South Easterners Defy Insecurity, High Fares, Embark On Yuletide Travels

Notwithstanding fare hike occasioned by rise in cost of petrol, insecurity, and economic downturn, many Nigerians of South East extraction have insisted on travelling and celebrating Christmas and New Year festivities with loved ones.

Notwithstanding fare hike occasioned by rise in cost of petrol, insecurity, and economic downturn, many Nigerians of South East extraction have insisted on travelling and celebrating Christmas and New Year festivities with loved ones.

Checks by The Guardian at various motor parks and airports showed increased flow of people who have either returned for the holidays or are waiting to board vehicles to their destinations.

As of yesterday morning, the Akanu Ibiam airport in Enugu was a beehive of activities, with human and vehicular movement. Many travelers were seen waiting to board flights amid rush to obtain tickets. Majority of those returning to the state were coming from Lagos or Abuja, or outside the country.

Cab operators, who spoke with The Guardian, said though there are concerns about insecurity and the economy, travellers were still returning to the region.

At motor parks in Gariki and Old Park, family members were seen boarding buses to various destinations.

It was observed that fare to Aba via a Sienna car increased to N2,400, while persons going to Owerri were required to pay N2,600. Buses, however, charged N1,500.

Johnson Orji, who was travelling from Enugu to Umuahia in Abia State with his family, described the journey as “an annual ritual.”

According to him, “this is the only time I can have time to spend with my family. The only thing is that this year, I decided to go through the park because I couldn’t charter a smaller vehicle. The cost of hiring a vehicle for my family is higher this time, so we decided to go by a public bus.” On reports that insecurity might be holding back many would-be travelers, Orji said: “There is no place in the country that is safe. Anybody who wants to return to the southeast and says he will not because of insecurity is not speaking the truth. We are living with it (insecurity) and will continue to live.”

Orji said he believes many parks would become very busy, beginning from Friday, when most institutions and organisations would close for the year.

“Many of those killing people in the southeast are not members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB),” he added.

A visit to various motor parks across Anambra State, showed busy commercial transport operators at work. In Onitsha, Nnewi, Ekwulobia and Awka, both company and private transporters were seen loading their vehicles, as commuters negotiated over increased fares.

Fares along different routes have increased. Awka to Enugu, which used to be N600, had jumped to N1,000. Awka to Abakaliki, previously N800, is now N2,000. Onitsha to Awka, formerly N400, now costs N600. Also, Awka to Owerri, which used to be N400, now costs N4,000.

Some incoming travellers, who spoke to The Guardian in Awka, said they had come to celebrate Christmas in their country homes. Others claimed they had functions to attend, such as family/village end of year meetings, weddings or traditional marriages.

Many expressed joy that they were able to return to the region, despite threats by persons they referred to as “rascals” and “never-do-wells”, even as they maintained that insecurity in the country is not limited to the southeast alone.

Lady Jessica Onuso said she was travelling to Owerri, Imo State, with her children, to join her parents, especially her mother, and siblings for Christmas celebrations.

Jude Ukanaso, who spoke at one of the motor parks in Onitsha, said he was happy to return to the east to enjoy the Yuletide season with friends and well-wishers.

“Insecurity or not, I am now home. I will spend Christmas with my family here in Onitsha. Evil people only want to create fears about the southeast. I just came in from Abuja. You can see that the Hummer bus we arrived in was filled with passengers,” Ukanaso said.

On his part, Cosmos Osiwaonu, regretted that he visited home four years ago. He said he was travelling to Nsukka, Ebonyi State, to rest and enjoy the natural environment, away from the hassles of city life in Ibadan.

MEANWHILE, Anambra State Governor, Chukwuma Charles Soludo, has restated the resolve of his administration to ensure adequate security across the state during the festivities and beyond.

This came on the heels of a viral message by an anonymous writer, suggesting that some parts of the state were unsafe.

Soludo described the information as mischievous, misleading and untrue, pointing out that some measures had already been put in place to make Anambra an unsafe haven for criminal elements, including use of checkpoints, patrols and response teams.

He assured that his administration is also leveraging technology that would make it possible for people to make distress calls and share messages and videos of incidents, with a view to enhancing response.

He said: “In line with this resolve, I urge the good people of Anambra, residents and visitors to ignore any unfounded alarm meant to infuse fear in them or discourage them from visiting the state. These are idle engagements, which the government has all that it takes to deal with.”

Also, Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, warned people agitating for a separate state, describing their activities as a smokescreen for criminality.

Baba gave the warning in Amawbia, during the commissioning of an ultra-modern divisional police station.

He commended the governor and people for their determination to live together and tackle insecurity in the region, assuring of maximum support for the state.

He added: “Don’t relent. We’ll defeat them hands down. As for the secessionist idea that’s being unlawfully advocated, it won’t continue. There are better ways of agitation. Government can’t be intimidated.”

ALSO, on reports about the insecurity affecting Christmas travels to the southeast, apex Igbo sociocultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in a statement by National Publicity Secretary, Alex Ogbonnia, said: “As far as I am concerned, there is a social contract which the government has with the people over protection of life and property. Non- state actors appear to have taken over security.”

By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) and Uzoma Nzeagwu (Awka)

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