Metropole Magazine

 
 
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07 Jan

Ill-advised transport policies in Abuja punish the people they are supposed to help: commuters.

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Can anyone imagine Nigerians too tired and apathetic to muster a reaction to a half-hearted yelp of ‘Ole-thief’ at a busy makeshift bus-stop such as Berger Junction? One evening, according to one commuter’s report, a pickpocket got away with not even a scuff to his ear when he was spotted trying to separate a man from his wallet. Expecting a torrent of vicious blows or at least a chase, the thief dropped the wallet to the ground and sped off. Many barely turn their heads to look at him.

The lack of effective public transportation in Abuja is crippling– in more ways than one. For a city deliberately planned for only a few to live in the city center while the majority commute, the FCT deserves a better public transport system. Instead what we have is obviously too few vehicles to service the number who rely on public transportation and a clear inability of the authorities to manage the transport system, if one can call it that.

Abuja’s FCTA Transportation Secretariat states that its vision is “to provide an effective and efficient transportation system in the FCT through pro-active planning, effective monitoring, safe, accident free and infrastructural development… to meet the expectation of the public”. Yet, each time a new administration comes in, there is a flush of activities to tackle public transport but the real problem is the absence of an FCT-owned policy which every ‘newcomer’ to the FCTA is required to uphold and implement.

Katampe New Extension is home to a graveyard of el-Rufai buses. It is safe to estimate that at least 40% of them are no longer in use-- ill-maintained, broken down and eventually abandoned. Same as the London Cab scheme. Yet despite the lack of adequate public transport, every couple of weeks, without fail, Senator Bala Mohammed’s FCTA unleashes at least one commuter-unfriendly policy on Abuja.

Sometimes, the regulation is aimed at dealing with an enforcement issue, that is to ease the traffic congestion caused by drivers of buses and taxis who park anywhere to pick up and offload passengers. However, all that a ban on buses and taxis from central parts of the city does is penalize the commuters and exacerbate the problem.

Here is what Abuja needs: a coherent policy to liberalise the provision of public transport in the city with the authorities focusing on strict but enabling regulation of the various schemes.  The Transportation Secretariat should act as a regulator setting the standards for roadworthiness of the vehicles, public safety requirements, registration and licensing of vehicles and drivers etc. For example, if all public transport vehicles were registered with identification numbers displayed boldly outside and within the vehicles, drivers who flout the law can be tracked and punished.

Reports from commuters and traffic regulators would contain the necessary information to track offenders and when companies are fined for the acts of their drivers, the companies will soon learn to pass on the pain to the driver and weed out those who constitute a nuisance to the public. This way, service providers take responsibility and the government earns some revenue.  And this information also makes it easier for commuters who suffer one-chance abductions and assault to report such incidents to the police because then commuters will have the registration license number for the vehicle and maybe even the driver’s name on record.

Every now and then, residents of Abuja hear tales of light rail-- we know that this is a pipe dream as long as Nigeria cannot generate enough electricity for homes and offices. But what we can expect is a more coherent and realistic public transport system which we can measure and assess.

Organised cities can tell you how many buses, taxis and trains they have, the number of commuters using different platforms daily (New York City subway has 1.2 million passengers a day), the average wait time on certain routes and how many buses/taxis there are per residents in the city.

None of these information is publicly available – which makes it clear that the authorities have no practical ideas to fix the situation. If they did, then there would be a sense that they know how bad the problem is and what the solutions are-- collecting and sharing data is the first step.

As it is, one can only guess-- from the throng of people waiting at Berger Junction, at AY Junction and other major streets in the city center on a working day-- how long people have to wait to get home after a hard day at work. The running, pushing and shoving it takes to board a vehicle is undignified and forms part of the steady dehumanization of Nigerians.

In this city, where the seat of government is hosted, it must be one of the great mysteries of the universe whether officials cruising by, sometimes with a fleet of five cars feel nothing when they see those they are supposed to care for standing stranded for hours under an unrelenting sun or the unforgiving rain.

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03 Jan

Jamal is an Abuja-based billionaire bachelor and businessman who works hard and parties hard. Welcome to his world

Week 12

Monday

I stayed another day in Mali to visit our mining sites and meet with some eager politicians, then flew to Senegal and straight into a conference I was chairing, due to my 45% stake in the country’s fishing industry. At my hotel that evening, my Senegalese assistant brought me five voluptuous women to choose from; I shouted at him to get the women out of my sight. Even a hotel concierge told me in broken English about the “sexy girls” he could get for me. I contented myself with cyber-love with Zainab, who rejoiced over the new Audi S8 I arranged to be delivered to her house yesterday as a thank you for standing by me.

Tuesday

Apart from calls and emails from those hearing of the scandal late, and a belated attempt by Cynthia’s friends to press charges against me for kidnap and grievous bodily harm (which my aides quickly quashed), the worst of the scandal was over. ZeeGC’s stock rose again and my silence about the whole issue helped to kill the story. I concluded talks with Senegalese developers, directed the installation of the technological systems at ZeeGC’s head quarters and attended a party in my honour in Dakar before a night flight to Sierra Leone.

Wednesday

I finally got the courage to call Zainab’s father. “You’re young, you make mistakes. This was just the final nail in the coffin of your promiscuity I hope?” I assured him it was. I’d put my therapy session on hold but Dr Ferral encouraged me to continue to keep a diary and remain accountable to Aliyu and Zainab. A few Sierra Leonean bloggers and a radio talk show carried my story, but that was all. “It all happened for a reason Jamal, to make us stronger” Zainab said.

Thursday

Zainab’s father told me yesterday of some of his business troubles and wanted me to come on board to redirect some of his affairs. Looks like I don’t have marry Zainab to get my hands on his businesses after all! In Guinea, I caught myself admiring a petite secretary in ZeeGC’s head office, mostly because she wasn’t trying to catch my eye, but I quickly pictured her as Cynthia and turned my head away in disgust. My last meeting of the day ended at 3am with my head throbbing; it was difficult adjusting my French dialect to each Francophone country.

Friday

I had missed calls and angry texts from Zainab because I didn’t called her last night. I had to show her the whole of my bed, my bathroom, toilet and dustbins of my hotel room via my webcam, and she even examined my back for scratches and bites and interviewed my travel staff and security before she was convinced I wasn’t with a woman last night. She told me Cynthia had relocated to Ghana. Good. I refused to go with the younger executives to a club and slept on the specially-fitted bed on my jet throughout the flight back to Abuja for Aliyu’s wedding.

Saturday

Our Oswald Boateng groomsmen suits arrived just in time for me, Stanley, Anthony, Aliyu’s brothers, cousins and law firm partners; with Chris Aire watches and cufflinks, white roses on our lapels and lavender silk pocket squares. Zainab was on Miriam’s bridal train and looked classy in a lavender House of Farrah gown, and as we walked down the aisle arm in arm before the bride, I imagined it was our wedding. At the reception I danced exclusively with her and almost punched a House of Rep member who asked me if I still had Cynthia’s number. Zainab later told Aliyu’s aunties had warned her about ‘men like me.’ We spent the night at Transcorp Hilton.

Sunday

I left for Liberia at 6am to complete my tour of West Africa. Aliyu called me from his honeymoon suite in the Bahamas; his father’s wedding gift of a house in London made him consider opening a law firm in England and starting his family there. I envied his new lease on life and thought seriously of setting a date for Zainab and me. She suggested a week before her birthday – which was two months away – so that she’ll celebrate it on our honeymoon. I decided to finally tell my mother my plans, but she won’t be happy.

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