The Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, wants luxury bus owners to keep their vehicles always in good condition and not to use them at night, but the high demand by Nigerian commuters for night journeys has left officials of the agency chasing shadows on both points, an investigation by PREMIUM TIMES has revealed.
The poor condition of the luxury buses is endangering lives and property, and inconveniencing commuters, Nigerians who regularly travel at night said. But they also have reasons why they still prefer the buses and at night.
The investigation shows that a trip between Abuja and Onitsha sometimes lasts two to three days due to breakdown of the buses.
Worn tires, old engines and motor parts, overload and general poor maintenance were the main reasons commuters gave for the constant break down of the vehicles on the road at night.
The security dimension is that such hitches often expose the passengers to armed robbery attacks and other dangers that come with the night.
Edozie Onyema, an autoparts dealer in Nyanya Underbridge, Abuja, who frequents Onitsha for his supplies, told this newspaper that he prefers night trips by buses because of time and convenience. But a recent ordeal in the hands of armed robbers has made him to start weighing other options.
“On our way to Onitsha, our bus broke down twice that night before it finally stopped in Okene. I had a feeling that the luxury bus is not in good shape due to its break and quench movement and also because the conductor of the bus was a mechanic. While we were waiting for several hours on the road for them to sort out the issue with the bus, all of a sudden men with guns and machetes surrounded us and told us to all lie down. Luckily no one was killed but our money and personal belongings were taken away. All the money meant for my business transaction was taken,” Mr. Onyema said.
Another night traveller, Chioma Ezeh, said she once spent three days on the road and boarded three different buses on one journey.
“We left Onitsha at 7p.m and our bus first broke down in Asaba at 8p.m. They said it was overheating. It however started working after some hours only to break down again in Auchi around after 11p.m. We slept there and continued our journey the following day in another bus as the first bus could no longer move.
“When we got to Okene, we were alerted of an ongoing armed robbery attack on that road so we ran into the bush. We later continued the journey till we got to Airport Road, Abuja, and the bus broke down around 12:30 a.m. We waited till daybreak before we were able to board another bus that brought us inside town,” Miss Ezeh narrated.
She suggested that old and weak buses should not be allowed on the roads, adding that the government should also deploy more security operatives to the roads at night.
The Nigerian Senate had in 2011 rejected a motion to ban night travels in the country.
The motion, sponsored by Chris Anyanwu, a senator from Imo State, had urged her colleagues to ban night travels due to the bad state of roads and security implication.
Rejecting the plea, however, the lawmakers argued that such a ban would infringe on the people’s right to free movement. The Senate stressed that night travels should rather be made safer and urged the Federal Government to properly equip the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, to help it ensure safety on the roads at night.
Night travel is a critical mode for many Nigerians, especially businessmen and women moving long distances between cities across the country.
Jabi/Utako Park is a major take off point for night travelers in Abuja. There, luxury buses belonging to different transport companies would line up as early as 5p.m. while conductors and motor park workers, known as Agberos, brawl over passengers.
The buses appear to be in good conditions from the outside but inside, some of them are quite old, the seats torn and worn, the lights dim and unsteady while the sound of the engine are shaky.
Towards 7p.m, there is usually a maddening rush. This time, it is the passengers who could not afford the normal seats rushing for what is called attach. They either stand while holding unto the long iron bar in the middle of the bus or sit on their luggage. The buses normally take off between 7:30 to 9 p.m., depending on the availability of passengers.
The number of seats in a luxury bus is usually 55 to 58, depending on the type. During festive periods like Christmas or Easter, the number of passengers who pay for attach are often more than those who pay for the normal seats, causing a serious inconvenience for all of them and overload on the bus.
From the other end in Upper Iweka Park in Onitsha, the buses carry more goods than people because marketers travel down from Abuja to buy their merchandise.
The buses are often filled with all kinds of goods, making movement of commuters and passage of air difficult.
Nonso Okafor, a trader said he prefers night trip due to its low cost and free movement on the road.
“The cost is low compared to day travel. I normally pay N3, 700 from Abuja to Onitsha or vice versa, though it is higher during Christmas or Easter. But it is twice cheaper compared to plying the road by day.
“Again, the roads are often free during the night and I normally sleep throughout. This makes the journey easier for me.
“But the deplorable state of some buses is making it difficult for us. These buses are poorly managed. When they are broken, they patch them up a little and bring them out on the road and keep managing and dragging them till they completely break down.
“These buses are very old and outdated. They repaint to make them look new. I think the government should look into these buses to know the ones that are good to be on the road and the ones that are not, at least for the safety of lives and property,” Mr. Okafor said.
At the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) Jabi Motor Park Management Committee Office, the Admin officer who did not want his name in print said most of the breakdowns were not the fault of the drivers or the management but because most of the buses were old. “The problem is that these buses are old. Tell me the last time you saw a brand new luxurious bus in this country? It costs about N250 million to buy a brand new one now. From the meagre N3, 000 paid by the passengers and other logistics the owner has to deal with, you will discover that the owner will not get anything in return.
“These night travellers are aware of these things. If they want to avoid all these discomforts, they should travel during the day at a higher price or better still take a flight,” the official said.
The chairman of the luxury buses group at the park could not be reached for comment. But a manager of one the companies, also a driver who simply identified himself as Friday, said that he makes sure the buses are serviced before they embark on a journey and that they always travel with a mechanic in case a bus breaks down on the road.
The spokesperson of FRSC, Bisi Kazeem, told this paper that traveling at night is not safe and the commission had repeatedly warned Nigerians against it.
“FRSC does not encourage night travels in as much as we do not have the legal backing to ban it. We have been advising and enlightening people that night travel in Nigeria is not safe because when you travel at night and the bus breaks down, help is not readily available.
“Most law enforcement agencies, especially traffic agencies, do not work at night so most of the drivers do as they like. And again, since we don’t enforce the law, we cannot do any of the four-approach system we operate, namely: Education, Persuasion, Subtle force and Enforcement.
“It is not even safe for us to operate at night because we are not armed. There is no street light on the rural highways, there are also issues of bad roads and armed robbers. We only carry out skeletal night patrol around the metropolis where we know there is presence of other law enforcement agencies.
“All these complaints from night travelers cannot be readily addressed because we are not there at night. We are going to continue to say that night journey should be discouraged.
“And we are doing a lot of public enlightenment to make sure we talk to luxury bus owners.
We talk to them on maintenance and any luxury bus we catch during the day or towards evening that breaks down, we impound and take them to mobile courts and if they are found guilty, they will be asked to pay fine.
“We also appeal to luxury bus owners to operate only in the day so if there is any situation, it can be addressed. Life has no duplicate. We are in an era of technology, any business can be transacted through money transfer and other means,” Mr. Kazeem stated.