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Good or bad, Nigerians head home for Christmas, New Year celebrations


Photo: Ayodele Adeniran

By now, the popular Lagos-Benin Expressway would be experiencing major traffic, as commuters from different parts of the country, especially southeasterners, head home for Christmas holiday. Although the roads are far better, travellers still gridlocks on the way. In fact, even those that left Lagos early, will still have the Onitsha Bridge Head traffic to contend with, as it has become a yearly ritual. Gradually, the cities are getting empty, as residents leave in their large numbers to go celebrate with loved ones in their villages. By tomorrow, the impact would have been felt in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and other cities in the country. Even those who had complained of lack of finances for their traveling would have left their bases in the cities to their hometowns. From motor parks to train stations and airports, there are thousands of movements out of major cities across the country. While some are already in the villages ahead of the Christmas and New Year celebrations, others who still have other engagements in the cities will eventually travel for the New Year, even after the Christmas.

To this group, there is no better place to begin the New Year than their ancestral home, as they consider the spiritual connection. However, traveling home for Christmas usually comes with enormous challenges.

Nigerians Take More Risk Traveling, As Fuel Scarcity Bites Harder
By Tobi Awodipe
Fuel scarcity during the yuletide season has become an ugly, recurrent trend that is seemingly defying solutions. This year, the story is the same. As we speak, traveling home for many depends on whether or not they get fuel.

As a result of the scarcity of petroleum products, transport fares have increased across board and transporters seem to be cashing in on the development, as fares are increased arbitrarily on daily basis.

Badly affected are commuters traveling to the North, South-East and South-South. While some have resolved to stay back in the cities to celebrate quietly, others are determined to travel home no matter the cost and means of transport.

At the tollgate Berger end of Lagos, you will be shocked at the risk people take just to travel home. Although there is a registered motor park in the area, most passengers prefer to go with private cars, which is cheaper.

For instance, a Sagamu-bound bus from the park costs N250 per passenger, while a car costs N400. A bus going to Ibadan from the park charges N700, while a car costs N800. Towards Berger, there are so’le buses and cars going to Ibadan for N400 and N500, hence passengers abandon the bus park to stand by the roadside, to get the buses to ferry them home.

It gets more interesting further down, as passengers heading for the Eastern part of the country and Abuja, hang by the roadside, vigorously flagging down cars.

The Guardian observed that the motor park touts help in flagging down cars, arrange luggage, collect money from passengers before giving to the driver, who gives them their cut.

One of the travelers, who spoke to The Guardian, confessed that it was not the first time he was traveling home through that means.

“I usually like to leave earlier before many people start moving so as to avoid the rush, but unfortunately, this year was dull and I couldn’t gather enough money to travel on time. That is why I am going this late,” the Isele Ukwu, Delta State bound passenger, said.

The passenger, a trader at the Ladipo Spare Parts Market said: “I’m not ready to part with more than N2000 to get to my destination.”

Meanwhile, he had been to Ekeson Motors at Iyana-Ipaja where he was told that the fare was N8000. After he left there angrily, he moved to Iyare Motors, where he was told to pay N6000, at which point he felt outraged.

“How can I pay N6000 to go to Issele Ukwu? Our people are very wicked and are trying to extort us. When I heard the amount, I entered a bus to Berger to come and hustle a vehicle that will take me there.”

Asked if he was not afraid to travel by that means, he said: “It is God that keeps us. You want to tell me that something cannot happen to me if I move with all those other known names?” he asked.

As soon as a car comes closer, the travellers mob the car, fighting for a space. Francis Igbokwe, had sustained an injury during the rush. He told The Guardian he had only N1500 to travel to Onitsha.

“The transporters are exploiting us unnecessarily, forcing many of us to travel like this. It is not easy, but what can we do? I didn’t travel home last year because of money and I’m determined that I must go home this year to see my loved ones, especially my mother,” he said.

Sitting in a wheelbarrow with his luggage was Adamu Garuba, who said he was going to Abuja. It was already 4pm on that day.

