Rail transportation is often considered a cost-effective and safer mode of commuting compared to road travel in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) stands as one of the oldest surviving government-owned enterprises in the country with its history dating back to the construction of railways that began in the late 19th century, connecting various regions of the country.
In recent years, the country has witnessed a resurgence in rail travel with the construction of new rail tracks connecting states across the nation, but the NRC has struggled to keep pace with the demands of the modern business environment.
Despite the potential benefits, the NRC’s inability to modernize its operations, and the adoption of cash ticketing systems, has given rise to a slew of malpractices, undermining the system’s efficiency and reputation.
For example, one of the primary concerns is the adoption of cash ticketing and inability to book trips online.
Passengers are left with no choice but to purchase tickets in person at the station, often just hours before their scheduled departure.
This limitation not only cause inconveniences but also puts passengers at risk of being stranded at the station when tickets are unavailable.
The Double Sale of Seats
One of the most outstanding forms of corruption within the NRC aided by the adoption of cash ticketing is the double sale of seats.
Passengers often find themselves in disputes as seats are sold to multiple individuals for the same journey, resulting in overcrowded trains and considerable inconvenience.
Several passengers have recounted instances where they had been assigned the same seat number with other people, often leading to disputes.
One Umar Muktar recounted how four of his cousins traveling from Abuja to Kaduna on September 2nd, were sold tickets allocated to others.
“We didn’t notice the difference in the names until we got to the train station. En route Kubwa station, the real owners of the ticket appeared. My cousins had to stand from Idu to Rigasa,” he said.
The lack of a proper ticketing system has facilitated this practice, making it challenging to accurately track ticket sales.
Collection of Payments through Unofficial Channels
Further investigations revealed that the absence of robust financial controls and oversight mechanisms is causing funds meant for the NRC’s coffers to be diverted into personal accounts as both passengers and employees engage in illicit financial transactions.
While some railway employees collect cash from passengers without issuing tickets, others collect payments through unofficial bank accounts instead of the official revenue collection channels.
These practices do not only constitutes financial misconduct but also undermines the integrity of the entire system.
A rail passenger named Boosu Bakope took to social media to expose alleged misconduct by train station officials.
According to Bakope, these rogue officials charge passengers N2,000 for a trip that should cost N3,000, and do not issue tickets, adding that even the ticket checking agents were complicit in this malpractice.
He questioned why security cameras installed on the train were not being used to address these issues and called on the authorities to investigate the matter.
“Mostly passengers going to Abeokuta. Passengers are now transferring N2000 to their dedicated account, no cash. They should just go play Agege to Abeokuta this morning (Sunday 3rd September), coach eight. It’s not rocket science,” he said.
Another rail passenger who simply identified himself as Frank shared his experience of boarding a train from Moniya in Ibadan.
Frank explained that he was running late when he arrived at the station and was handed over to an individual who directed him onto the train without issuing a ticket.
“Right from the entrance to the station I was handed over to someone who directed me into the train without a ticket, saying we would sort out payment later,” he said.
In some cases, railway staff grant free train rides to their friends and associates at the expense of the NRC.
These sharp practices contribute to revenue losses for the NRC and leaves passengers vulnerable to exploitation.
Soliciting for Kickbacks
Soliciting for kickbacks also has become a common practice among railway staff, particularly during peak travel seasons. Passengers have reported being coerced into paying extra fees to secure tickets or ensure a smooth journey, adding an extra layer of financial burden to their travel expenses.
“Some staff at Agege beg shamelessly and often tell you to leave the change for the boys,” said a passenger Lanre Yusuf.
The solicitation of tips from passengers creates an environment where dishonesty and unethical behavior are tolerated, perpetuating a culture of corruption.
Efforts to Address Corruption
There are concerns about the ability of government bureaucracies to manage essential services effectively and some stakeholders have advocated for the privatization of the train service to attract the necessary investment needed to improve infrastructure and expand the rail network.
The belief is that private entities may be better equipped to manage and modernize railway operations efficiently.
When contacted, the NRC said it is investigating these issues and working to commence e-ticketing soon.
Many believe that investing in technology and automation would reduce opportunities for corruption and help curb financial exploitation.