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Controversy trails disbursement of N10b palliative to auto industry

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The N10 billion COVID-19 bailout fund allotted to operators in the automotive industry is now a subject of controversy. While some operators alleged being sidelined, others have been asked to submit documents for verification, including the interstate luxury bus operators, under the aegis of the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA).

Having lost heavily to the COVID-19 lockdown, they had expected to deploy the palliative to shore up their businesses, but till date, they are yet to benefit.

In a letter, dated March 28, 2021, addressed to the Minister of State for Transportation, Federal Ministry of Transportation and signed by the Deputy President, Emeka Mamah, the group pleaded for the verification of two key issues regarding the fund.

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First, PTONA pleaded with the Minister to correct the apparent confusion surrounding the disbursement.

The group also asked for the palliative to be given to members to prevent imminent collapse of interstate passenger transport companies in Nigeria.

According to PTONA, efforts made to see the Minister to discuss the matter were not successful. The group stated that: “However, in your reply to our letter dated 3rd March, 2021 (a copy is attached) 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.”

PTONA noted that the N10 billion COVID-19 fund was different from an aspect of the N60 billion MSME survival fund domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, adding that the N10 billion COVID-19 palliative fund was meant to assist road transporters to resuscitate businesses that were grounded for 14 weeks when the country was on complete lockdown for all interstate passenger movement during the pandemic.

They contended that the N60 billion 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 to meet up with salary obligations under the Federal Government’s National Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP).

PTONA had earlier in 2020 estimated a loss of about N200b in revenue just in 10 weeks of the lockdown. Another major operator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said when they approached the Ministry of Transportation, they were directed to go and enquire from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.

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On getting to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, the source disclosed that they were told that the money had been disbursed to Keke-Napep riders.

Meanwhile , another transport body, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) also claimed it did not benefit from the fund.

Confirming their position, the National President of RTEAN, Musa Muhammed, said he was not aware of the fund.

“I am not aware of any N10bn 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,” Muhammed said.

Director of Press in the Ministry of Transportation, Eric Ojiekwe, refused to pick calls to his mobile line. He also refused to reply messages sent to him.

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