There was heavy human traffic at Lagos and Abuja train stations on Thursday following the Federal Government’s announcement of free rides for passengers as part of the Yuletide celebration.

In addition to the free train rides, President Bola Tinubu, also approved a 50 per cent discount for inter-state road travel, effective from December 21 to January 4, 2024.

Also, two inter-state transport companies slashed their fares as part of the agreement with the government.

Our correspondents, who were at the Mobolaji Johnson, Lagos, and Abuja stations, confirmed that a train, designed to accommodate 648 passengers, recorded a surplus leading to some individuals standing without seats.

While standing passengers are not a regular occurrence at the station, the surge, attributed to heightened traffic, prompted this unusual situation.

Officials at the station informed The PUNCH that a similar situation is being anticipated during Friday’s (today’s) commute.

The train service connecting Lagos to Abeokuta and Ibadan runs twice daily, departing at 8 am and 4 pm while commuters heading for Kajola could board the evening service train which departs at 6:30 pm.

“Not all the passengers who successfully booked tickets online were able to board the train to Ibadan and Abeokuta. Some couldn’t enter the train because the crowd was too much,” a ticketing officer informed The PUNCH.

The officer added, “The crowd today was massive, with expectations of even more passengers tomorrow, given the free service. No payment is required; passengers only need to book online. For those going to Kajola, they were given a ticket here.”

Before President Tinubu’s announcement, train fares from Lagos to Ibadan previously cost N3,600 for economy class; N6,500 for business class; and N9,000 for first class.

A security officer said some passengers who arrived as early as 7am faced the challenge of the overwhelming crowd.

“For those planning to travel tomorrow (today), it is advised to arrive early, ideally by 6:30 am, to cope with the anticipated large number of people,” he advised some passengers who missed the train.

Another ticketing officer told our correspondent, “If you try to book the ticket now, I am not sure it will be successful because of the huge traffic. The 8am ticket tomorrow must have been all booked by now.”

Officials confirmed that the e-ticketing platform recorded glitches due to high levels of traffic, which prevented many passengers from booking tickets.

Disgruntled passengers who failed to book tickets online left the train station disappointed, some swearing never to return.

Kudirat, who was unable to book a ticket stated, “I have been here since noon, and the stress I’ve gone through today with my baby is too much.”

Another passenger said, “I have been here for hours trying to see if I can book online but I haven’t been able to do that. They said it’s free but it’s becoming difficult to book the ticket.

“It makes me wonder how these other passengers were able to book their tickets. I will keep trying and see if I will be able to do it,” he added.

The e-ticketing platform created by the Nigeria Railway Corporation kicked off in November and customers who tried to book their tickets online at the time complained of glitches.

A station source alleged that the IT department’s manipulations rendered the platform inaccessible.

The source said, “I am beginning to suspect these guys in charge of the backend. It’s like some of them changed the password. It seems they are just booking these tickets for themselves.

“We know how these works but I won’t say much until tomorrow. All the people here have not been able to book any tickets. They have been trying it but to no avail,” he claimed.

At the time of compiling this report, numerous passengers bound for Kajola gathered at the station, anticipating the departure of another train scheduled for 6:15 pm.

Commuters affirmed that they were generously provided with free tickets for their journey.

A 60-year-old woman expressed her gratitude, stating, “Before today, passengers paid N1,600 to Kajola, but it’s free now. I didn’t even need to book; upon arriving, I walked into the ticketing hall, and the attendant handed me this ticket.

“I appreciate the government’s effort in this regard; it will certainly alleviate financial burdens.”

Around 6:45 pm, another train arrived from Abeokuta, transporting a significant number of passengers.

A university student, confirming to our correspondent, mentioned booking her ticket online without any charge.

A commuter on the Lagos-Ibadan train, Lawrence Irorosuayire, said “The directive is being upheld here. There are quite a lot of persons transiting from Ibadan to Lagos. So I asked the officials when I got here and they said yeah, it’s free. I haven’t seen this kind of population before. Even when I initially traveled into Ibadan from Lagos, last week, it wasnt this full. It isn’t usually as full as this”

In an interview with The PUNCH, Victor Adamu, the Operations Manager at NRC, stated that the fare subsidy would not affect the frequency of daily train rides.

He said, “For now, we are maintaining the same number of trips which is four trips. Two up, two down with the exception of Wednesdays which is one up, one down on Wednesday”.

