The Nigerian Railway Scamporation

By Ernest Omoarelojie

On Thursday, March 10, the Nigerians social media space was awashed. It was awashed with yet another one in the series of the macabre events dogging the nation. Like the toxic fuel importation that returned chaotic fuel queues in petrol stations, from which the nation is yet to recover, Nigerians were compelled to view images of stranded passengers loitering round a stranded train in which they traveled enroute Lagos from Ibadan. Emerging details later revealed that the train came to a halt in the middle of nowhere having exhausted its fuel, thus causing untold hardship to the already security-wearied passengers. It ended after two hours of torturous trauma.

“What happened was that the fuel got exhausted and we are re-fuelling it at the moment for the return trip,” an official of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, volunteered after the incident.

It is almost a week since the incident, yet Nigerians are still waiting to see someone get queried, at least, over the incident. Nothing to that effect has been reported over the incident Minority Leader of the senate, Senator Tony Elumulu, described on the floor of the senate as a ‘National Embarrassment.’

Dutifully, Senator Elumelu has called on relevant authorities to take appropriate action(s) against those involved for the non-adherence to standard operation practice. That is, if only someone saddled with the responsibility lives up to the expectation.

In the meantime, it is glaring that those presently manning the NRC affairs do not possess the requisite managerial competence to deliver on the mandate to turn the country’s rail transportation system into a seamless, sought-after alternative. The reasons are not far to seek.

Nigerians are now so used to National embarrassment of sundry sorts that many may not understand how imperative it is that those found culpable in the fuel shortage debacle be dealt with. For crying out loud, the incident is a little too that left as it nothing happened, it won’t be long before Nigerians will wake up one day to find out that an airplane crashed because it ran out of Jet A1. There is an urgent need for those in charge of specified functions to take responsibility.

Already, there are too many reports of untoward happenings at the NRC. Besides reports of scandalous ticket racketeering which is robbing the corporation of real money, there are also reports of very pervasive systemic pilfering of the corporation’s property. Among others, staff are reported to deliberately ignore operating guidelines just so they can run the affairs in ways that favour them.

For instance, during the last Yuletide season, the federal government announced that train ride to wherever across the country would be free for two weeks. Despite the order, the corporation’s established ticket racketeers went ahead to sell them.

Though a number of those involved were nabbed, it is very likely that those involved acted with the consent, tacit of otherwise, of some top management staff.

In another instance, the e-ticket option went into comatose almost as soon as it took off, arguably because those in charge made it unworkable. The corporation had to resort to the often chaotic manuel process which is opened to all manner of manipulations. In some instances, they deliberately made tickets scarce, forcing intending passengers to pay more than each ticket’s face value.

About three weeks ago, a passenger shuttling between Itakpe to Warri obtained online tickets for herself and children, unaware that she was scammed. However, she got a rude shock when, upon tendering the tickets for boarding in Itakpe, she was told that the corporation does not sell its ticket online. She had to cough out more money to obtain new tickets.

Assuming such scams are without the knowledge and consent of some of the management staff, there should, by now, a deliberate, ongoing enlightenment program about its operating policies including ticketing issues. But like the unsuspecting woman, more Nigerians will fall victim until someone high up gets scammed.

On the same day, passengers on the same Itakpe/Warri train were treated to ringside entertainment when officers of the Nigerian Civil Defence and Security Corps, NSCDC, attached to the train, and some NRC staff in Agenebode got into a heated argument over how to share moneys that accrued from illegal ticket sales. It got so bad that they actually delayed the train while arguing inside one of the coaches, prompting a passenger to record the proceedings until one of the NSCDC officers threatened the passenger and actually had the video wiped off.

One can go and on about the rot in the NRC right now but the bottom line is that if not checked, rail transportation will soon go back to its old comatose self. The only option left is to quickly stem the tide.

For a start, the current management team has to go. It simply does not have what it takes to run a seamless rail transportation system. Simultaneously, specific actions must be taken to put a stop to all forms of ticket racketeering currently in place.

Thankfully, there are in operation across the states, a number of micro examples from which the next NRC management team can evolve a more sustainable operating standard.

In Edo state for example, the mass transit scheme runs a cashless policy that requires intending passengers obtaining a card with microchip into which the passenger load a certain amount of money enough for commuting from one point to another until exhausted, to be reloaded. But once loaded, there is a scanning machine by the entrance of each bus which extracts the exact fare for designated trips.

Managers of the scheme also ensured there are POS stands at strategic locations where intending passengers can obtain the card and or load cash into them.

Unlike the current NRC ticketing system, the cashless option operated by the Edo State Mass Transit scheme is seamless even though certain elements in the system sometimes subvert the it by accepting cash from passengers. However, NRC can come up with an upgraded and integrated version that can debit appropriate transit fare and produce ticket to march amount debited like the POS machine.

Most importantly, the next NRC management team must ensure that it takes seriously the bigger responsibility of constantly and regularly educating all intending passengers about its operational Dos and Donts. That is one area it is presently very deficient in.

In the main, the current ticket monitoring process is highly compromised. But with the cashless system in place, the next management team only need to empower its monitors with portable machines that can scan and confirm the authenticity of the tickets and receipts issued. It will go the extra mile of verifying that the last debit is within the period the train is on transit from point A to B. The alternative is to hand over the administration of the corporation to a consortium for fixed rent.

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