“We had been hustling buses with no luck since 1pm with no luck. I’m not really afraid of robbers because I don’t have anything on me apart from my transport fare.”

However, he plans breaking his journey if he couldn’t get a direct bus, though that would cost more.

Another traveler, a woman, told The Guardian that they were ready to travel with any vehicle, even if it was a trailer.

“Sometimes, those vehicles carrying goods stop for us and we would ride with them. They don’t charge much as whatever the collect just counts as extra money for them,” she said.

Speaking with The Guardian, a transporter-Femi Jamiu lamented the rate at which travelers dropped this year.

“By this time two years ago, passengers were the ones waiting for us at the parks and when we drive in, they rush the bus, kicking and fighting. Now, it is the other way round; I have been calling passengers since morning, my voice is sore,” he said.

‘Festive Period Is Better Celebrated In the Village’
By Kemi Sokoya
For most people, Christmas is a period to be with friends and family members. However, some use the opportunity to host carnivals, weddings, funerals and end of year parties, among others.

Speaking to The Guardian, Genesis Patrick, a lawyer said, “I normally travel to Benin every yuletide period to celebrate with friends and family because during this period, you use this opportunity to see those you are not privileged to see during the year. Even though it is not convenient traveling this festive period due to fuel scarcity and bad roads.”

Manager of Agowin Transport Services, Ufoma Izeghe, said: “During the festive period, especially in Lagos, everybody wants to travel, but due to fuel scarcity, which leads to increase in fares, we have fewer number of customers traveling this year compared to previous years.

“The major issue we are facing is the dispatching of traveling buses, which increases at the park; we have to increase the money for fuel for the drivers before they commit, especially to longer distances.”

He explained that on normal days, they load four or five buses, but during this festive period, they only managed to load two buses daily.

Speaking to The Guardian, Onwa Igwe, a driver that plies Lagos to Benin-Warri- Port Harcourt route, said transporters face numerous challenges during the festive period, including fuel scarcity; disturbance from policemen at check points, Customs, road safety officials and others.

He said the road has not been free this period, which means they spend more time on a trip. For instance, for Lagos to Benin that normally takes about four hours, they spend as much as seven hours.

A spare parts dealer, Destiny Chuku, said he travels to Calabar, Cross River State during the festive period to see his parents and also witness the Calabar Carnival.

“When you travel to the village, you see a lot of things happening there. Unlike in Lagos, the festive period is always fun in the village, especially at the carnival; foreigners and musicians all over the world come to Calabar,” he stated.

A trader, Mary Emarahuvi, said she always travel during December to see her family in the East, adding that it also affords her the opportunity to be part of other celebrations.

An undergraduate, Sarafina Ayemhi, said: “I stay in Lagos but my parents are based there so every festive period I travel to Benin to meet with my family that I have not seen for one year.

“I also prefer to spend Christmas in the village because it allows me to meet with so many friends and attend the street jamz celebrations,” she said.

‘It is A Season For Family Bonding’
By Maria Diamond
A visit to Godwin Agofure Motors at Iyana-Ipaja, Lagos, Moses Iga, an indigene of Delta State, who was travelling to Sapele for the Christmas holiday said he had not seen his family in a long while.

“From October, the atmosphere and everything else changes drastically in Nigeria; even the economy becomes unstable. Prices get higher; still people have to travel during the yuletide season under a natural compulsion of love to be with family who you have not seen in about a year.

“I live in Lagos and my family is in Delta State, so I want to go see my family this season. I want to see my wife and children and then the extended family,” he said.

He added that as a retired Customs officer, who had served for 35 years, times are hard and he was back on the streets struggling to make ends meet.

“So, it’s not as if it’s convenient to pay extra fare with the 50 per cent hike in transportation due to fuel scarcity, but this is the season to visit home to see family members and friends even under fiscal strains.

Eghe Chuks, who was travelling to Benin where his family resides, said travelling for the Christmas season depends individual interest, depending on a person’s financial capacity, as it entails a lot of expenses.

