Mr. Fola Tinubu, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Primero Transport Services Limited, in this interview with NigeriaCheck Newspaper’s Chief Reporter, Georges Macnobleson-Idowu, dwells on why the incoming administration of the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s must subsidize public transport services in Nigeria, and reasons public transport is not attracting investments to bring it at par with global transport standard.
Qus: As someone who manages a public transport company, how do you think the incoming administration of the President elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, can improve public transport system, across the country?
Ans: It’s very easy and this one I’m very passionate about. Look, I don’t care what Lagos State does, they cannot do it all by themselves, because of the huge investment involved. The Federal Government has to be part of the solution. The key is not buying buses, coaches or boats, it is the business sustainability, and that’s where the Federal Government comes in.
I know Nigerians do not like to hear the word ‘subsidy,’ but if the whole world is doing something in a particular way, then there must be a reason for it. The whole world cannot be stupid and we cannot be the only wise one. The Capitalist’s countries all over Western Europe, America, Australia and the Communist’s countries, China, Russia, India, etc, are all subsidizing public transportation, and the only tier of government that can do it in a fair, transparent and efficient manner, is the Federal Government. If we don’t do what the rest of the world is doing, we are deluding ourselves. We would continue with the ‘Okada’ means of transport system.
If we must have a world class transport system, it has to be paid for. The question is, who pays for it? If we want the commuters to pay for it, then it would not be affordable, because we probably have to charge about N1,500 to N2,000 from Ikorodu to TBS. How many people can afford it? But if we diverse a way between Lagos State and the Federal Government to subsidize public transportation, it would encourage more people to invest in that space. The Investment needed in that space is a lot of money. It runs into millions of dollars. It’s not something that any person can do. One million dollars will not even get you more than 10 or 15 buses, and that’s N750million. So, it’s a space that needs a huge investment, but the private sector must make a modicum of profit.
I have said this in a couple of interviews, I don’t know where we read our economics from; obviously the whole world read theirs somewhere else, and we, Nigerians read ours somewhere else. All over the world, public transportation is heavily subsidized by both the federal, state and local governments. We are not subsidizing that. But petrol is heavily taxed. It’s revenue generating. In fact, some countries put as heavy as 40% tax on petrol that we are subsidizing. It doesn’t make sense.
Look, according to the world bank, Lagos State alone needs about 5,000 buses going up and down, picking passengers all over Lagos. Right now, including Primero’s fleet of buses, and the State’s fleet of buses, the total buses on the road is less than 1,500. That’s why we see people by the roadside whenever we are going home in the evening, looking for “Soole”. Looking for “Kabukabu”, looking for “Okada”, because there’s no enough vehicles. But there can never be enough buses, if the private sector will not make profit. And the only way the private sector can make profit is for the federal, state and local governments to step into the space and subsidize, because if we want to charge the full fare, it won’t be affordable, and public transportation must have the affordability element in it. That’s the essence of public transportation. It must be affordable to the ordinary Nigerians on the street. Until we talk to ourselves and make the decision, we are going to continue with ‘Okada’ mode of transportation.
When I was younger, Lagos State used to have a company called LMTS – Lagos State Municipal Transport Services and they later changed it to LSDS and they all went down. The reason they went down was because they were not charging enough to cover their costs and they were not subsidized. If the maintenance keeps going up, and we cannot bridge the gap between the costs of production and the fare, eventually the business will go under. It’s a fact we cannot run away from.
Qus: There are indications that more Lagosians, especially car owners are now abandoning their cars at home to ply the BRT. What do you think inspires this, and how do you intend to encourage this new patrons?
Ans: We want more Lagosians to leave their cars at home and ply the BRT, because it will help commerce in Lagos State. It will free up congestion on the road. The number one problem in Lagos is congestion. People leave their houses as early as 4.30am or 5am to get to work at 7am or 7.30am, and they don’t get back home until 10pm or 11pm. So, they don’t even have quality time with their families. The government cannot build enough roads in Lagos, because of its small geographical area, and more people are trooping into Lagos on a daily basis. So, the only way is to have a World class public transportation system that takes people from point A to B, in a safe, affordable and efficient way. If we can do that, we can now get people to reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
The number one problem in Lagos is the traffic, because it affects people health. It affects people’s quality of life. It affects the families. There’s so many things attached to it. So, we have to ensure the public transport system is working well, including the road, rail and ferry services. All of them have to work seamlessly, so that people can feel comfortable, and maybe at weekends they can take their cars out. If we get it right, it changes the paradigm, as well as the dynamize of Lagos State.
Qus: Some new patrons of the BRT, especially those working on Victoria Island, have suggested that the BRT terminal or bus stop should be extended to Adeola Odeku. Are you thinking in this direction?
Ans: First of all, you need to understand that I don’t work for the Lagos State Government. Lagos State has a Master Plan, and part of it is the LASTMA small blue and white buses, they introduced recently. The idea is the big buses cannot go everywhere, so when the big buses drop a passenger at his or her bus stop, he or she takes the small buses to his or her destination. And the same thing applies when he or she drops at the TBS, he or she can take the small buses to his or her office on Victoria Island and Ikoyi. The big buses cannot go to every nook and cranny of Lagos State, because of space and size of the buses, so they have to ensure the LASTMA small blue and white buses are available and working well to argument in places the big buses cannot go.
