Traditional Christmas travel to southeastern Nigeria has been severely reduced this year as many Igbos chose to either stay abroad or enjoy the holidays in Lagos for fear of kidnapping.
There are believed to be about 30m Igbos living in Nigeria and as many as about 5m living in the diaspora. Traditionally, Igbos both at home and abroad, always travel back to southeast Nigeria for Christmas in what has become an annual pilgrimage.
However, this year, the figures are reported to be down with Lagos transporters saying that business is quieter than usual. They attribute the lull to the incessant menace of kidnapping, which has become very rampant across the southeast lately, with wealthy and influential Nigerians being abducted in exchange for huge sums.
Over the last week, Nollywood actress, Nkiru Sylvanus and former Mr Nigeria, Kenneth Okolie were both kidnapped in Owerri and were only released after large ransoms were paid. For the last fortnight, luxury bus motor parks at Jibowu, Yaba, Ejigbo, Ikotun, Igando and Alimosho parts of Lagos, mostly patronised by Igbo travellers, have reported slow trade.
Apparently, the situation is so bad that luxury bus operators have been forced to reduce transport fares during what should be their peak period. Ekene Dili Chukwu Motors in Jibowu for instance cut its fares to N6,000 from N7,000 for luxury buses and to N5,000 from N5,500 for mini buses going to the southeast.
Similarly, at the Ifesinachi Motor Park, the fare was for a journey to Onitsha, Enugu or Owerri in a luxury bus was reduced to N6,000 from N7,000. Ejike Madu, a manager with Peace Motors, Yaba, conceded that transporters were forced to reduce their fares because of low patronage.
He added: “Things are very hard and this is responsible for the considerable drop in the number of passengers travelling to the East. Most passengers are also afraid of the men of the underworld. They are afraid of kidnappers.”
It is not clear what number of Igbos from the UK have flown to Nigeria and decided to stay put in Lagos. In the US, Igbos constitute a majority of the Nigerians there, while they are the second largest ethnic group in the UK.