The Nigerian Road Transport and Trade Sector Coalition has called for urgent revamp of moribund mass transit vehicles in the country in the face of challenges prompted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The coalition also expressed worry that the dilapidated state of public transportation, especially in the urban, cities did not encourage social distancing, one of the principal measures for fighting the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Ken Ukaoha, the President, National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), made the call on Monday in Abuja on behalf of the coalition through its letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari and copied to relevant sectors.
He noted that during the past administration, there was an approval for the provision of mass transit vehicles through the then SURE-P arrangement, which was deemed by the unions and Nigerians as a commendable step.
Regrettably, he said, while discussions for the specification of the vehicles was ongoing to facilitate effective choice of model, HYUNDAI vehicles were suddenly procured by some selfish government officials to the uttermost shock of the transport unions.
“Many of those vehicles turned out to be faulty, dis-functional and useless right from take-off. The result is that although the key transport unions in the country were committed to invest thereupon, many of the vehicles packed up in the most shameful manner even at the point of commissioning.
“Practically, almost all those vehicles could not function and were packed in several states, and especially within the FCT (along Kubwa road, Nyanya, NLC Park in Utako, etc) till date, depreciating and rusting away in the most careless manner.
“While the citizens are in dire need of transportation services to match up with the current increase in population especially in the urban cities, the over N4.2 billion investments thereupon (as at then) has been condemned,’’ he said.
Ukaoha recalled that the coalition had jointly and severally approached and officially written through the Federal Ministry of Transportation, and called for consideration of a strong collaboration with government.
According to him, the collaboration is aimed at conducting verification of these abandoned vehicles, with a view to entering into an arrangement that hands over these vehicles to the unions to fix, operate and pay back to government.
This, he said, would be on mutually Agreed Terms so as to improve the transportation sector economy.
He however proposed a tripartite arrangement whereby the government, unions/associations and local vehicle manufacturers or mechanics would be involved in fixing these vehicles.
He explained that the collaboration would urgently put the vehicles back on the roads to service the sector, thereby creating and retaining jobs for the local vehicle mechanics/technicians.
“It does not make any economic sense watching these vehicles parked in places where they are rusting away and creating hibernation for criminals while the masses suffer in the hands of ‘one chance operators’ and insecurity consequences,’’ he said.
Ukaoha said the coalition, which comprised of Transport Unions and Associations, were aware that Nigeria had been faced with serious economic haemorrhage, aggravated by the impact of COVID-19 and its trauma on virtually all sectors.
The expert noted that the coalition was specifically aware that the nation’s revenue has depleted, growth was steadily shrinking, while national budget (Appropriation Act) had undergone forced revision to tally with current realities.
“At such difficult times as this, abandoned property should always be remembered by the wise, and some of these can always be patched to avert further depreciation into poverty. The transport sector therefore quickly comes to mind.
“There are few commercial buses plying both FCT satellite towns and the city routes. Apart from exorbitant fares, commercial taxi drivers find it difficult to comply with government’s prescribed seating arrangements (one passenger at the front seat and two at the back seat) necessary for social distancing.
“Of course, these drivers must meet up with their hire purchase liability or daily payment delivery commitments to the owners of the taxis who may have also borrowed funds from financial institutions to purchase the vehicles.
“The provision of more mass transit buses therefore becomes imperative,’’ the trade and economic law advocate said.
He urged the government to set up a Joint Inspection Committee, comprising selected public servants and transport union representatives to conduct an audit of the vehicles to unravelling their conditions, reasons for their abandonment and take necessary actions.
Ukaoha said the coalition strongly believed that the buses were well positioned to assist in advancing the implementation of the social distancing by reducing the clustering of teeming number of passengers and poor masses on our roads.
Apart from assisting as an immediate response to the social distancing requirement, he said that these vehicles would add immense value to the nation’s weakening economy specifically through the facilitation of movement of persons, goods and services nationwide.
“They will also become direct helping hand and means of addressing the movement of agro-inputs and agricultural commodities especially in the face of current food security challenges prompted by COVID-19,’’ he noted. (NAN)