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50% transport subsidy: FG slashes inter-state Transport fares, Labour blasts government



•NRC begins free train ride today, NLC, TUC say govt confused, demand wage award

•Katsina, Gombe, Plateau, Delta transporters, others claim ignorance of subsidy

The Federal Government on Wednesday announced 50 per cent reduction in transportation costs along 22 interstate routes during the Yuletide season.

The Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Mr Dele Alake, who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Presidential Intervention, disclosed this when he briefed State House correspondents at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.

Also, the spokesperson for the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Segun Falade, said the union would commence the implementation of the fare subsidy on Thursday (today).

Giving further explanation, Alake said the 50 per cent reduction in the fares was arrived at in conjunction with companies operating luxury buses.

He added that President Bola Tinubu had directed that commuters on all train services would get free rides from Thursday (today) to January 4, 2024.

But the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress faulted the initiative, describing the Federal Government as confused.

The Nigeria Union of Teachers, however, lauded the package as a welcome development.

Alake, flanked by his counterparts in the Ministry of Transportation, Saidu Alkali, and the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, while briefing the State House correspondent, explained that the President okayed the directives in the spirit of the season given the economic realities facing Nigerians.

Inter-state transportation

He said, “President Tinubu wants Nigerians to travel within Nigeria to wherever they want to meet their loved ones without the extra burden of paying exorbitantly for inter-state public transportation.

“It is in this wise that the Federal Government is announcing, beginning tomorrow (today), a special discounted holiday season fare on road transport and zero-fare by rail across Nigeria.

“This means that from tomorrow (today), Nigerians willing to travel can board public transportation via luxury buses at a 50 per cent discount on current cost and all our train services on the routes the trains currently serve at zero cost to and fro on their travels this holiday season.

“This special presidential intervention will commence tomorrow, Thursday, December 21. It will end on January 4, 2024. The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Transportation, will be working with transporters, road transport unions, and Nigerian Railway Corporation to seamlessly deliver on this special presidential initiative,” said Alake.

He added that from Thursday, Nigerians wishing to embark on inter-state travel to any part of the country—Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Owerri, Ibadan, Akure, Maiduguri, Sokoto, and other major inter-state transportation—hubs will be able to do so at half the cost.

On the operability of the scheme, Alake said, “I can tell you that all the relevant stakeholders in that industry have been engaged and all the parameters laid out and the Minister of Transportation has the full details and it’s on top of the game.

“In fact, we have met the presidents of the various transport unions …They have given us their own side of the case. We have had to haggle and negotiate, and everything is in top shape in terms of execution.”

“This idea did not emanate today. It had been in the works and before we now came to this conclusion of publicising it, all the I’s were dotted, and all the T’s had been crossed. And we have gotten the understanding of the various stakeholders, especially the transport unions.”

He assured Nigerians that there would be no price hikes at the expense of the passengers because the costs had been determined during the negotiations.

However, Alake declined to mention the total amount of rebate the government would give for the project, arguing that cost counts little given the priority of the intervention.

He explained, “Somebody asked what is the cost of all of these. Now, the cost is not important when you want to give succour to the masses, especially when it’s not an ad infinitum kind of policy.

“It is for a couple of days. So, the cost is not prohibitive, beyond the affordability of the government.”

Meanwhile, the Transport Minister, Alkali, who stopped short of mentioning how much would be spent on the 15-day project, explained the FG’s rationale for engaging luxury bus unions.

He said the transport companies operating these kinds of vehicles were preferred for their well-organised structures nationwide.

“Why we decided to use luxury buses union is because they are more organised and more structured.

“So, we held a meeting with the President of the union and they gave us an idea of how much they charge on a normal day but during festive when the buses travel, they return empty and it is on that account that they have to increase the fair during festivities.

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“That has been taken into account. We held several meetings with Mr President,” Alkali stated.

He explained that the government prioritised security in its choice of a 50 per cent fare reduction in road transport.

“Why we decided to have 50 per cent for the land transport, you see, when you have this kind of initiative or programme to implement, you have to be mindful of the security situation.

“If you say it’s for free, even those that did not intend to travel will just go to the park and say I want to travel. But with this 50 per cent, they have the ticketing system.

“So for those who intend to travel, the Federal Government will provide 50 per cent for them. They do one trip daily; we are going to maintain that,” the minister added.

The Transportation Minister also noted that the existing train services of Lagos-Ibadan, Warri-Itapke, and Abuja-Kaduna would maintain their current schedules throughout the period.

NURTW confirms deal

The NURTW spokesperson, Falade, confirmed that the union had resolved to commence the price slash from today, following the directive by the Presidency.

