As the fight against the coronavirus pandemic continues, the Federal Government of Nigeria has made various attempts to bolster the economy of the country, in order to cushion the adverse impact of the disease outbreak on the populace. The Federal Government recently announced its approval of a ₦10 Billion COVID-19 intervention fund to road transport workers and operators in Nigeria, in support of the continuity of their businesses. This was disclosed by the Minister of State for Transportation, Sen. Gbemisola Saraki, when she received the leadership of the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA). Saraki stated that the decision of the government to approve the intervention fund was informed by the challenges faced by public transport operators, owing to the COVID-19 scourge. According to her, “the Federal Government has approved ₦10 Billion to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on public transport operators. The fund is domiciled at the Federal Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment, and the Ministry is currently working on the structure for its disbursement”.
It would be recalled that in May, 2020, the PTONA President, Engr. Isaac Uhunwagho, appealed to the government to offer COVID-19 palliatives to members of the Association, to prevent their businesses from winding up. The Association asked the Federal Government to set up a Covid-19 intervention fund to mitigate the severe economic hardship faced by the public transport operators, especially the inter-State passenger transport workers, many of whom were unable to make use of their branded buses, within the States, while the ban on inter-State travel was in place.
Against the backdrop of the government’s decision to approve a ₦10 Billion COVID-19 intervention fund for the transport operators, the government is hereby urged to ensure transparency and public accountability in the implementation of the initiative which must be geared towards bringing succour to the vast majority of the masses. SOCIAL ACTION lends its voice to the call for probity and accountability in the disbursement of palliatives and intervention funds by the government. Whilst we are not totally opposed to the disbursal of monetary palliatives to various sectors that are majorly affected by the COVID-19 crisis, we urge the government to be very strategic in doling out public funds, to ensure public accountability and improved welfare for the populace. The government owes it to the people to ensure public revenues are not mismanaged and squandered recklessly. Government’s policies must be aimed at achieving goals for the collective good of the citizenry. The government needs to assure Nigerians that the intervention will achieve the much-needed growth in the Transport sector. Hence, it is very necessary for the government to put in place a work plan that will show the mechanism through which the initiative can be of benefit to the masses. There must be a clear-cut strategy that shows how the initiative will be implemented with a view to preventing the looting of the funds. It must be clearly defined, who the beneficiaries are, the number of beneficiaries and conditions for the disbursements of the palliatives to them.
In addition, the government needs to take further steps in ensuring the initiative benefits the commuters as well, by finding a way to regulate the sector to a reasonable extent. Most road transport operators are private operators who arbitrarily fix their price rates, based on the forces of demand and supply. The government could decide to put into effect, certain terms and conditions in the offer of the ₦10 Billion survival fund that will compel all public and private transport operators to regulate their transport rates, in order to stand a chance of benefitting from the federal largesse. Transport rates in most parts of Nigeria, which were hiked exorbitantly during the lockdown imposed to curb the pandemic, have remained high, despite the easing of the lockdown and lifting of the ban on inter-State travel. This has been vaguely attributed to different reasons, such as the fuel price hike, and the reduction of the number of passengers allowed in a vehicle, in accordance with the social distancing policy. Be that as it may, the government ought to have clearly-defined and strategic modalities through which the intervention fund could be made to ameliorate the economic hardship caused by the pandemic. For example, the government could decide to channel the intervention fund into subsidising transportation costs, in order to ensure a reduction in the transport rates, especially transport rates for inter-State trips. The government could also decide to subsidise the cost of fuel for road transporters. These steps, if adopted, would be of direct and immediate benefit to both the transporters and the commuters.
We urge the Federal Government to make public the mechanism being put in place for the disbursal of the funds, and give account of the objectives achieved with the funds. The government must provide a breakdown of the disbursements, as the public deserves to know if due process is being followed in expending the funds, as well as the structure being put in place by the government to ensure the funds are disbursed effectively for the overall actualisation of set goals, in the quest to surmount the effects of the pandemic.
We also call on the government to improve its funding of other critical sectors, such as the Health sector. COVID-19 has affected the lives of many Nigerians in diverse ways and the poor state of healthcare infrastructure in the country has been a cause for concern, given the deadly nature of the disease. The pandemic has exposed the collapse in the nation’s Health sector. Budgetary appropriations allocated to the Health sector represent a meagre percentage of the national budget. The government must therefore be reminded of the urgent need to render massive support to the Health sector and provide COVID-19 intervention funds to the most vulnerable in the society, whose health and livelihoods have been enormously affected by the pandemic.
For further enquiries, kindly contact the Communications Team Lead, SOCIAL ACTION on: lillian[at]saction.org