Transporters Tackle Ministry Over N10b Covid-19 Palliative Fund

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By Moses Ebosele, ebosele@hotmail.com  

The N10billion approved by the Federal Government to ameliorate effects of last year’s Covid-19 lockdown on transporters and auto related segment of Nigeria’s economy is now enmeshed in controversy. 

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 While the Ministry of Transportation insist the money was channeled by the Federal Government to stakeholders through the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, stakeholders in the sector, at the weekend, challenged relevant government agencies to make alleged beneficiaries public. 

  Already, interstate bus operators under the aegis of Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA) have vowed to follow the controversy to a logical conclusion. 

 A member of PTONA who spoke on the development on Sunday said: “The money is missing. Where is the money? Our members did not get a kobo. The money has not been disbursed. The question is: Where is the money?“ 

  Speaking in a similar vein, National President, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Alhaji Musa Muhammed said:”I am not aware of any N10billion 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“ 

In a letter dated 28th March, 2021, addressed to the Honourable Minister of State for Transportation, Federal Ministry of Transportation and signed by the Deputy President, Emeka Mamah, PITONA called for the verification of two key issues as it concerns the fund.  

 Part of the letter titled an urgent appeal read: “We are members of Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA), the owners and operators of Long Distance Mass Transit Buses in Nigeria. We represent over one hundred and fifty brands of public passenger transport companies in the country. 

“Following the inexplicable delay in the disbursement of the N10Billion Covid-19 palliative fund approved by the Federal Government to Road Transporters to help cushion the effect of the pandemic, we wrote a letter to the Honourable Minister of State for Transportation dated 22nd February 2021 seeking an appointment to pay a working visit to the Honourable Minister to discuss issues relating to the inordinate delay in disbursing the fund to road transporters.  

 “However, in your reply to our letter dated 3rd March, 2021, 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. 

“We have carefully examined the impot of your reply aforesaid and wish to appeal to the Honourable Minister of State for Transportation to consider the following facts: 

1. The Federal Government of Nigeria in recognizing the huge financial losses total ban on interstate passenger movement across the country inflicted on interstate bus owners/operators, approved a N10Billion Covid-19 Palliative Fund for road transporters to cushion the effect of the pandemic. This approval was disclosed to our members when a delegation of our Association comprising of the Trustees and the National Executive officers paid a visit to the Honourable Minister on 26th August 2020 in her office. Also during the visit, she informed our delegation that a committee would be set up to work out modalities on how to disburse the fund to road transporters. 

“As you are aware, the committee headed by Mr. Ojo Idiailose, a Deputy Director in your ministry, was subsequently set up to work out the modalties. Since then, it has been holding sessions with our Representative, Sir Dan Okemuo in attendance. It is also instructive that in our last Annual General Meeting held in November 2020, a Representative of the Honourable Minister confirmed to our members that the committee was still working on the modalities on how the fund would be disbursed to road transporters.  

 “So, if the committee is still deliberating on the modalities on how to share the fund, your sudden directive to our Association to channel our concern on the non-disbursement of the N10Billion Covid-19 Palliative Fund for road transporters to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment is most curious and disturbing. 

2. In our view, the N10Billion Covid-19 Palliatives Fund approved by the Federal Government is totally different from an aspect of the N60Billion MSME Survival Fund domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.  

 “The N10Billion Covid-19 Palliative Fund was meant to assist road transporters to resuscitate their businesses that were on negative income throughout the 98days (about 14weeks) 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 N60Billion MSME Survival Fund domiciled with 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).  

 “In fact, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment had in a letter written to us (a copy is attached) dated 1st March 2021 confirmed to us that we are not part of the MSME Survival Fund. They explained that the targeted beneficiaries under the MSME Survival Fund were the drivers, keke and okada riders, cart pushers who are to receive a one-off grant of N30,000 per an individual. So, if MSME Survival Fund are not meant for transport owners and operators, it is clearly wrong to advise our members to channel our request for the disbursement of the fund to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment. 

3. We also wish to invite the Honourable Minister of State for Transportation to note that the N10Billion Covid-19 Palliative Fund approved for road transporters by the Federal Government was also approved for the Airline Operators as both the airline industry and road transport sector are negatively affected by the ban on interstate passenger movement in the country.  

“The fund was separately approved for both the airline operators and road transport owners/operators to assist them in reducing the huge financial losses they sustained during the complete lockdown of the country in the wake of the pandemic. Interestingly, while the fund approved for the Airline Operators had since been disbursed to them directly by the Federal Ministry of Aviation, which is their parent ministry, we are still groping in the dark as to what has happened to the one approved for Road Transport Owners/Operators.  

 “Indeed, our members are already agitating for the immediate release of the funds as it would appear that there is a grand conspiracy to deny them the benefit of the fund approved by the Federal Government to resuscitate their businesses that were seriously affected by the ban on interstate passenger movement across the country as a result of the pandemic.  

“In the light of the above facts, we most humbly appeal to the Honourable Minister of State for Transportation for the following reliefs: 

a. To correct the mixed-up in treating the N10Billion Covid-19 Palliative Fund approved for road transport Owners/Operators as an aspect of the MSME Survival Fund domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. 

b. An immediate disbursement of the N10Billion Covid-19 Palliative as our members are finding it increasingly difficult to remain in business due to huge financial losses they suffered during the lockdown. 

c. A request for an audience with the Honourable Minister of State for Transportation at her convenient time within the next two weeks for us to expatiate more on the issues we raised above. Thank you as we await your prompt response to our request”. 

 A source in the Ministry of Transportation, who prefered to remain anonymous, on Sunday advised stakeholders to visit relevant department in the Ministry  for ‘update and detailed briefing‘. 

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