He said the decision came after deliberations by the executive members of the NURTW on modalities for the smooth operation of the directive.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria through the President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has issued a directive and the modality towards implementing that directive is what we have been discussing in the NURTW Executive Committee. So basically, the 50 per cent slash will take effect from tomorrow (today) as directed”, he said.

Falade did not disclose how the NURTW planned to enforce the directive or whether it would be making any further demands on the government beyond the promise to pay the rest of the 50 per cent discount to the union.

But the organised labour comprising the NLC and the TUC expressed disappointment with development, labelling it as “a show of confusion” on the part of those in government.

Speaking in an interview with one of our correspondents, the National Deputy President of the TUC, Tommy Etim said, “The government is getting more confused. Slashing interstate transport prices can lead to a crash in economic growth. Why not simply announce a slash in the pump price of petrol which has been responsible for the crisis Nigeria is in today?

“Let’s even say you slash the transport fare and people travel, what do you think they will eat?

“There is a poverty situation in the country and instead of looking for ways of tackling it, the government has just been dancing around and this is rather unfortunate.

“The government should know that Nigerians are too wise. It is highly laughable because out of all the problems facing Nigerians, how is this our major problem? So people should travel, come back again to the poverty?’’

Continuing, the union leader noted, “He (the president) needs to up his game and allow those who understand how the economy grows to come into play. The wage award that they promised and agreed to has not been paid. They only paid for one single month and stopped.’’

NLC faults govt

Also speaking, the Head of Information of the NLC, Benson Upah, said, “Government is killing a cow with its mouth and we Nigerians are eating it with our ears.”

However, the NUT commended the Federal Government for giving a 50 per cent discount to commuters who would use the train transportation during the festivities.

In an interview with The PUNCH, the Secretary-General of the NUT, Dr Mike Ike-Ene, said, “On behalf of workers and the general public, I sincerely say kudos to those we came up with the initiative and I hope that it will work.”

Ike-Ene lamented that this government and successive governments were usually quick to make promises without implementation..

He called for the deployment of security personnel on the train, saying the government should avoid the Kaduna kidnap incident.

The Coordinator of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, Chido Onumah described the development as a welcome development, and a “relief” for citizens, from the pains of the subsidy removal.

The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, also commended the initiative, noting, however, that in spite of the price slash, only a section of the citizenry would be able to afford the fares.

He added that the government should have made logistic plans before now, and extended the scheme beyond the two-week time frame to further alleviate the pains of the people.

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The Managing Director of Nigerian Railway Corporation, Fidget Okhiria, told one of our correspondents that the NRC had been informed of the President’s directive and had already commenced work on it.

He said the government would be providing some incentives to make the initiative seamless, adding that the NRC would ensure that passengers use the e-ticketing solution for railway services across the country.

Asked whether the corporation was ready to begin free rides from today (Thursday), Okhiria replied, “That is the instruction given to us and it is what we are working on now. It is going to be implemented as directed for the benefit of Nigerians.

“The government has assured us that it would provide some incentives to help us meet our targets. So what we intend to do is to create an opportunity for people to key into the e-ticketing solution.

“Therefore, you must get your tickets online before you can board the train free of charge. We will not sell hard copy tickets and we will not sell at the stations because of security issues. So people should endeavour to get their tickets online.”

He explained that the online sale of tickets was necessary because the NRC would have to get the manifest of those boarding the trains, adding that it would also cut every form of rush or crowding at the stations.

“Once you get your ticket online and you have a seat, there will be no need for rushing, because you will be properly accommodated to ride on the train. So there is no need to come to the station to get the ticket when you can get it online.

“And once the train seats are all fully booked online, anyone who doesn’t have a ticket cannot access the train, nor will such a person be allowed entry into the area meant for passengers with tickets,” Okhiria stated.

Meanwhile, the National President of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners, Yusuf Othman, has said that the Federal Government could not compel its members to slash transport fares by 50 per cent ‘’because the business is not owned by the government.’’

Othman while speaking in a telephone conversation with The PUNCH on Wednesday added that the association would first look at the operational cost to see if the directive was feasible.

He urged the Federal Government to come up with modalities on how they intend to implement the directive.

Othman stated, “We can’t direct our members to slash their fares by 50 per cent because we are not the owners of their vehicles and the president himself is also not the owner of the vehicles.

“It is easier for the government to do that in the railway sector because it is owned by the government 100 per cent. But for our case, you have to look at the operational cost and see if it is possible to do that.

In the meantime, transporters in Katsina, Gombe, Plateau, Delta, Sokoto and other states have claimed ignorance of the transport subsidy expected to take off on Thursday (today).