“I am traveling because it’s been long I went home to see my folks; I did not travel last year. So, I have to go this year irrespective of the extra cost in transportation. I have to see my parents and siblings. There is joy that comes with Christmas and it flows within, especially when among family and loved ones.”

Also speaking, Victor Ihebom, a student of Covenant University, said he was travelling home for the holiday to see his folks in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

“But for Xmas, I would not travel for other breaks; this season is usually a big deal on family reunion and I cannot miss out.

“Christmas is a season of love and my loved ones are in Port-Harcourt, so I am hitting the road for them because I have not seen them in a long time.

“However, the transport fare is extremely high. The regular price to Port Harcourt was N5000 but now it is N7500. So it is not convenient, but I can barely help it as I really have to travel for the break because, I can not quantify the desire to spend this season with family and loved ones,” he said.

Speaking to The Guardian, Lilian Mordi, who was travelling with her daughter to Warri, said as a Christian, Christmas was a season to celebrate one’s redemption, through the birth of Jesus Christ.

“It’s a season of family reunion and that is why I am travelling, because it is a season to come together to appreciate God for all He’s done.

“For me, I don’t believe that the situation of the country, good or bad, can subject me to a state of no celebration with family and friends this season,” she said.

At Jibowu, Travellers, Transporters Lament Effect Of Fuel Scarcity
By Kelechi Okoye
At City of Miracles Transport, a driver, Tochukwu Agada, who plies the Lagos-Owerri route, told The Guardian that people were not travelling for Christmas not just because of fuel scarcity, but due to economic hardship.

“Though the fuel scarcity is part of the problem, it is not completely the problem as there is no money anywhere. Except for filling stations like NNPC, Oando, and Total, the rest are reckless with their prices; they sell at high prices.”

He observed that fuel scarcity has turned out to be a vicious circle that occurs every December and a hydra headed monster that has proven difficult to handle.

“The Government knows the people who are responsible for this; they should deal with them ones and for all and put an end to this issue that has persevered for so long a time,” he said.

A driver with Ekesons Transport Limited, Ifeanyi Madu, said the fuel scarcity was biting very hard, especially in the festive period.

“It takes at least four hours to get fuel. Sometimes, we stay on queue for as long as 14 hours. It is not as if the filling stations don’t have the product to sell; they do but for reasons best known to them, they decide to hoard it.

“What they do is that if they have eight nozzles, they open just two to service customers, thereby creating long queues, so that they will be bribed to get the product.

“Lagos is still better in terms of price control; so many states sell for as high as N180 or more per liter. In fact, they sell at any price they deem fit. That accounts for the hike in fares. The aim of every business is to make profit, and in other to do this, we just have to increase the fare to cover the cost of petroleum products and other logistics.”

A passenger travelling to Mbaise, Imo State, Chinonso Aliliani, also told The Guardian that she was travelling with her family this period because it was a special month where they could meet people they have not met in a long while, adding that travel expenses was way higher this year than it was last year.

Another passenger travelling to Abuja, Adebisi Adebiyi, said she prefers to travel in December, as that was the only period she gets to meet with family members and friends.

“The fare used to be N7500, but was increased to N9000. Whatever the cost, I just have to travel,” she said.

A staff of God is Good Motors told The Guardian that they look at the number of available passengers before increasing the fares.

“There are very few available passengers, so the cost of the bus ticket is slightly normal,” he said.

Speaking with a senior staff of Ekesons Transport, he confirmed that they do not actually have fixed fare.

“We look at the number of available travelers to determine the price. The people that joined the 1st bus may pay N7000, while the fare for the second bus may be increased to N8000 or more on the same day, depending on the rush,” he said.

Travellers Agonise Over Increasing Transport Fares
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
Travellers from one point to other parts of Imo State and beyond are not finding it easy.

Workers in the state civil service are yet to receive their November and December salaries, unlike their counterparts in Enugu, where Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi paid 13th month salary.

But all hope is not lost, as Governor Rochas Okorocha has directed through a radio announcement signed by the Commissioner for Information, Prof Nnamdi Obiareri, that necessary steps were being taken to pay the November and December salaries.

