By Theodore Opara
Worried by their inability to cope with the challenges of providing adequate services to the citizenry, transport operators across the country have urged the federal government to urgently disburse the N10 billion COVID-19 palliative fund to their members to prevent imminent collapse of the sector.
This is as the N10bn COVID-19 bailout as intervention fund to operators in the Nigeria’s auto industry which is expected to rescue ailing companies and firms to reposition the sector seems to be shrouded in controversy.
Findings revealed that the huge fund earmarked as bailout for the transport operators is causing ripples as some operators are alleging that they were side-lined in the disbursement. It was learned that among the operators who have been asked to submit documents for verification were the interstate luxury bus operators, under the aegis of the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association, PTONA.
Vanguard learned that having lost billions of naira to the 98-day lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the transporters had expected that they would deploy the palliative to beef up their business but up till today, they are yet to benefit.
In a letter dated March 28, 2021 addressed to the Minister of State for Transportation, Federal Ministry of Transportation and signed by the Deputy President, Emeka Mamah, the group pleaded the verification of two key issues as it concerned the fund.
First, PITONA pleaded to the Minister to correct apparent confusion in treating the N10 billion COVID-19 palliative fund approved for Road Transporters as MSME Survival fund domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.
The group also asked for immediate disbursement of the fund to their members to prevent imminent collapse of interstate passenger transport companies in Nigeria.
According to PITONA, efforts to secure an appointment to pay a working visit to the Minister to discuss issues relating to the delay in disbursing the fund to road transporters was not granted.
“However, in your reply to our letter, dated March 3, 2021 (a copy is attached) our request for the visit was neither approved nor rejected. On the contrary, you simply advised our association to redirect its inquiry regarding the fund to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment since the intervention fund for the transport sector had been released to the ministry by the Federal Government”, the group stated in the letter.
Lamenting further, PITONA insisted that the N10 billion COVID-19 Palliatives Fund approved by the Federal Government was totally different from an aspect of the N60 billion MSME Survival Fund domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, adding that “the N10 billion COVID-19 Palliative Fund was meant to assist road transporters to resuscitate their businesses that were on negative income throughout the 14 weeks that the country was on complete lockdown for all interstate passenger movement due to COVID-19 pandemic.”
‘’On the other hand, an aspect of the N60 billion MSME Survival Fund domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is a one-off grant designed to support vulnerable Micro Small and Medium Enterprises in meeting up their salary obligations under the Federal Government’s National Economic Sustainability Plan, NESP,” PITONA added.
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PITONA had earlier in 2020, estimated a loss of about N200 billion in revenue just in 10 weeks of the lockdown
Another major operator who spoke under anonymity, told our correspondent that when they approached the Federal Ministry of Transportation, they were directed to enquire from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.
On getting to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, the source disclosed that they were told that the money had been disbursed to Keke-NAPEP riders
In addition, another transport body, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, also claimed it had not benefited from the fund.
Confirming their position, the National President of RTEAN, Alhaji Musa Muhammed, said he was not aware of the fund.
“I am not aware of any N10 billion palliative. We have not seen anything. The only money which some of our members got was the N30,000 MSME fund and not many people got the money,’’ Muhammed said.
Efforts made to reach the Director of Press in the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Mr. Eric Ojiekwe, proved abortive as he did not pick nor return our call. Also a text message sent to him was not replied.