NARTO kicks

Members of the National Union of Roads Transport Workers and NARTO in Katsina State said they have yet to be briefed by their leaders, adding, however, that they would comply with any directive on the initiative from their national leadership.

“You can go around our garage, there is no circular on that and our leaders have not briefed us on the fare slash, “ a driver identified as Muntari declared.

The Managing Director of Gombeline Transport company Sani Sabo, disclosed that the state had yet to get the promised palliatives, promising that as soon as it arrives it would commence the needed reduction in transport fares.

He said, “We are yet to get Federal Government palliative, although they have taken the total number of buses in our fleet but as soon as we get the relief, we will reduce our transportation fares.”

In Delta State, several NURTW members said they had yet to be briefed on the yuletide package.

Union leaders who spoke to our correspondent at the NURTW main garage at Effurun in Uvwie Local Government Area on Wednesday explained that they did not know about the initiative.

“I cannot guarantee that any commercial inter-state motorist would slash his fare without a solid agreement with the government on the mode of compensation.

“Are you saying government will provide us subsidized fuel for our sacrifice during the period?,” an NURTW ex-officio member, Paul Onyekwere, asked.

The state chairman of the NURTW in Sokoto, Muhammed Takutaku, similarly said the union in the state had yet to receive any official directive on the price slash.

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He noted that such a development would be feasible only if the pump price of petrol was reduced.

Takutaku added, “Honestly, I am hearing such information for the first time. I am sure if the information affects us, we will receive a letter to that effect from the national headquarters.

“But honestly, if Mr President wants us to implement such a directive, he should lead by example by reducing the price of petrol which I think will help in reducing the transport fares.”

Speaking with The PUNCH in Jos on Wednesday, the state NURTW Chairman, Yakubu Dalyop, said, “We are not aware of any directive for us to reduce transport fares by 50 per cent. Nobody has told us anything.

“If there is such a thing, I’m sure our national body would have communicated that instruction to us because we have a structured body and we only receive instructions from our national body. So, for now, we continue with our normal inter-state prices as before.”

The Bayelsa State branch of the NURTW said that it had not received any directive to ask its members to reduce the cost of interstate transport fares by 50 per cent based on Tinubu’s approval.

A high-ranking state official of the union, who did not want his name mentioned, said they were not aware of any such decision.

He said, “Nobody has communicated that to us. We are not aware. There is no communication to that effect from anywhere.’’

Asked if the state branch would carry out the directive, he said, “If you receive a directive and somebody is buying fuel at N650 per litre, are they the ones providing fuel? Do they just give directives?

‘’If they are giving directives and there are ways to augment, there is no problem. Go and buy fuel to run Yenagoa-Port Harcourt, then you will see the pain. Spare parts that we used to buy at N2,000 have now tripled even more. To every directive, there are conditions.”

The Bauchi State Chairman of NATO, Alhaji Mai Kano, also said he had yet to get any official communication on the fare subsidy.

“We are yet to get any memo concerning that from our National Secretariat. Of course, when we get the directive from our National Secretariat, we’ll act on it,” he said.

Also, transport union officials at the popular Kano Line Motor Park and commercial bus drivers said they were not aware of the announced fare slash as they had not been informed.

An official, Musa Bello, said he was surprised to hear the news of the fare slash, lamenting the rising cost of fuel.

“We are aware that some filling stations have shut down in anticipation of fuel price increase in the new year while others have increased the pump price to between N670 and N680 per litre,” Bello said.

He said no driver would reduce the fare ‘’because he doesn’t know who will pay the balance.’’

‘’As I’m talking to you now, nobody has briefed us about any arrangement on the 50 per cent slash. This is to show you that the government is not serious. Let them reduce the fuel price if they want to assist or support the masses,” he said.

Another driver, Malam Ya’u Shehu, said nobody can force him to reduce the fares ‘’since there were no concrete arrangements between the transport union and the vehicle owners.’’

“From here (Kano), we’re charging N8,000 to Abuja while we charge N4,000 to Kaduna. We are going to charge the same tomorrow because we have not been briefed on any arrangements to that effect,” he said.

Meanwhile, passengers have welcomed the FG directive on the fare slash, describing it as a laudable initiative.

Abdullahi Imran, who was travelling to Lagos, said “Although I have not heard the news of the fare slash, I will rather welcome the news if it is true. I, however, paid N18,500 for my trip.”

Johnson Aregwe, a civil servant, expressed reservations on the practicability of the transport subsidy, saying “Will the government set out a monitoring team to ensure compliance?”

Another commuter, Mrs. Janet Onuigbo, thanked the government for the gesture noting that it would serve as a big relief for holidaymakers during the festive period.

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