Bounce Exclusive: Kaduna to Abuja Takes 5 hours On Government’s 'Free' Bus
On March 8, 2017, the federal government shut the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to repair its dilapidated runways. To travel to Abuja, all flights had to divert to the newly 'renovated' Kaduna international airport, from where passengers continue the journey to Abuja by road.
Bounce News made the trip this is our first account of the journey and how the process works. If you plan to visit Abuja before April, 19 when the airport is set to open, you will find this very useful.
Our journey to Abuja started after we landed at the Kaduna International airport.
We were quickly ushered into one of the ‘free’ buses provided by the Ministry of Transport. The buses were the 45-seater operated by popular transporter, Chisco.
The Air Peace flight from Lagos touched down at 5:25 PM. I noticed the brisk way with which regular travelers alighted from the plane and moved quickly to the area where the buses were waiting. First timers looked lost during the entire transition. The ladies removed their high heels and the flat slippers kept making slap slap slap sounds while mini boxes rolled along. All the phone calls had stopped. It seems these people were prepared for a showdown.
I made it into the bus. I had thought we would just zoom off and in less than two hours we would be in Abuja.
But 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes passed and the bus was still waiting. When I went to the driver to ask him what the problem was, he told me the bus would soon move but that we had to wait for our escorts to arrive.
Angered by the delay, I got off the bus to explore my options. I saw the taxi drivers and felt happy. I asked how much trip would cost and the driver told me it costs 25,000 Naira. I froze where I was standing and wondered why. I had paid Air Peace 25,000 Naira to fly from Lagos to Kaduna. Why on earth would I pay 25,000 Naira for a two hour ride?
The driver looked at me, shook his head and said "Go and sit on the bus, it is better for you. We are here to make profit not speak English".
Humbled, I went back into the bus and joined the waiting team. By 6:40PM, that was about 1 hour, 15 minutes after our flight arrived, the bus eventually moved.
I thought it was uhuru. The bus covered about 300 metres and stopped again. The wait game had started again.
After about 20 minutes, some passengers began to murmur and complain, but no word came from anyone on who or what we were waiting for. Many of the passengers got off to ease themselves and to stretch their legs. We waited.
About 7:20 PM, an official of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, who simply identified himself as Yusuf came into the bus to tell the passengers to exercise some patience that the bus would soon leave. But the passengers would have none of such entreaties. They shouted at him angrily and the man turned back and left. He murmuring "It is not my fault o!"
I has made a new acquaintance - his name is Johnson. Unlike the others, I was attracted by his smirks and light giggles. He was not ruffled by the noise. He wasn't clamoring. He gave several reasons for the delays but it was obvious he was being economical with the truth. First, he said it was because of security and that it is important that we wait for our escorts.
He said: “We have not been able to move because the security report we have does not look good. We do not want anybody to come and drop bomb on the crowd of passengers.”
I asked him - "why are we still waiting more than two hours after we arrived from Lagos"
Eventually, he told us that we had been waiting for an Arik flight that was yet to take off from Lagos.
He said: “The Arik flight that landed now was supposed to have landed about 45 minutes ago but the flight did not take off on time and it was not announced. So, we are expecting it to come so that the passengers will join the already waiting bus to Abuja.”
Luckily, by 7:50PM, the Arik passengers were able to join us and the bus took off. But after driving for about 1 kilometer, the bus stopped. My heart began to beat, I could hear it trying to force its way out of my chest.
It was at a secluded place and the mental comfort of the Kaduna airport was far behind.
When we asked what the problem was. The driver spoke this time. He had realized that the security escorts were not following us. That was when it dawned on us that the driver did not have a medium to communicate with the escorts.
He told us that he could not proceed with the journey and he cannot turn back. I could smell fear in the atmosphere. Many of the passengers began to scold the driver. Others started praying. I could hear the recurring prayer from a lady on the left 'I am covered by the Blood of Jesus'; she said about ten times without bladding.
That was when one of the passengers asked the driver if he was sure he did not have any stupid ‘plan’. And the passengers laughed. This provided some comic relief.
“This driver does not understand the risk he is putting our lives into. We tried to tell him shortly after he drove off, that the escorts were not following him but he kept driving,” said a lady passenger.
Indeed, the lady had tried to warn the driver that the escorts were not coming after us but the driver paid no attention.
So, he kept driving slowly. Eventually, he stopped at a busy junction along the road and waited. For more than 20 minutes, we waited for the escorts. Eventually the escorts arrived with other buses and we proceeded on the journey.
But then we faced another problem.
Shortly after the escorts joined us, all the other buses that came with the escorts overtook our bus, including the escorts. We were alarmed. It was then we realized that the bus had faulty gear.
It could not go beyond gear 2. Each time the driver tried to enter the third gear, the vehicle made a horrifying noise that forced him to revert.
So, we continued to drive at not more than 40 to 50 kilometers per hour. It was obvious the soldier escorts lost their patience and drove past us. The fear returned among the passengers. While some blamed the driver, others blamed Chisco and some others blamed the escorts.
From Kaduna International Airport to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, is about 243 kilometres. If you want to go by car, the driving distance between Abuja and Kaduna is 198.52 km. If you ride your car with an average speed of 112 kilometers/hour (70 miles per hour), travel time will be about 1 hour, 46 minutes.
But our bus was crawling. No one slept. All eyes stayed open. We could hear nothing but the sound of other vehicles overtaking our bus and engine grinding its way to Abuja.
Some of the passengers who spoke to Bounce News had mixed feeling about the situation.
Mr Johnson, mentioned earlier said: “The problem with our country is that the leadership does not communicate with the followers. The government in power or any other government was voted by Nigerians. There must be proper and effective communication all the time.
“I understand there are some information you cannot put on the public domain because of security but some vital ones must be communicated. The basic ones that will benefit everyone.
“The reason for the incessant delays is not communicated. If they had, some of us would have considered hiring the taxis no matter how expensive instead of facing this kind of uncertainty. More so, we do not understand the reason the buses cannot stop at city centers.”
Another passenger, simply identified as Promise said: “I cannot wait for this Abuja airport to reopen. You fly for 45 minutes and then you are on the road for hours before you get home when you should have forgotten you traveled. The stress is just too much.”
For Muhammed, “This whole arrangement is a failure. Why all these delays. And to make matters worse, no one is saying anything to the passengers. Imagine after all these delays, they will still go and drop you at the Abuja airport.”
We arrived at the Abuja Airport and we got off the bus. I could hear thankful prayers being offered to God by the exhausted passengers. It was then I looked up in the sky and wondered how I would get to my hotel.
I walked up to an FAAN official and asked him where the taxis or buses are. He said "just WAIT small they are coming".