‘We need financial support, structured transport sector to improve economy’
The Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) transport about 98 per cent of petroleum products and other goods across the country. In the face of bad road network, tanker accidents and insecurity in the country, the newly-elected National President of the transporters, Lawal Yusuf Othman discussed critical issues affecting the sector and the economy with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH.
How do you plan to tackle the challenges in the transport sector in the next four years?
This conversation is coming at a time when the world is in serious crisis and Nigeria is not an exception. The coronavirus pandemic, however, provided time to think and look at the issues in the transport industry.
Currently, while the government is making efforts with the available income, the state of roads, high level of security, and high cost of spare parts as well as substandard parts are critical challenges to the transport sector in the country.
Most companies are looking to professionalize, it therefore becomes necessary for the transport sector to professionalize and automate. The transport sector is not automated.
The industry is currently not as structured as it should be. We had complained about the inability of truck drivers to access the port. For you to access the port, drivers are sometimes extorted. While the government is trying to relocate loading points to Ibadan, the situation if not addressed would persist when drivers start loading in Ibadan.
Just yesterday, I saw a video where drivers were complaining about extortion. If we are all organised, we can report to the army and other security agents and they will address the issue.
Sincerely, most of the transporters are not able to replace their trucks when they are aged. One of my focuses is to ensure that we get finance intervention from the government. The same way the government intervenes in the agricultural sector; we expect that we should also get some intervention because we’re playing a key role in the economy. I don’t know whether you’re aware, as of today, our members distribute 98 per cent of the petroleum product that is distributed across the country. And if that stops, there will be no distribution and there will be trouble. We need to be financed for our services to continue. The need for a power generating set is to avoid the challenges that come with conventional power supply. You need a generator in your house because you cannot get adequate supply. Though trucking of products is seen as not the sustainable option that is the option we can rely on for now. While the trucks distribute products across the country, it is not financed. If that gap is not closed, there will be artificial scarcity even if we don’t want that, but it will lead to that because there’s no plan to curtail it. So these are some of the issues on ground that we are trying to ensure we address.
There had been similar clamour, but some of the issues you raised have persisted over the years, especially the deplorable state of the roads. What new strategy are you looking at?
Well, this government has capacity and tolerance. I remembered in 2018, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation sat down with the former leaders of NARTO and they planned to address our concerns. This government has made its position clear; they don’t want rickety trucks on the road. They also want trucks plying roads to register with NARTO. We are working on these issues before moving to bigger concerns. This government has been listening to a large extent, and even now.
How much financing are you looking at and why are you unable to get that from commercial banks?
I am not saying we are unable to. Banks provide finance but not as much as required. The challenges with the transport sector are enormous, so commercial banks cannot handle them alone. While in some sections of the industry, some transporters get their pay immediately and even before service delivery, haulage is different, sometimes payment takes about three to four months. Without some sort of support, it then becomes difficult to operate because the business is capital intensive.
Since your members mainly haul petroleum products across the country, what is responsible for the recurring tanker accident in the country and your specific plan to address these issues?
Bad roads are a major issue. There are potholes across the country. Entering potholes with a loaded truck even if the vehicle is new affects the condition of the truck. The roads need to be fixed so that all these can be avoided. Secondly, the development affects the aging of the truck. Though there are indications of rickety trucks but we have to phase them out gradually because if you take them away today, there will be scarcity. We currently don’t have enough trucks. A lot of trucks have been parked since the lockdown started. Some of them may never be useful again. When vehicles are parked, the tyres could go down and the battery could be affected as well as other mechanical issues; that is why we need financing structure to take away the bad trucks and replace them to keep our business on.
Knowing well that you truck over 98 per cent of petroleum products and goods, do you consider the emerging railway and pipeline network a threat?
Those things are not a threat to our businesses. There will still be a need for trucking. Railway and pipelines are important to the economy. However, the AKK that was recently flagged off will be transporting gas and does not really have any impact on our business. The railways yes, but it can’t go to every part. So, we’re still relevant and useful and want to improve.
Nigeria has been making efforts to become a car-manufacturing hub. What is your assessment of the automotive policy?
The plan is good and will positively impact the transport sector. However, there is a need for an organized sector. There is a need for a vehicle finance scheme for the plan to succeed. We also cannot inject new vehicles into our businesses when the economy is bad. We need to address basic infrastructural issues because in a situation where you load but don’t discharge on time and don’t get payment on time, investors in the transport business would be weary.
NARTO had told drivers to vacate the port in the wake of the Coronavirus outspread. What is the situation now and how is NARTO addressing the pandemic?
We asked them to leave when covid-19 started. The reason was to enable us to strategize on measures to avoid being affected by the virus. Drivers are our employees; we must ensure they don’t get infected because they move across the country. They also operate in crowded areas both at loading and unloading points. So the order allowed us to strategize and ensured they are properly kitted.
To the best of my knowledge, we have not had Covid-19 case among our drivers. Even if there is, we have not recorded any death. When the situation started we gave out thousands of facemasks and hand sanitizers to our members.
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