Although most residents complained about cash crunch, a visit to loading bays of the Imo Transport Company (ITC), Transport Company of Anambra State (TRACAS), Control Park, Port Harcourt and other parks at different locations in the state, indicate that not much vehicular movements were going on.

That changed since yesterday with higher institutions closing for the season.

At TRACAS Park in Owerri, John Igwe, who was travelling to Awka, told The Guardian that he was asked to pay N1, 500, instead of N1, 000, which he attributed to unofficial increase in the pump price of petrol by unscrupulous marketers from N145 to N200.

“We are paying much now. They are complaining that fuel is high now. This country is becoming harder. Why should it be so?”

Commuters bemoan the current fuel scarcity, with some lamenting that it has become a yearly challenge that Nigerians face every Yuletide season, blaming the Federal Government for its alleged failure to ease the hardship.

A corps member serving in Calabar, Chijioke Obi, who was traveling to Awka, said: “The increase in fuel price is outrageous and the Nigerian government has just added to the sufferings of the people.

“It is really annoying because I have been here since 6a.m. and because of the fuel scarcity, passengers are not coming out and it is already 9.30a.m.

“Throughout the year, we have been going through hardship and now we have to go through this before we can travel to spend the Christmas with our loved ones.”

Another traveller, who identified himself as simply Udo, added: “What we are experiencing now, I feel, is normal because it has always been like this during the festive period. There has always been fuel scarcity. What you need to do is just prepare yourself for the worst.

“You don’t expect this people to buy fuel at N200 and collect transport fare of N850 to Uyo; it is not possible, because they are not the cause of the problem.

“I hear some people blame it on the government, but if I may ask, who are the government? You and I are the government.”

Another passenger, who declined giving her name, was seen quarrelling with the driver for charging extra money for her luggage after paying N4500 to Awka.

Deby Odey, who was traveling with her family, also narrated her ordeal: “I am travelling from Calabar to Ogoja with my family to spend the Christmas. We had estimated to pay about N2000, but the first park we visited charged N2500 from the usual fare of N1800. At the time the money was ready, there was no other bus for us to travel with, so we had no option than to join another one that charged N3000.

“The fuel scarcity has really affected transport fares. We didn’t really prepare for this much difference; we were thinking it would be N100 or N200 difference.

“Before now, it was N1800 and now we are paying N3000. How are we going to enjoy the Christmas with our family back home after spending all we have on transport?”

In Plateau, It is High Fares, Few Passengers
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
Plateau, like many other states, is hit by the biting economic crunch. As at yesterday, long distance luxury buses parks, which were expected to be a beehive of activities of travellers, witnessed low activities.

Secretary of the ‘Park Clerk’ in G.U.O Motors at Gadabiu Motor Park, one of the largest in the state, Emmanuel Olawole, prayed for things to improve from tomorrow, December 24, because “Nigerians like last minute rush.”

Olawole said the level of patronage this year was very poor and uncomfortable.

The few passengers travelling to the Southeast said the transport fare from Jos to Onitsha was N5000, while those going to Abia State paid N5500 per passenger.

A corps member, Ogochukwu Favour, said she would be back to Jos, her place of primary assignment after the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Gozie, a company worker at the park, said the number of travellers this year has drastically reduced because of the high fares, as some passengers.

He disclosed that passengers were travelling on credit on the understanding that they would pay when they return to Jos.

Gozie said the management of G.U.O understands the situation and allows travellers who are credit worthy to travel, with a view to getting the money back in due course, as agreed.

“That is what the company always does to known passengers they think cannot abscond with the money. Some people can only get money for their tickets, but no money for their load.

“For example, you pay N1000 for a bag of rice, N1500 for a bag of beans and N1 000 for a bag of yams.

“Patronage this year is low in terms of people travelling, because of lack of money. Passengers say there is recession,” he concluded

At Onyema Motors Limited, which boasts of a lot of Southeast bound buses, there were very few passengers.

Frustration could be seen on the faces of officials who sat with their arms folded to their chests discussing the poor economic situation and still hoping that before Christmas day, there would be passengers.

