Three officials of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) at Kubwa Station in Abuja station were allegedly arrested on Saturday in connection with the ticket racketeering and hoarding.
Due to the spate of kidnapping and armed robbery along the Kaduna-Abuja Road, hundreds of passengers thronged the train station over the weekend, leading to rowdiness during ticket purchase.
According to a source who is also a staff of the corporation, those three people arrested were a staff member, a policeman and a security guard who engaged in hoarding tickets and inflating their prices. The source said that they were picked up by some plain cloth security agents on saturday following a sting operation.
It was a survival of the fittest over the weekend for passengers willing to buy tickets across the counter, as officials deliberately hoarded and sold the tickets to the highest bidders who had paid way before commencement of sale.
With the sale of tickets scheduled for one hour before the departure time, many passengers arrived at the terminal as early as 4:30am to avoid a last-minute rush.
The daily schedule for Abuja-Kaduna from Monday to Sunday are as follows: 7:00am, 9:00am, 2:00pm and 6:00pm, except Wednesdays with only two trips at 7:00am and 6:00pm.
But many were disappointed despite their early arrival when it was announced that the train had exceeded its capacity, leaving hundreds stranded. Many wondered how the coaches that were reserved for Kubwa could be filled up within a few minutes, especially since only few tickets were sold on the counter.
Hell was let lose when the officials began to sell tickets for passengers who would remain standing throughout the trip (standing class). The situation almost degenerated into a stampede, as people were falling over one another in the struggle to buy the tickets. Many sustained injuries in the process.
It was gathered that the tickets sold to the standing passengers are not officials tickets and will not reflect in the records .
There were no security agents on ground to control the surging crowd in Kubwa. Many people were shocked to the marrow to see strange faces who never joined the queue, strol in with tickets in their hands to the departure lounge to board the train. At this point, the atmosphere became charged, as stranded passengers hurled abuse at the officials, whos they believed might have sold the tickets to them through the back door.
SaharaReporters found out that some officials took advantage of the system to sell as high as N4,000 to N5,000 when the official price was N1,300. They decided to hoard the tickets for this pecuniary purpose while those that could not afford the humongous amounts resigned to fate and joined the endless queues.
The situation was not different inside the train as passengers were seen engaging in altercations over seat numbers because many passengers were issued with same seat numbers.
One of the stranded passengers who identified himself as Ahmed Abubakar expressed his displeasure with the poor and shoddy arrangements at the Kubwa train station. He described it as embarrassing and worrisome, adding that the situation was inhumanity of man to man.
"This is wickedness in the highest order and there is need to address the situation as a matter of urgency and necesity," he said. "There is no point asking us to queue up because only few tickets will be sold on the counter while the rest are sold through the back door to those who can pay higher."
The situation was not different at Idu station, where a mammoth crowd of passengers overwhelmed the officials, leaving many stranded.
Ticketing in Rigasa station was more organised, as there were no cases of hoarding or preferential treatment, although inability of officials to organise the passengers for easy boarding was their own albatross.
For example, when it was time to board the 1o:35am Kaduna-Abuja train at Rigasa station on Sunday, the situation became rowdy as passengers were seen in a mad rush to get on the train.
Instead of the officials to announce to the passengers who had purchased their tickets to queue up for ticket verification before boarding, they left them in disarray until the last minute, which led to a free-for-all.
Also, it was revealed that the officials were not interested in the safety of the passengers but only in the tickets. There was little or no measure in place to check the luggage of the passengers boarding the train. No policeman or soldier was sighted throughout the harrowing experience on saturday; just one private security guard was stationed at the entrance with a metal detector that was not functioning.
When one of the station officials was prodded to speak on the situation, he said that if the government could procure additional coaches to the trains, it would ease their problems.
Many passengers blamed the government and officials for lack of coordination and organisation, while others blamed the insecurity along Kaduna-Abuja road, which forced many people to resort to train.
Kaduna-Abuja Road has become a death trap for travellers, awith kidnappers and armed robbers having a field day and operating on almost daily.