Moses Akaigwe, Lagos
Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA) ended their recent two-day (second) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Lagos with an appeal to the Federal Government to urgently disburse to its members the N10 billion approved in August to help road transportation survive the debilitating effects of COVID-19.
The transporters have also called for the immediate re-opening of the land borders closed by the government about 15 months ago, even as they decried the unfair implementation of the COVID-19 protocol of 50 per cent seating capacity which is biased against their branded inter-state buses on various routes nationwide.
This was contained in a communiqué issued by PTONA at the end of a two-day (second) Annual General Meeting held recently at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Ikeja, Lagos, which was anchored on the theme Road Transportation and the Future of Nigeria Economy.
The 2nd AGM had the representatives of the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemi Saraki; Minister of State of Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, and many other personalities, as guests of honour.
Signed by the National President, Engr Isaac Uhunmwagho, and the Secretary, Frank Nneji, the PTONA statement appealed to the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Army Staff to immediately remove all the numerous Police/Army checkpoints on the highways. Such roadblocks, the statement said, have tripled journey time on various routes, thereby making road transportation a nightmare.
The public transport owners stated that with experts in transportation as resource persons, over 120 members participating in the summit, and about 10 bus makers exhibiting their vehicles, the forum provided a veritable platform for deliberating on the burning issues confronting the sector and making recommendations.
The resolutions were distilled from the papers presented by the guest speakers, Dr John C.Isemede and Alban Igwe, and the interactive session that ensued thereafter. The communiqué included a call on the government to: ‘Reverse the closure of the nation’s land borders because the situation is adversely affecting our members’ businesses and cannot be sustained as a policy measure by the Federal Government. The association calls on the Federal Government to deploy technology in checking the illegal activities of smugglers on the nations land borders.
‘Stop the unfair policy in implementing the 50 per cent seating capacity on our members’ inter-state buses nationwide. This is because it is only our members’ branded inter-state buses that have been observing the social distancing safety protocols on board since the measure was introduced up till this moment. Other unorganized inter-state buses, airline operators, schools and markets are now operating at full capacity without following the guidelines on social distancing.’
PTONA lamented that members were still reeling from the impact of COVID-19, stating that they are ‘panicking and agitating’ that the N10bn palliatives measure announced in August by the Minister of State. Ministry of Transportation, Sen. Gbemisola Saraki, on behalf of the Federal Government, was yet to be disbursed to the transport owners. The communiqué further stated: ‘Consequently, they (PTONA members) are afraid that with barely few weeks to the end of the current fiscal year, the fund, if not disbursed immediately, could be returned to the treasury by the end of the year. Therefore, we call on the Federal Ministry of Transportation to ensure immediate disbursement of the fund…
‘There is a skewed emphasis of the government policies and programmes on the provisions of infrastructure rather than on the bus owners/operators and the public. The association calls on the Federal Government to always involve the bus owners/operators whenever they are designing policy for passenger movement in the country.’
The PTONA President, Uhunmwagho, had in his welcome remarks on the first day described transportation as the glue that sustains the economic activities of any country, while the Lagos Transportation Commissioner, Dr Fredrick Oladeinde, in a keynote address delivered on behalf of the Governor, touched on the State’s current massive bus procurement and infrastructure development project.
Predictably, Federal Government’s Auto Gas drive came under focus at the transporters’ event when the representative of the Minister of State, and a Director for Auto Gas Expansion Project in the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources Engr. Steve Ayuba, made a presentation on the Fuel to Gas Expansion Project.
Dr John Isemede’s paper on the effect of the continued closure of the land borders on the transport sector of the economy provoked a lot of lamentations by the affected transporters, just as the presentation by Alban Igwe on government policies and programmes that place much emphasis on infrastructure, rather than on the people and the operators, was very thought-provoking.
The Minister of State for Transportation was represented by Mr Ojo Idialoise, who spoke on the Reform of Road Transport Sector in Nigeria currently being undertaken by the Ministry.