‘’The only set  of people who didn’t get to travel were pockets of people who came to the station and did not get the information rightly about getting their tickets online.’’

Meanwhile, two transport companies, Chisco Transport and God Is Good Motors, have begun implementation of the transport fare slash.

 A GIG staffer said, “We started the implementation today. Our Abuja fare is now N25,000 instead of the N50,000 it used to be until yesterday. What we do is that, when you book, you pay the normal fare.

‘’You drop your account number, into which we refund 50 per cent of the amount paid. The refund will be paid on the day of your trip. That is, if you book for Friday’s journey on Thursday, your discount will be paid on Friday.”

 Asked if the Federal Government had paid the discount to GIG, he replied, “I don’t know. I’m only following instructions,” accusing the reporter of being too inquisitive.

 At Chisco, officials said they got instruction from their head office to slash the transport fare by 50 per cent to all routes.

 “Abuja is now N25,000. Port Harcourt and anywhere in the East is now N27,000. We started today and it will last till January 4,” the officials explained.

However, the Young Shall Grow and God Bless Ezentawa, have yet to implement the transport subsidy.

In a post on X on Thursday, Onanuga named GIG (God is Good), Chisco Transport, Young Shall Grow, God Bless Ezenwata, and Area Motor as part of the transport companies involved in the fare subsidy.

Some of the workers who spoke with The PUNCH on Thursday stated that no government representative had visited them to engage in any kind of discussion and that the cost of fuel and their vehicles was too high to yield to the subsidy plan.

‘Not implemented’

A driver in the Young Shall Grow identified as Cjay said the company has yet to reduce its fare.

He said “I do not think anyone has started this. We got our vehicle for N65m and the other one for N30m. We collected N30,000 from Owerri and Onitsha. The government is not the one buying fuel for us, so there is no way we can do that. If you speak to our general manager, he will not respond because we have not started.”

A ticketing officer in the company who identified herself as Joy claimed that their competitors’ rates were exorbitant in comparison to theirs and that their travel fare was the lowest.

Joy said, “I have been going round this morning. I have been to Chisco and they charge N55,000 per trip to Onitsha. The government officials have not come here at all and they cannot even help with common tyres or other amenities. They will not pay our bills so we have not started the 50 per cent slash.

A passenger, Chinoyem lamented having to pay N27,000 for transportation from Lagos to Port-Harcourt.

He said, “Port- Harcourt fare is N27,000 and some companies charge N40, 000 and others N30,000 upwards. So far, the Young Shall Grow has the cheapest fare compared to others. The fare is expensive but there is nothing we can do about it.’’

A ticketing officer at God Bless Ezenwata said, “The price from Lagos to Aba is N23,500 and I do not think it is changing anytime soon”

At the GIG park in Utako, Abuja, a staff member, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said while the price slash had been effected in Lagos, it was yet to be implemented in Abuja, adding that the fares remained the same.

“It has been implemented in Lagos, but not yet in Abuja. So prices are still the same across the board. For instance, Abuja to Port Harcourt is still N52,500 and Abuja to Lagos is just over N48,000. But it should be implemented between today and tomorrow,’’ he noted.

A quick check on the company’s website showed that buses had been booked through the holidays, and were unavailable until January 6.

A passenger, Mr Ogbuefu said while he had hoped to get the 50 per cent discount, he wasn’t surprised that it was yet to be effected as such a directive would require time for proper implementation.

“I would have appreciated the 50 per cent slash. I’m travelling to Port Harcourt. But again, the President gave the directive only yesterday, and we just got to know the contracted companies today. So, as expected, it would take some time for these people to make logistic adjustments. But overall, it’s a welcome development”, he said.

Meanwhile, a manager at Chisco Transport, who identified himself only as Mr. Victor, declined to respond to enquiries by our correspondent.

However, a driver disclosed that the company had yet to inform its drivers about the fare subsidy.

A passenger, Mrs Olaloye who came to make a booking, said, “I was just told it was N30,000 to Lagos. And I was even told it might increase between tomorrow and next. I doubt they are aware of the directive. Even so, I doubt they will let it work.”

Mr Mutiu, another passenger said, “What’s to stop them from increasing the price so that even when it is slashed, they still gain. The President might even need a task force to enforce the subsidy.”

Amaka Chukwudi said, “It is one thing for the announcement to be made and another thing for it to take effect. I have been here from 12noon till 4pm. I paid #30,000 which means the slash in price has not been effected by Chisco Motors, Abuja branch.’’