At Tonifa Motors Nigeria Limited, there were also very few passenger, and officials were not available for comments.

At Lagos-bound Nana Transport, Samuel Henry, an official, told The Guardian that the fare last year was N9000, but was later reduced to N8000, adding that for now, passengers paid between N7000 and N7500.

He stressed that there is always fluctuation in the fares according to prevailing economic situation in the country.

Travellers Stranded At Motor Parks As Fares Spike
From Owen Akenzua, Asaba
The fuel scarcity in major towns of Delta State has left many travellers stranded at various motor parks.

The passengers, who bemoaned 300 per cent hike in fares at major motor parks in Agbor, Asaba, Ibusa, Ughelli, Okpanam and environs, were despondent, blaming the situation on leadership failure.

Rosemary Ogbu from Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, had been making attempts to travel from Asaba to no avail, as the fares have increased.

“My experience at the motor park since Tuesday had been very harrowing. Ebonyi, which used to be N2000 from Onitsha, is now N5000.

“I cannot afford the fare. Many of us slept at the motor park, as there were few vehicles and the only vehicles around increased the fares.”

As a result, most motor parks were witnessing crowds of commuters wanting to travel, even at any cost.

A leader at the Summit Motor Park in Asaba, Ebiewa, said: “We too, as park officials, are shocked. Commuters are facing hell. We don’t know what is going on.

“It is really a pity that the government has failed to adequately address the problem.”

A passenger, who identified himself simply as Chukwuemeka, said: “I have been stranded here at the motor park going to Rivers from Asaba since two days. We have been sleeping here at the park, no vehicle, the only one has increased its fare.”

An Asaba-based businessman, Osaretin Obazelu, added: “I had wanted to travel to Benin City, Edo State, but the fare had been hiked from N800 to N2500. I can’t travel bacause the situation is very bad and we want President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene.”

In Agbor and its environs, commuters were subjected to pay between N800 and N1 000 to Asaba and Onitsha, as against the usual N150 and N200.

Specifically, at the Mariere Junction of Onitsha/Asaba motor park, the situation got worse, as commuters often sustain injuries during the struggle for space in the few available vehicles, particularly those that were ready to reduce their fare to about N700.

Some of the stranded passengers lamented the situation, blaming PENGASSAN and Nation Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), whom they accused of taking undue advantage of the Christmas celebrations to enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary Nigerians.

But the state Chairman of NURTW, Ifeanyi Ossai, denied any deliberate increase in fares, saying the situation was due the celebration period, assuring that efforts were being made to ease the burden on commuters.

In Benue, Commuters Get Stranded Due To Fuel Hoarding, Hike In Fares
From Joseph Wantu, Makurdi
A few days to the Christmas and New Year, motor parks in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, have continued to witness human and vehicular traffic, as the people struggle to travel to various destinations.

The current artificial fuel scarcity has in no small measure made movement difficult for commuters, as transport fares have tripled in some cases on virtually all routes.

For instance, vehicles travelling from Makurdi to Vandeikya Council now charge as much as N2000, as against the previous N1000, while Makurdi to Zaki Biam and Adikpo now cost between N1700 and N1800, respectively.

From Makurdi to Otukpo, which used to cost between N500 to N600, now goes for N1500, just as Makurdi to Abuja and Makurdi to Jos now cost N3 800 to N4000, respectively, depending of the type of vehicle.

The situation has thrown many travellers into utter confusion.

In Makurdi, the hike in fares has been aggravated by the artificial scarcity of petrol caused by hoarding by filling stations owners, who prefer to sell to black market dealers at night.

Even commercial motorcycle operators now charge between N100 and N200 per drop, no matter how short the distance.

A passenger at one of the park, Catherine Uzer, lamented the over loading of vehicles, despite having paid higher than the normal fares.

One of the vehicle owners, Josiah Agbo, said they were charging higher to mitigate the rising cost of fueling the vehicle.

It’s A Mixed Bag For Different Classes Of Travelers
From Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu, Benin City
At the Benin Airport, passengers were seen checking in, just as some were arriving, while others were at the counters sorting out their tickets.

