In most Nigerian state capitals, taxis are the most common means of commercial transport, with the exception of motorbikes and tricycles.
In fact, it is easier for commuters, especially those with luggage, to board a taxi to transport them from one part of a city to another, where bus services can be considered as too expensive.
More so, it helps passengers in their intra-city trips, sometimes to high-profile areas where motorcycles are prohibited.
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But in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, this is not the case. Even with around half a million people living in the city, there are no commercial taxis operating anywhere in the city, so people who do not own cars or frequent motorbikes (okada )/tricycles (keke) often struggle to move. in regards to.
The city itself is located on the southern bank of the Benue River, a major tributary of the Niger River, and boasts of different forms of transport, including a narrow-gauge railway line (now comatose), which connects the northern and southern parts of the country. .
Interestingly, before the construction of the road/rail bridge in 1932, boats transported people across the Benue River to the northern or southern banks of Makurdi. Currently, however, there are regular bus services within the city, as well as connections between Makurdi and neighboring towns.
Although the transport system in the state capital has developed over the years to meet modern standards, taxi services have not improved. For example, taxi services remained on a chatty basis for long-distance travellers, outside the terminal of the state-owned transport company, known as Benue Links. Even so, they are sometimes hard to find.
Our correspondent who visited the site could not find the taxis or their drivers during the peak hours of Benue Links.
A townsman, Mallam Shehu Iorve, who was waiting for a bicycle outside the Ministry of Public Works roundabout, told our correspondent that he would appreciate any effort by the authorities to establish taxi services to reduce the cost of intra-urban travel. for the common people.
“I prefer taxis to commercial motorcycles, but I have no choice, so I’m waiting for okada. I think we would find a solution if the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) worked with the state government to establish taxi services. I have lived in Makurdi for over 20 years but have never come across taxi services.
“If taxi services become available, people like me will reap many benefits. For example, right now I’m going to Malina Market on the David Mark Bypass and I’m waiting for a bike. If there were taxis the transport for me would be cheaper with a maximum fare of N100 but okada will take me there for at least N150. We need taxi services in the face of this financial difficulty that we are currently facing in this country,” he said.
Vicky Audu, another Makurdi resident, said commuters like her who hate using motorbikes sometimes have to travel long distances as there are no taxis.
She said road transport workers could embrace the idea of introducing intra-city taxi services to allow residents to find an alternative to commercial motorbikes and tricycles, which often do not cover these areas.
Also, Moses Agoom, who spoke to our correspondent around the Government House roundabout where he was waiting for a bicycle, blamed bus drivers and bikers for the unavailability of taxis.
He also said: “Apart from the main road networks which are tarred, the secondary roads are not tarred; and we have a lot of people coming from those roads, which are better served by the okada. There was a time when the former governor, Gabriel Suswam, during his tenure, brought in taxis, but commercial motorcyclists, as well as bus drivers, resisted this venture.
“They didn’t want taxis in town. It was as if it affected their businesses, but I didn’t know their real reasons for doing so. They arrested him. Taxis weren’t used so they left. If taxis were available I would prefer it to bike services as I can even use it for a drop off if my house was off the road.
“I think the private sector can break the bad luck and individuals can try it (taxi company) to see if it would work for them. The only means of intra-city travel in Makurdi are currently buses and keke. But they don’t even park in places like where we are now (Government House roundabouts). They only travel the main roads.
Ben Kondo, a private taxi driver, said he tried to convert his car sometime around seven years ago into a taxi for city services, but the idea fell through.
“I was staying at the High Level Junction picking up passengers heading to Area 4, Barnada and Traffic Safety Junction but no one passed me.
“Some passengers even insulted me (419, lucky) and they generally preferred wasting their time waiting for a bike rather than getting into my vehicle. I got frustrated and gave up trying to make the idea work” , explained Kondo.
Meanwhile, a bus driver, Terna Williams, said it would be very difficult to activate taxi services in Makurdi town because the gap had existed for too long and locals were never used to it.
Williams said: “There are barely enough passengers; besides, people are not even aware of taxi services. You will usually find buses, motorbikes and tricycles competing for passengers in different Makurdi markets.
“Even the tricycles mainly ply the routes taken by the buses. I think the intra-city taxi service was flawed from the start, so it would be difficult to reintroduce it except with the help of unionized workers.
Reacting to the development, the NURTW secretary in the state, Stephen Akintola, said that having taxis move around the city while transporting passengers from one bus stop to another as is done in other state capitals had remained a herculean task for the union. in Makurdi.
“We have two local branches that operate municipal services in Makurdi – buses and taxis parked outside the Benue Links terminal. The problem is that most passengers are used to all these okada and keke NAPEP, otherwise we have registered taxi members operating in the city. But attendance is very low.
“As it is, no taxi driver will just carry his taxi and start wandering around the city looking for passengers, and in the end he will start looking for fuel, which is very expensive. That’s why they just park their vehicles in a particular place, when they fall or chat, they move.
“That’s the challenge. It is possible for NURTW to open a park around new areas, but it won’t be as easy as you think. If you go to Yaman Park in Wurukum, you will see Keke NAPEP there, who travels all these roads. You will see them competing with the buses on the Ikpayongo road.
“Even on market days you will see keke competing with buses for passengers. And many of them prefer to board keke, which is not even well balanced on the highway even though buses are queuing to pick up passengers. This is happening on both axes, but we will still discuss your suggestions when I have the people in charge of the city’s service vehicles. As for buses, we don’t have a problem,” Akintola said.
Our correspondent was unable to get the state commissioner of works and transport nor the director of the ministry to comment on the matter because they were not in office when she visited, nor were they reachable on their telephone lines.
But the file available in August 2015 showed that the State had no defined transport policy.
The Commissioner for Works and Transport at the time, Emmanuel Manger, an engineer, denounced the lack of a defined transport policy in the State, a development which, according to him, was not good for the sector.
Speaking to reporters in Makurdi, he said the current administration was already planning to introduce a clear policy for the transport sector.
“To my knowledge, there is no defined transport policy in Benue, but I intend to convene a meeting of all stakeholders in the transport sector – private operators, NURTW, police and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). We will talk and, at the same time, develop a clear transportation policy for the state and then forward it to the governor for consent,” he said.
He, however, disclosed that the Benue State Government has already approved a taxi color for carriers but after so many years taxi services are not yet fully operational in the state.
“There are taxis, mostly Golfs that run without state-approved color. You can only see them at night with a light placed on the roof, but during the day they are not there. And I know that most of these vehicles that run such hours belong to workers who use it to make ends meet. This thing has to do with politics,” Manger added.