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Travellers worry over insecurity, others as yuletide beckons

By Chijioke Iremeka, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Maria Diamond, Chinonso Ihekire, and Itunu Oyelekan
11 December 2021   |   3:03 am
The fear of travelling at Yuletide amidst high-security challenges in the country is the beginning of wisdom for many Nigerians whose fun trips may have been threatened

The fear of travelling at Yuletide amidst high-security challenges in the country is the beginning of wisdom for many Nigerians whose fun trips may have been threatened, especially those embarking on journeys through the roads.

Travellers at at motor park

Travelling by road has become a serious source of concern for many Nigerians, especially those who may not be able to afford the highly-priced flight tickets by the airlines in the country this season.

Potential travellers who spoke to The Guardian expressed worry over Christmas trip. Though they laud the presence of police checkpoints on the roads, yet there is apprehension that the next checkpoint ahead may be that of terrorists, kidnappers or bandits.

Mr. Jonathan Ukpai, who lives in Ibafo, Ogun State, and who travels to the South East to celebrate Christmas with family and friends on yearly basis, said the tradition had been put at risk by insecurity in the country and the plan by the Federal Government to remove fuel subsidy early next year.

Ukpai’s neighbourhood is aware of his yearly trip to South East during Christmas season, but what they didn’t know is that this age-long tradition has been broken.

He said: “I have already decided that I won’t travel home this year due to the insecurity in the country, particularly in the South East. See how people are being killed and kidnapped. Even soldiers and policemen are being killed, let alone unarmed citizens.

“When I see some gory pictures of wounded or killed people in the social media, I become terribly afraid. Most roads are not safe. Some people will go and will not enjoy themselves because of the sit-at-home order in the South East and if you don’t obey, anything can happen to you.

“I just thought it’s safer to remain where you are until the security situation improves.”

He also highlighted the palpable fear of fuel subsidy being removed while one is still in the village and may find it difficult to return to the base to earn a living if a crisis erupts, following the removal of the subsidy.

“One’s children won’t be able to come back to the school and continue learning. You can imagine what the situation will be at the time. But I will greatly miss all that I enjoy when I go home for Christmas. Igbo land is actually a place to be during this season,” Ukpai said.

Corroborating him, a father of four, Tochukwu Ezeoji, who lives in Mushin, Lagos, said he was still watching if the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) would give any order capable of compromising Christmas and New Year celebrations in the South East.

He said: “I may risk going home for Christmas but my wife and children will not go. Let us not put too many lives at risk. If IPOB comes out with any order that will not allow people to enjoy themselves during the celebration, I better stay back in Lagos, but if nothing like that happens, I will join my colleagues to travel home. People are scared of being killed, kidnapped or wounded.

“Truly, it is not the best of time in the East. There is insecurity everywhere in this country. You know that in the north, it is a story of terrorists and bandits, people we can’t easily identify, killing innocent persons. But in the south east, it is a case of people who are not terrorists but turning life to hell for the people.”

Ogechi Nelson, said: “I’m supposed to travel soon and I’m still scared of embarking on that journey. I intend travelling to Port Harcourt from Ibadan, via road but I am scared. In fact, I had to cancel a wedding trip to Kaduna because of insecurity. I’m definitely scared. 

“However, in my hometown at Port Harcourt, it’s a bit secured. I feel if the government wants to actually safeguard our lives while we travel, then they would have to seriously look into the police reform.”

Another traveller, Felicity Nwaekwu, who planned to travel to Warri from Lagos, said her next trip would be to Imo State “but I don’t feel secure as I used to feel when traveling.”

“The state of the road and insecurity have become issues of serious concern. I am scared to my marrows that the next roadblock might not be that of the police, but bandits.”

In Seyi Sofodunrin’s comment, the song is similar. “I mostly don’t feel very afraid. My senses are always heightened. But to be honest, I feel afraid of being robbed whenever I pass through the Benin-Sagamu Expressway. I am travelling from Lagos to Owerri very soon, and there is always palpable fear.”

Nwaekwu is of the opinion that the government should focus on the safety of travellers during the period, wondering if the police are still effective.

“The government should resolve the insecurity crisis fair and square. They should not just face one side and leave the other regions. Police reform is very important. Most times, these police officers don’t even wear complete uniforms.”

Reassuring travellers
However, assuring travelers of their safety, a manager at Libra Motors in Iyana Ipaja, Mr. Tony Odoruyi, said the transport company would be adding new vehicles to its fleet to cater for the season, repairing existing ones, equipping staff to better manage the crowd as well as improving operational activities online to manage passengers.
“In everything we do here, we have a standard. Safety is first in our operational agenda. We are having additional 40 brand new buses, which have been cleared from Wharf and are currently being branded.
“We also ensure that we have spare drivers so that when there is a complain, we know exactly what to do,” Odoruyi said.

On safety precautions, he noted that the company has four offices on the highways that attend to any emergencies and manage activities of the buses.

“They are called the Monitoring Travellers Unit (MTU). We have one at Ishaga, one at Ajebandele, another at Benin and the last one at Asaba.
“We have two buses assigned to each station with drivers in case there is a breakdown of vehicles or the drivers have challenges. This is to ensure that the passengers that depart from a particular terminal reach their destinations without any stress. This makes it a total of eight buses on standby in case of any eventuality.”

According to him, more buses travel to the South East and back at Christmas than any other time of the year. “This is why transportation fare is usually higher because more people are traveling. Drivers are mandated to drive back empty so we don’t keep passengers waiting.”
He noted that in the wake of insecurity in the country and the company cannot afford to put a security man in a bus carrying 13 passengers, the drivers are sent for training on defensive driving.
“We train them to always be on alert in case they see any gunmen on the road. We always teach them to be alert whenever something is happening in front of them; they always have a way of knowing.

“They communicate with each other, hence you can only have one victim. The others will definitely not become victims. They communicate among themselves and with the office. 
“We also don’t allow our drivers to run at night. Once it is 8:00 pm and the bus is on a trip, we ask them to park to let the passengers rest. Most times, they stay at our MTU base where we have space for our passengers to sleep. If the passengers insist on continuing the journey, we tell them to put biro on paper so that if anything happens, they will be held solely responsible.”

Speaking on the safety of the travellers on the road, the Commander, Lagos State Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Mr. Olusegun Ogungbemide said the commission had put a number of measures in place to sustain a safe motoring environment during the Yuletide.

According to him, a survey was done to confirm the bad portions of the road network for appropriate intervention.

“We have also done effective sensitisation of members of the public on the proper use of the road. We have put in place prompt rescue operations and measures for the prompt removal of obstructions. We have also enhanced patrol activities and met with stakeholders to enhance better performance of the drivers.

“Since January, we have been enforcing the speed limit policy by apprehending commercial vehicles without speed limit devices and the operation is still on. Aside from the regular motor park rallies, the command features regularly on TV and radio.

“We have also put some jingles in the media to sensitise members of the public. We advise them not to drive when they are drunk, don’t commit speed violations, know the specified speed that you are expected to run on a particular road, remember the global safety rule that says do not go more than 30 km/hr when you are within a township or built-up area,” Ogungbemide explained.
On the issue of motorists driving under the influence of alcohol, he said: “We use a device called Breathalyzer to detect motorists driving under influence of alcohol.”
The FRSC commander, who appealed to motorists to join hands with the commission to have roads free of all crashes within this period, gave a list of safety items needed on board to include caution signs, extra tyre, fire extinguisher, mechanical tools, water, extra wiper and blades.
He advised motorists to avoid panic but just call 122 or 08077690201 for quick response in time of emergencies.