It was a bit of satisfaction with some of the passengers putting on smiles on their faces.

“The love of rejoining with your loved ones cannot be mistaken for something else, no matter the temptation. I want to join my family to celebrate the season,” said one of the passengers who was rushing to board her flight.

Another passenger, Godwin Obayemi, said he was travelling to Lagos to join his family, adding: “I am happy going to Lagos to join my family. I work here in Benin, but you know, as the Christmas draws nearer, it is better for one to join his family.

“As you can see, even the airport is wearing a new look. Renovations are going on and that tells you they too want travellers to feel special,” he said.

Josephine Ibukun said her only complain concerns the airfare to Benin. “Imagine paying N36000 to Benin, despite booking since November. The stress was much.

“Others were even charging more for the same journey. I just feel something can be done to enable those who want to travel during the season to do so with less stress.”

At some of the motor parks in the metropolis, a lot as passengers were also seen paying for their tickets from Benin to Lagos.

Mrs. Johnson Adeyemi said she was particularly delighted to be travelling early “before we will start hearing different stories of hike in pump price of the PMS, as the rumour making round is nothing to write home about.

“We learnt there is hike in the pump price of fuel. I am paying the same amount I paid since January this year. I want to commend the management of this company; it shows they love their passengers.

People Travel In Spite Of Economic Challenges
From Kelvin Ebiri, Port Harcourt
Despite the current state of the economy, people have started traveling out of Rivers State to see families in different destinations.

Most of the commuters told The Guardian that they are travelling mainly out of the state, because this is the only time of the year that affords them the opportunity to reunite with their families and friends.

Some explained that the Yuletide season also avails them the chance to escape the soot pollution that has threatened the health of residents of Port Harcourt, Eleme, Obio-Akpor and Ikwerre councils.

Most of the early travellers at the Abali and Waterlines motor-parks explained that they were avoiding rush and fare hike following the prevailing fuel scarcity.

Already, the surge in the number of travelers has spurred increased demand for petroleum products, as most travellers head to their destinations by road.

Maryann Okorafor explained that after spending over two days in search of petrol in Port Harcourt and its environs to no avail, she resolved to park her car at home and commute to her village for Christmas.

She lamented the exorbitant fares and traffic delays on the Port Harcourt-Enugu highway, which she feared, would worsen her fate.

The Port Harcourt Airport had not really experienced an unprecedented surge of travellers as at Thursday.

Passengers Stranded At Abuja Airport, As Flights Remain Fully Booked
From Joke Falaju, Abuja
The typical rush associated with festive seasons in the country is having a toll on the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, as passengers struggle to get flight tickets to their destinations.

It was gathered that commercial airlines operating domestic flights were fully booked between December 22 and 25. And for those who were lucky to secure seats, the airfare is as high as between N45000 and N50000 per trip.

It was learnt that only business class seats were available in most of the airlines.

Airlines, such Air Peace and Arik are already running a daily flight schedule of six round trips to various part of the country, while others, such as First Nation, Medview, Aero Contractor and Azman Air are also following suit.

An airport official, who craved anonymity, told The Guardian that the best bet for passengers willing to travel within this period was to book ahead of time to avoid the rush.

He disclosed that last year, some passengers had to travel by road because they were unable to secure seats, even when they were willing to pay as high as N60000.

The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has certified the Nigerian airspace safe for flight operations during the festive period

Also, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has assured air travellers and other airport users that airports across the country were fully prepared for the usual surge in passenger traffic that is usually the norm during the Yuletide season.

FAAN, in a statement signed by its General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Henrietta Yakubu, noted that security had been beefed up at all airports, especially the major international gateways in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano to ensure that passengers and airport users make use of facilities without any security threats.

Yakubu, however, advised passengers to get to the airports early to conclude all check-in procedures in good time to avoid the experience of missing their flights.

“This is because of the heavy passenger traffic usually experienced around this time and the ongoing construction work by the Lagos State Government on Airport Road,” she said.

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