A commuter, Prince Adedamola Adebayo, complained about the implementation of the fare subsidy.

In another development, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, has said that the current economic policies of the President Bola Tinubu-led administration are anticipated to blossom next year.

 The Minister stated this on Thursday during the end-of-year World Press Conference held in Abuja.

 He said the president made a bold and strategic move immediately after his swearing-in with the removal of fuel subsidy.

“The reforms initiated by President Tinubu across the various sectors of our economy are sowing the seeds of transformative change, and as we enter 2024, we can anticipate the fruits of these efforts beginning to blossom.

 “These reforms are not instantaneous miracles but deliberate steps towards building a stronger and more prosperous Nigeria.

 “In the economic realm, initiatives aimed at creating jobs, attracting investments, and fostering sustainable growth are taking root.

“As we move forward, we can expect to witness the tangible outcomes of these efforts, with increased economic opportunities, improved infrastructure, and a business environment conducive to innovation and prosperity,” the minister said.

He said this decision, borne out of a commitment to fiscal responsibility and a keen eye on national progress, is a testament to the administration’s dedication to effective resource allocation and blocking avenues of waste.

The minister said the removal of the fuel subsidy is a decisive step towards channelling resources where they matter most—impacting sectors critical to our national development.

 By redirecting these funds, Idris said President Tinubu aims to bolster key areas such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, humanitarian aid, security, and other sectors that directly influence the well-being and prosperity of our citizens.

 “This move is not without its challenges, but it signifies our unwavering commitment to making difficult decisions in the interest of the greater good. It aligns with our vision for a Nigeria that thrives on efficiency, transparency, and responsible governance.

 “Fuel subsidy removal is a crucial step towards a more sustainable economic future, and we are working tirelessly to ensure that the benefits of this decision are felt by all citizens.

 He said the president is attracting foreign direct investment as he crisscrosses the globe to boost the country’s image and foster international partnerships.

 Idris said these diplomatic missions demonstrate the president’s commitment to position Nigeria as a prime destination for foreign investments.

 “The President seizes every opportunity to affirm his status as the Chief Marketing Officer of Nigeria, consistently reiterating the message that Nigeria is open for business and investment and that the Federal Government will do everything to guarantee the sanctity of all domestic and foreign investment.

 “The international shuttles are yielding positive outcomes, with expressions of interest from various quarters to invest in key sectors of our economy. President Tinubu’s engagements have not only highlighted our nation’s potential but have also demonstrated our commitment to being a responsible and collaborative player in the global community.

 “Indeed, we have begun to see the tangible impact of these efforts with well over $15 billion in pledges of foreign direct investment in energy, steel, defence, automotive, and other sectors.

 On security, the minister said that Nigeria faces challenges of insecurity, particularly the menace of banditry, kidnapping, and insurgency.

 He said that in the face of these threats, the President has demonstrated his commitment to securing the lives and property of every Nigerian.

 “Recognising the urgency of the situation, President Tinubu has made the fight against insecurity a top priority of his administration, as contained in the Renewed Hope Agenda.

 “Comprehensive strategies are being implemented to address the root causes of these issues and ensure a safer, more secure Nigeria.

 “From the various reports we are getting from our security agencies, it is evident that Nigeria is winning the war against terrorism, banditry, insurgency, and other forms of criminality.

 “For instance, the South-East Region has been stabilised with the degrading of the operational capacity of IPOB and the Eastern Security Network. You would recall that the Army recently launched an Exercise Code named “Exercise Golden Dawn III” in the South East to support other security agencies in the region during and after the Yuletide period.

 “In the north-east and north-west of the country, the Nigerian Air Force has been very busy, with several successful airstrikes on bandits’ and terrorists’ camps and hideouts in Katsina, Zamfara, and Borno States.

 “In our maritime environment, on October 25, the Eastern and Central Naval Commands flagged off a Joint Sea Exercise, Exercise SEA Guardian 2023.”.

 He said the lion’s share of this year’s supplementary budget of N2.17 trillion went to security, and a sizeable portion of the 2024 budget will also go to security.

 The minister said this is necessary to acquire and deploy additional platforms, recruit more security personnel, and conduct training, among others.

 Furthermore, Idris said that to cushion the effect of the high cost of transportation fares, the Federal Government targets lifting 5 million commuters during this Yuletide season with a 50 per cent transportation rebate.