC), and the Sam Mbakwe Airport, the situation was the same. In fact, The Guardian reliably gathered from mostly drivers and passengers that there was a significant difference between passenger turn out of Friday February 15 and Friday February 22.
According to Mr. Uchenna Umunna, a driver at Okigwe Park, on Friday February 15, the number of passengers that besieged the park was so much that all vehicles on ground got filled and some drivers even deployed their private vehicles. “I have been in this park for the past 10 years. So I witnessed the 2011 and 2015 general elections, and I can tell you that there was no such high number of passengers as we had on Friday February 15. Many of them, I believe were traveling for the election. “We had so much passengers that almost all the cars in this park got finished and some of us drivers had to go and get our own private buses and cars, especially Toyota Sienna to take advantage of the situation.”
On whether passengers were taking advantage of the rebates to return to their communities to vote, he said, “as you can see, we have no such crowd today (Friday). It is like a normal day in the park. I don’t really know the reason, maybe many people are not traveling again for the election just like they did the last time.” On the effect of the subsidised fuel price, Umunna said, “ I don’t know of that one. I am only hearing of it for the first time from you. We still buy fuel at N145. Even I heard that some filling stations sold higher than that last week and may also do the same this weekend. So, nothing changed.”
The Station Manager of ABC Transport, Owerri Terminal, Mr. Chike Emma Nwanju confirmed the slash in the fare for long distance trips, such as Owerri to Lagos and Abuja. According to him, the fare for long luxurious bus from Owerri to Lagos was slashed from N7, 100 to N5, 350, while that of Hummer bus was slashed from N6, 500 to N4, 880.
In the same vein, from Owerri to Abuja (with luxurious bus) was slashed from N8, 100 to N6, 000, and the trip with Hummer bus was slashed from N7, 500 to N5, 650. Nwanju, said that despite the slash, the number of passengers at the terminal within the week was still below expectation. “All I can tell you is that the number is not up to what we expected, even with the slash. In all, it is below average, but we still hope for a better turnout till Monday.” Nwanju said. Evaristus Osuagwu, an ITC passenger told The Guardian that he was determined to vote in his village whether the transport fare was reduced or not.According to him, even if the fuel was given free, Nigerian drivers would always cash in on any given opportunity to make fast money from the passengers. “I am aware that of the major transport firms, it is only ABC Transport that announced the incentives that it would offer.
May be a few other organised outfits did, but at public motor parks like this one, some of them left the park to come out to the road to load and they are charging the passengers exorbitant fares. “Last week when I arrived the park, I was told that there were no Okigwe-bound vehicles on ground again. So, I stepped out to the road and got one for N1, 000 as against the N500, which is the usual fare.”
Osuagwu regretted that the disappointment of the February 16 botched election was highly responsible for the observable low turnout of travellers in in some areas.
Insisting that a lot of people are discouraged to travel again for the election after going through all the stress and spending heavily as well, he added, “I, for instance, spent not less than N50, 000 on my last travel for the election. Aside the transport fare, I had to buy things for my people at home and entertain some with drinks and all that.
“So, it is not everybody that travelled last time that may have the money to travel again. And this is where concerned government and public-spirited spirited individuals would have assisted in providing vehicles to convey people,” he said.At the Sam Mbakwe Airport, a staff, Anthonia Okoro admitted that it was a busy week at the airport as many passengers were flying in, but could not tell what percentage of them were for the polls.