Qus: Lagosians have complained that they spend more time waiting for BRT buses, especially in the afternoon towards the evening, at Agric Bus Stop and Fadayi in particular. Are you aware of this problem, and how are you intending to resolve this?
Ans: We are looking at it. The biggest problem is the Lagos traffic, and anybody who lives in that axis knows how bad the traffic can be. I’m praying to God that they finish the project Julius Berger is handling along the Lagos-Ibadan express way. When they stopped work briefly towards the Christmas, traffic flows better, and now the gridlock has started again. A journey that is supposed to take 30 to 40 minutes now takes 2 to 3hours, such that by the time the buses go and come back, there’s always a delay of commuters waiting to board. Let’s say you have 20 buses deployed from Fadayi to Ikorodu, and you have calculated the journey will take each bus about 45 minutes to one hour, if it takes three or four hours for the bus to return, there’s no way it won’t affect the commuters waiting to board, and there’s very little we can do unless we put more buses on the corridor, and more buses on the corridor are still going to get stocked in traffic, anyway. So, the key is that we need to find a way to reduce traffic on Lagos road. First of all, the roads that are being fixed need to be done faster and efficient, so that the contractors get off the road. Secondly, there’s need to stop the menace of “Danfo” drivers, who just stop anywhere to carry passengers. They cause lots of problems for everybody when they close up traffic during rush hours. LASTMA is doing a good job, but they have to do better. They need to do something about this Danfo drivers that just stop anywhere, and we need to get all the roads fixed fast. If we do that, that will go a long way in solving traffic congestion in Lagos, and if the flow gets better, the buses will return faster and it will help everyone in the long run.
Qus: Some people are suggesting that the cowrie card should deduct on the basis of Pay-As-You-Go and not a flat rate deduction per trip.
Ans: That’s why we introduced different buses for different destinations. We introduced direct Oshodi buses, Ketu buses, Fadayi buses, Ikorodu buses and TBS buses. And it’s the people’s responsibility to take the right bus. We cannot legislate against stupidity. If we said this one goes from Ikorodu to Ojota only, this one goes from Ikorodu to Ikeja, this one goes from Ikorodu to Oshodi and this one goes from Ikorodu to Fadayi or the TBS, and a person going to Fadayi enters the TBS bus, it going to deduct TBS fare, because the machine assumes everyone, who enters that bus is going to TBS. It’s person’s responsibility to ensure he or she enters the right bus, not the machine’s.
Qus: Some BRT passengers have lamented that the cash balance on their cowrie cards had at some point been emptied after concluding a trip, perhaps because they didn’t tap out. Sir, must a passenger tap out, after every trip?
Ans: in that case there must be a mistake or problem somewhere. So, what they need to do is to call the Customer Care Line and we would look into that, because the machine is not supposed to deduct more than the exact amount for the trip.
Look, no system is 100% perfect. If the system works perfectly for about 99% of the people, there’s always going to be one or two people that would have issues. Maybe it’s network. There are so many things that could happen. So, if there’s any issue like that call the Customer Care Line. I don’t think it’s a major issue, but I think it could happen. If it does happen, they should just call the Customer Care Line.
Qus: Being a blood relation to the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, do you see his government bringing an end to kidnapping, japa syndrome and brain-drain in the country?
Ans: I will say something to you and say something to Nigerians. I’m not running away from the fact that Asiwaju is my Uncle. I campaigned for him. I went all over the South-West campaigning for him. Put that aside, I believe he is the most prepared President Nigeria has ever had. He is prepared. He knows the problems. He has been preparing for it in last 30years, and he is ready for the task ahead. Nigerians will benefit immensely from Asiwaju being the President of Nigeria because he’s well prepared. He has talked about the issues and he has solutions for them. The key is to have plans of what to do about this and that. I keep telling people, Nigeria’s unfortunately problem is that most of the leaders we have had were accidental Presidents, who were not prepared until they got there, and when they got there, they started learning from the job. Fortunately for us this time, we have a President who has been planning this for a long time. And he’s well prepared and sound. He knows what the issues are and has solutions. I believe passionately that this incoming administration will cause a dramatic change in Nigeria. We didn’t get to where we are today over night, to get to where we want to be is going to take time. It’s not going to happen over night. So, we need to be very realistic because Nigerians are shortsighted and may want everything to happen instantaneously. It’s not going to happen that way. But I believe, this coming administration will lay a solid foundation, which is what he did when he was Governor of Lagos State. In his first four years, people didn’t know what he was doing, but he was laying a foundation. What Asiwaju Tinubu would do is to lay foundation that other administrations could build on. He created the LAWMA, LASTMA, LAMATA that we have today. People didn’t see or know what he was doing then, but now the effects are coming and people are enjoying it. That’s what will happen at the federal level.
I will thank Nigerians for trusting him, for voting for him and for making him Nigeria’s President, and I believe the coming administration will not disappoint them.