Mass transit buses
By Ahamefula Ogbu
President Goodluck Jonathan Sunday inaugurated 1,100 of 1,600 mass transit buses at the Eagles Square, Abuja, as part of the palliative measures he promised Nigerians to cushion the effect of the removal of fuel subsidy.
Jonathan said governors of the 36 states were absent at the formal launch of the scheme because he had asked them to remain in their states to monitor and work with security agencies as the strike called by labour unions over the subsidy removal begins today.
“Today, we are formally launching a mass transit programme and I have to emphasise that we are not inaugurating buses but we are launching a mass transit programme for Nigeria.
The Federal Government is involved, the state governments are involved, local governments are involved, the Central Bank of Nigeria is involved, several commercial banks are involved and of course, transport unions as well as manufacturers and importers of mass transit vehicles.
“Governors are not here because of what everybody is afraid of, the announced protest by some societies. We said every governor must be on ground in the state so that they would be able to work with security agencies to maintain law and order in their states,” Jonathan explained.
He also said the scheme was not put in place because of the removal of subsidy as “deregulation or no deregulation, we need a mass transit scheme” in order to bring down cost of transportation, pointing out that the increase in the cost of transportation due to the subsidy removal was an over-reaction to the policy and regretted commuters were being made to bear the brunt.
The president noted that wagons and small buses were not suitable for mass transit and therefore makes the cost high, hence the desire to introduce the mass transit buses which he said were not being bought or run by the government.
He said the funds were provided to bulk-purchase the buses to push down the prices and make them cheaper for the managers, adding, “Federal Government is not buying buses, we are subsidising mass transit.”
Jonathan, who appealed to Nigerians to be patient as the pains engendered by the deregulation of the downstream sector would be temporary, said that the policy would usher in an enduring gain that would transform the economy.
He said the reason the country does not have a cheap mass transit system was because the framework had not been right but pointed out that Vice-President Namadi Sambo and the governors, on his directive, were meeting to fashion out an enduring framework that would at least push down transportation cost to the pre-subsidy removal rate.
The president used the occasion to lament the use of social media to misinform Nigerians and build up anger, pointing out that even while he was launching the programme, text and Black berry messages were being circulated that he was in South Africa with a very large delegation.
He vowed not to inflict pains on Nigerians as he would be offending God to do so after being massively voted for by the electorate.
He counselled Nigerians to stop exploiting the situation, saying that vehicles which use diesel which was deregulated five years ago, still increased prices which was unfair, adding, “The doubling of fares is not real. It is a reaction of people who perceive that government deregulation programme is anti-people and to vent their anger, they just raise their prices.”
Speaking earlier, Minister of Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, said the Federal Government had earlier provided N10 billion revolving loan through the Urban Development Bank with five per cent interest rate, to push through the scheme.
He said the loan had now been increased to N15 billion and tenured for 60 days and above.
Aganga said the government’s intervention would make the fares affordable, adding that the buses were procured with local producers in mind as it would increase employment by 30 per cent while adding to the economy and reducing fares at the same time.
He said an analysis of the rate of fuel price increase which was a component of the transportation input amounted to 26 per cent and the increase of 100 per cent in cost was not commensurate to the price increase in fuel.
Aganga said maintenance agreement with manufacturers for 10 years to avoid the vehicles packing up had been signed, while spares would be allowed without duties as the government would assist in everywhere possible to push the transport fares down.
A communiqué issued by transport operators after their meeting with Aganga and read by their National Chairman, Alhaji Nadi Usman Yasik, said they were in support of the removal of fuel subsidy and that an additional fund should be made available to them to procure buses at zero per cent interest rate which would enable them reduce fares by 20 per cent.
Yasik also demanded duty waivers on importation of spare parts and buses while school children in their uniforms and the elderly would be granted reduced fares on interstate routes.