On December 27, an X user, @Gen_jamal, commented under a tweet by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), accusing the staff of frustrating the free train services provided by the federal government. It was just seven days after the initiative began. The president had approved a 50 percent discount for inter-state road travels, and 100 percent for train trips from December 21, 2023, to January 4, 2023. The X user accused some NRC staff of booking free train tickets online and selling them to passengers for a fee. With that, the passengers who could not make a booking online because the tickets were sold out had no choice but to patronise the NRC staff.
— Sam Adegbonmire (@Gen_jamal) December 27, 2023
Online booking isn’t working. Showing no trains available Had to stay awake till 12am to do this and yet not working…. very sad pic.twitter.com/hG7gexdsk6
— tunji oje (@olteano) December 28, 2023
The next day, on December 28, I embarked on a train trip to Ibadan to confirm the allegation. A taxi dropped me off at the beautiful tarmac of the NRC in Ebutte-Metta, Lagos. I walked briskly into the station and down to the departure section. As envisaged, there was a long queue of passengers. I joined the queue, noticing that some people were trying to book seats online.Peter Afolayan, heading to Abeokuta, was one of such passengers. “I used the train during the period that it was free. I booked online and was lucky to get a seat. I thought I could book this morning. Unfortunately, I was wrong. All seats had been booked. It is so tiring,” he said. Afolayan’s experience was not isolated. Some passengers in the queue had tried to book tickets two days (the maximum allowed timeframe) before the day. I had also tried to book a seat online the day before too, but the seats were all taken. I could not get a ticket as well. ‘NO TICKET, NO ENTRY’ Following the presidential directive on the yuletide free train palliative, the NRC advised Nigerians to obtain their tickets “via the online e-ticketing platforms only”. “Tickets will not be issued at any of the corporation’s train stations. Please note that no commuter will be allowed to board the train without a ticket,” the statement reads. Confirming the NRC directive, officials and security operatives at the train station said they would not allow any passengers without a ticket into the boarding area. The slogan was “No ticket, no entry!” As only those with tickets were permitted entry, passengers were getting impatient, swarming the entrance of the departure section. Amid the commotion, I caught a conversation between a passenger and an official. At this time, I had also decided to desert the queue. “There is nobody selling tickets. The ticket office is closed,” a stout official said. “So, why were the tickets booked two days ago?” a passenger asked. “It is true. Everybody is trying to book online. That is why,” the official responded. He said officials had allowed some passengers to board the train and “those same people always cause problems for us. That is the reason why we are not allowing them”. It was 7.40am and I was already losing hope of travelling because I had no ticket. But Mutiu Abioye, an official, suddenly showed interest in me, startling me out of my reverie. “No ticket?” he asked. I responded in the affirmative. “How do we go about it? We have been given instructions,” he said. “Are you the only one?” When I affirmed I was a solo traveller, he said, “Send me hi (on WhatsApp)” and then proceeded to call out his contact. Shortly after, he went on to join the officials moderating the movement of passengers, saying, “If you have a ticket, come to the front.” Thereafter, as some other passengers approached him, he walked away in the direction of a store, saying he was avoiding closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. Eager to know why he gave me his contact, I followed him, informing him that I had sent “hi” on WhatsApp. “I will send you one (ticket) so that you can use it to enter,” he said. “Don’t fight on the train if you are asked who sent you the (ticket) just because of the police. I helped you. But whatever you have (money), you can give me when you get to your destination. “Call me or text me to send my account number.” As I turned to leave, Afolayan appeared behind me, and so I told Abioye about him. “Use it together. I gave you three tickets,” he said. His response made me check the ticket he had sent to me, and I saw that it was, in fact, three tickets. Abioye booked the free tickets with pseudonyms, including Yusuf, Akeem, and Dele. ON THE TRAIN I got on the train at 7.54am, and we departed the station at 8am. The scenery was calm, and the train picked up and dropped off passengers at other stations. During the trip, some passengers who joined the train and received their allotted seat numbers online got into arguments with other passengers occupying those seats. But, at the start of the journey, the NRC officials had told passengers they could sit anywhere. I also noticed that tickets were not confirmed by officials, which is not the usual practice. So, anyone without a ticket could not be identified. The crowd was massive when we got to the Wole Soyinka train station in Abeokuta. Olamilekan, who hurriedly got on the train at the station, said he did not have a ticket. The fair-skinned young man said he had begged the officials so he could be able to board the train, as all seats had been booked. “I tried to get a ticket. I explained to them (the officials),” he said. However, a notice pasted on coaches reads: “Boarding our train without a valid ticket is a criminal offence”. According to the NRC, offenders would be mandated to pay N20,000. Meanwhile, the train got to the Moniya train station at about 10.39am, and passengers disembarked. BACK TO LAGOS After waiting over five hours in Moniya, it was finally time to return to Lagos. This time, like Olamilekan, I informed officials at the departure entrance that I did not have a train ticket. An official told me to step aside to ensure that others who had tickets were allowed in. “Do not worry about tickets. My sister, go in,” another official said, instructing me to rejoin the queue. I finally got in, and by 4.00 p.m., the train had left the station. Speaking on the findings of the report, Fidet Okhiria, managing director of the NRC, cautioned passengers against approaching officers for tickets. “You don’t go there (to train stations) and ask people to give you tickets,” he said. He emphasised that tickets are free online. Speaking during a media conference on December 28, the NRC MD said over 63,000 passengers benefited from the free train services on all its routes, between December 21 and December 26, 2023. free vector