Changing the paradigm of transportation in Nigeria
Fola Tinubu, the Managing Director of Primero Transport Services Limited (Operator of Lagos BRT buses from Ikorodu to CMS) is passionate about developing Lagos into a mega city. With a strong Financial, Managerial and business background, he has consistently shown the ability to deliver and position the company as a leading light in the industry. Prior to joining Primero Transport Services Limited, Tinubu was the Managing Director and CEO of Greater Washington Mortgage LLC, one of the fastest growing mortgage companies in the Washington area of the United States. He spoke on the Focus of a CEO in this interview with Nnamdi Nwokolo.
What informed your interest in transportation and Logistics?
I’d say my interest in transportation was really by accident as I never set out to play in the industry. For over two decades, I was in Mortgage business in the United States and ran my company for twelve years until the mortgage crisis of 2006/08 affected our operations. Upon my return to Nigeria, we were approached by Lagos State through LAMATA to see if we’ll be interested in investing in BRT buses. We sat down, ran the figures and liked what we saw, then got a group of investors together and convinced the banks to lend us money. We raised a huge amount of money and invested in the transportation industry. Since we started, it’s been very interesting and challenging as well. We’ve made giant strides and I believe we’ve made a big difference in Lagos State according to the feedbacks we get from commuters.
What has been the most challenging experience in running the firm?
The biggest challenge is Naira losing its value because as you know, our buses were bought in China and we have a dollar component of debts. What this has done to our operations is that our debts are higher and our operating cost has gone up also. For example, the cost of diesel has really gone up and the cost of tyres, lubricants as well as spare parts has also risen astronomically. The Naira losing its value has changed the whole scenario for us and Lagos state government has been reluctant to allow us to increase our fares because of Governor Akinwumi Ambode’s care for the masses and general understanding of the situation in the country. But recently, they have come to realize that we must do this business on a sustainable footing, so that people will continue to enjoy the services for a long time. We are only asking for a reasonable fare increase because we understand the social aspect of our business but we have to take care of the rising cost of our operations.
What we’ve done is that all our drivers are being recertified quarterly and they are always professional in the discharge of their duties. We don’t joke with maintenance/cleanliness of our buses as we clean the interior of our buses every day and the exterior at least twice a week. We have divided our maintenance into different sections for efficiency and effectiveness. It might interest you to know that we have set a very high standard for ourselves and we constantly work towards maintaining that standard. Nobody has done what we have done on this scale before, so we are changing the paradigm of transportation in Nigeria. I know people are watching us to see if we’ll succeed or not. I was in a meeting in France early this month with the biggest transport company and I was shocked when they told me that they’ve been following Primero to see what we are doing and how we are doing it.
The biggest achievement I’d say is that we have made transportation a lot easier in Lagos State. It will interest you to know that many people that stay in the Ikorodu axis of Lagos State no longer take their cars to work as they board our buses. My biggest pride is that we are making transportation affordable and easier for a lot of people all over Lagos State and we intend to do more to cover all the other routes. We are also planning to do something like ‘park and ride’ where people will park their cars in a safe environment and ride in our buses to enable many people take advantage of our services. The less cars we have on our roads, the cleaner our environment will be and the faster we’ll get to our various destinations. People should be encouraged to make use of public transportation but people will only use it if they feel it’s clean, safe and comfortable and that is the focus of our operations.
Are there plans to replicate it in other states?
I must give credit to the governors Lagos state has produced since 1999, from Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, Raji Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode as they made all this possible. For example, governor Ambode encouraged us to start operating night services because according to him, a mega city cannot be shut down at night. The glory of all we’ve done belongs to these gentlemen for the huge infrastructural investment they made in Lagos. To replicate this in other states, they must do what Lagos state has done in terms of massive investment in infrastructure. Governor Akinwumi Ambode with this light up Lagos and the massive investment in providing equipment for security operatives has enabled our night operation to be successful.
In the next five years:
My dream is to see Primero extend its services to other routes in Lagos. Presently, we are asking the state government to grant us the permission to extend our services to other routes. We also like to get into water transportation, because there are some places in Lagos that you can only get to by using water and talks are in advanced stage to make it happen. The ferries we intend to bring will carry about 200 people with their cars. We are hoping that the state government will give us concession to go to other routes and also give concession on ferry transport to us. We want to be an all-encompassing transport company as we are very bullish about Lagos, we believe in Lagos and we believe in the administration of Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode. We will do everything in our powers to support and encourage his administration to succeed. Part of that support is making transportation easier and affordable for people in Lagos State.
What does it take to build a successful business in Nigeria?
The keys to building a successful business in Nigeria are many; firstly is to have a strong capital base, secondly, to understand the local market, third is to do a proper feasibility and projection and lastly, recruit good and competent people to work with you and for you. In any business, there will be challenges but you have to work to deal with the challenges as they come.
What drives you?
The need to succeed in anything I do and to build and develop good and young competent people as well as my passion for Lagos. The driving force is the realization that we are making transportation a lot easier, safe and cheap for Lagosians.