By Kasim Sumaina
The federal government on Wednesday disclosed that it has approved a N10 billion survival fund for transport workers and operators in the country.
The Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, made the disclosure when the President, Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA), Mr. Isaac Uhunwagho, led the association’s National Executive Committee and Trustees to pay her a courtesy call in Abuja.
Saraki, in a statement made available to journalists in Abuja by the Director of Press of the ministry, Eric Ejiekwe, informed the delegation that the funds, which will help cushion the sufferings encountered by road transport workers and operators as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, is domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment, adding that the Ministry of Transportation is currently working on the modalities for its disbursement.
While appreciating the fact that 90 per cent of Nigerians travel by road, Saraki stated that the government will soon initiate a master plan that will reform the sector. She therefore solicited the buy-in of all stakeholders.
Reacting to challenges operators face from state governments and other stakeholders, the minister gave the assurance that she will discuss the issues through the National Transport Commissioners Forum.
Also, the minister disclosed that she is in talks with the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing on the concessioning of some routes which she thinks is the best way to go so as to increase government revenue.
She further enjoined them to avoid duplicity and formalise their structure in an organised manner for better engagements, with the ministry and other relevant agencies.
Responding, the National President, PTONA, Mr. Uhunwagho, stated that their visit was in respect of challenges being faced by the body and also to appreciate the minister’s efforts towards the challenges PTONA has being facing since February 2020 and the cooperation and protection which the ministry is now ready to provide for public transportation in Nigeria.
He further pleaded for COVID-19 financial palliatives for its members to prevent their businesses from folding up.
The PTONA boss said that PTONA members felt the impact of the lockdown the most as their branded buses could not operate due to the ban on interstate travel.
The general motor parks, he said, did not comply with the ban on movement, as their parks enjoyed black market transportation boom.
He further lamented that despite PTONA members being the major investors in the transportation sector, it is ironical that their companies are the prime target for state and local government authorities who impose taxes, levies and other ridiculous conditions on their members.
These challenges, among others, necessitated the visit on the minister and hoped their pleas would be looked into.