By Philip Yatai
Ticket racketeering has become a booming business among the staff of Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), security personnel, and individuals at the train stations in Kaduna and Abuja, a check by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reveals.
The situation has left passengers in quandary as most ended up stranded at the two stations.
Some of the passengers told NAN in separate interviews that relevant authorities must make sweeping changes to stop revenue leakages and save passengers from the daily frustration of paying more to obtain tickets.
They said the government should introduce an electronic ticketing system to ensure transparency and accountability so as to send the ticket racketeers out of the illicit business.
A NAN correspondent who was at the Rigasa Train Station in Kaduna reports that passengers thronged the station as early as 5:00 am to get tickets for the train that departs 6:40 am for Abuja.
As other passengers arrive later for the 10:30 trip, the station becomes crowded with all manner of passengers struggling to obtain tickets that are not available.
A passenger at the Rigasa train station, Seyi Ajibade, described the development as “very unfortunate.”
“People are not usually sure they would make the trip due to the uncertainty of getting ticket”, she said.
According to her, the corruption that surrounds the ticketing system is undermining current efforts to revamp rail transportation, stressing that only electronic ticketing will solve the problem.
“I prefer traveling by train since its reintroduction, but I get frustrated anytime I come to the station to get a ticket.
“I want first-class but as always, I am told that first-class tickets have finished, even when I do not see them selling to anybody.
“Also, getting the economy class ticket is equally a tug-of-war war. Sometimes, you will have to pay two or three times the price to get it from the dealers,” Ajibade added.
Similarly, Mr Joshua Afun, also said that getting a ticket had always been a difficult task.
“Sometimes I come to the station as early as 6:00 am but will be told that the ticket had finished.
“I am avoiding traveling by road to Abuja due to the insecurity and kidnappings that made the Kaduna-Abuja expressway a death trap and den of kidnappers.
“Many of us turned to train service because it is safer, spacious, thrilling and fun, with a beautiful view of the landscape and serene vegetation.
“But getting a ticket has become a matter of who you know or the size of your pocket,” he lamented.
While on the queue, one of the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, told NAN that tickets were always scarce because it had become a booming business for the workers.
According to him, the first-class tickets are mostly not sold at the counter because they have been shared among the officials who reserve them for very important personalities who will pay higher price.
“The tickets are being given to touts to sell to desperate passengers at a higher price and remit extra N500 to the official and N200 extra for economy class tickets.
“Those involved are making as much as N20,000 to N50,000 per day,” he said.
However, the Rigasa Station Manager, Mr Aminu Ibrahim declined to comment on the allegation, saying that only the NRC Public Relations Officer was allowed to speak to the press.
Ibrahim however said that the coaches conveyed about 1,000 passengers every trip to Abuja and back.
Meanwhile, as the train departs at 10:30 am and arrive at Idu Station in Abuja at 1:30 pm, the same scenario played out, as many passengers hoping to get the 2:00 pm train to Kaduna were stranded with no ticket.
One of them, Mr Aliyu Musa, said he was at the station since 12:00 pm, joined the queue but only to be told that the ticket had finished.
“When I arrived, I saw people already on the queue and I quickly joined them hoping to get a ticket but noticed the ticketing office was locked.
“After staying on the queue for an hour and a half, a civil defence officer came and told us that the tickets had finished.
“We were all shocked because we did not see when the tickets were being sold,” he said.
Another passenger familiar with the system, however, advised Musa to go to the parking lot and get ticket, but at a higher price.
He subsequently had to pay N5,000 for the economy class.
Sharing a similar experience, Mr Steven James, said he and his friend once paid N5,000 each at Rigasa for a trip to Abuja but were not given tickets.
“We arrived at the station, but we were told that the tickets had finished.
“While we were discussing what to do, a young fellow approached us and said he will get us into the train, but we will pay N5,000 each. Because we were desperate, we obliged.
“He took us into the train and locked us in one tiny room at the last coach of the train. He opened us 30 minutes later after the person that was checking tickets had finished going round,” he said.
James said that the only way to address the ticketing issue was to sell it online.
A NAN correspondent was also approached by one of the touts, who gave his name as Eze, offering an economy ticket at N5000.
“He said he will get me in, but I will have to pay N5,000. I recalled what James told me and to confirm the story I told him I am interested but I can only afford N3,000.”
Eze explained: “I work here but N3000 is too small because I will settle about four people to get you into that train.
“I will settle the officer that is screening passengers, the officer that is signing the ticket, the one in charge of checking tickets in the train, as well as the security guard.”
However, when the NAN correspondent insisted on paying only N3,000, Eze obliged.
“After some considerations, he asked me to follow him, and as promised, he got me through all the checkpoints into the last coach of the train.
“He collected the N3,000 and asked me to enter a tiny office which apparently was the security guard’s office and asked me to wait for him to settle members of the syndicate.
“I sat there and a few minutes later, he came back and said, “I have settled them”, and showed me a little space outside the office where I stood throughout the journey to Kaduna.”