Transport operators’ COVID-19 palliative that never was

More than one year after the economic lockdown over COVID-19, interstate transport operators are at a loss about the promised palliatives by the federal government, Daily Trust reports.

One of the strategies adopted by the federal government to cushion the effects of COVID-19 across all sectors of the economy was the roll-out of palliatives and bailout for those affected by the nationwide economic lockdown precipitated by the pandemic.

Through the Economic Sustainability Committee headed by Vice-President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, far-reaching recommendations were made towards re-fleeting the economy and fast-tracking economic recovery across board.

For the transportation sector, N10bn was said to have been allocated for operators in the industry and many stakeholders were upbeat that the funds would go a long way in cushioning the effects of the pandemic.

But their hope seems to have been dashed more than a year after as the money is not forthcoming even when other sectors have benefitted.

For three months, the nation was on lockdown; all segments of the public transport operators were affected as they were not operating in deference to the government’s directive. The interstate luxury bus operators were badly hit.

Just a few weeks before the lockdown order was lifted, the operators under the aegis of Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA) at a press conference lamented the effects of the stay-at-home situation on their operation which, they said, posed a serious threat to thousands of jobs.

The National President of the association, Engr. Isaac Uhunmwagho, said apart from the huge revenue losses estimated at over N200bn, PTONA members were no longer buoyant enough to continue the payment of staff salaries.

He said, “Thousands of vehicles have been redundant for almost three months. The cost of restoration of these vehicles to sound condition will be millions of naira.”

He added, “Transportation is the engine of economic life. Many businesses that are no longer banned are finding that their operations and revenues are very low; many between 10% to 50% of normal levels of business.” 

He explained further that the association had been in touch with the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, to impress on the federal government the effects of the three-month lockdown on the business and demanded a response.

Recall that in August 2020, Senator Gbemisola Saraki had raised their hopes when they paid a visit on her in Abuja.

She said the federal government had approved N10bn for the transport operators as part of measures to assist the industry.

But the disbursement of the funds later became a subject of discord as the money was said to have been lumped into the MSME survival fund managed by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment where N30,000 was given to individual transport operators; majority of whom are members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).

However, a large percentage of RTEAN and NURTW members said they did not benefit from the fund.

This turn of events has gotten a lot of people agitated, especially the interstate operators; more so when they realised that those in the aviation industry, another transportation subsector, had received their share of the palliatives.

Founder of ABC Transport Service, Mr Frank Nnaji, confirmed that the interstate operators never got any palliative.

He said, “Government didn’t pay the money. Nothing has happened as I am talking to you. We didn’t get what we were supposed to get.

“What I am saying is that the government of Nigeria doesn’t care and I am sure some government officials would have shared the money. There is nothing for the road transport sector. They gave (those in the) health; they gave aviation and so on; but we didn’t get anything.”

An official of the ministry, Mr Ojo Idihaloise, said the money did not get to the Ministry of Transportation.

Idihaloise, who is a Deputy Director in the Department of Road Transportation and Mass Transit Administration, said: “grand misinformation” was being carried around about the funds disbursement.

He said, “The money was actually meant for the road transport union workers and operators. I remember vividly that the minister of state frantically struggled to ensure that the unions and associations got the funds we are talking about. She was going between the ministry and the State House to see how she could get the funds.”

He, however, said the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment wrote to demand the list of the interstate operators.

“But the last thing we heard was that the funds were domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment. And as we speak, except through other means, I cannot imagine or understand that the ministry got the funds. A kobo never got to the Federal Ministry of Transportation.”

With the seemingly endless wait for the funds, many seem to have lost hope that the money will ever come even as the year 2021 winds down.

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