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IN August last year, the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, announced that Federal Government had approved the sum of N10 billion to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on road transport workers and operators.
Saraki made this known when the president of the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association (PTONA), Isaac Uhunwagho, led the association’s National Executive Committee and Trustees to visit her in Abuja.
The transport workers were one of the hardest hits by the lockdown imposed in the country as part of the federal government efforts to stem the spread of the disease.
The scheme, dubbed ‘Transport Track initiative,’ targeted at a total of 4,505 beneficiaries in each state across the country, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and is expected to provide a one-off grant of N30,000 each to operators in the transport sector, was formally launched in December 2020.
The targeted beneficiaries include Rideshare drivers, such as Uber and Bolt, taxi and bus drivers, ‘Keke-Napep riders and Okada riders, as well as cart pushers.
According to the Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, Hajia Aisha Abubakar, as of January 17 this year, a total of 155,920 beneficiaries in the transport track had been approved for payment, while 9,109 pending cases were being processed for payment.
In other words, a total of 146, 811 transport sector beneficiaries have been paid under the Transport Track N30,000 one-off grant totalling N4.4 billion.
The strategy of the programme as designed by the Federal Government is that there would be state focal persons, project field officers and enumerators who were appointed to work alongside the Medium and Small-Scale Enterprises (MSME) Survival Fund Project Delivery Office.
Their work, among other things, include identifying and ensuring that members of the respective associations are paid.
The General Manager of the Kwara State Social Investment Programme, KWASSIP, who also doubles as the state focal person for the disbursement of the grant, Mohammed Brimah, told Sobi FM that the agency, in conjunction with the Kwara State Ministry of Works and Transportation, coordinated the distribution.
According to him, the Federal Government directly contacted the union heads, which were asked to provide the names of 500 beneficiaries. However, the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, were asked to provide 700 nominees, being the largest of the transport unions in the country, Brimah stated, adding that Kwara State submitted a total of 4,000 names.
“The union sent the nominees directly to the federal government, and a copy was sent to us, for transparency, after which the enumerators came from Abuja to get their biometrics and account details, which we help facilitate in conjunction with the Ministry of transport,” the KWASSIP boss stated.
“We did not have anything to do with the payment or registration; we just helped in coordinating the beneficiaries in Kwara State,” he added.
The chairman, Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, in the state, Alhaji Abdulrahman Onikijipa, while speaking with Sobi FM in Ilorin, revealed that out of 500 names, the union submitted, only 42 members signified that they received payment.
“The people in charge of the disbursement wrote a letter to us and asked us to give them names of 500 beneficiaries from our union.
“After the registration and verification of names, only 42 members came back to us that they have received the sum of N30, 000, paid to their bank account. Even me that I am speaking, I didn’t receive any money,” he lamented.
Onikijipa added that after series of complaints by some members who did not receive the funds, he was opportune to attend a virtual meeting with the Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo in March this year, where the complaints were made. The VP promised to look into the matter, but no other person has received the money to date.
On his own part, the chairman of the Union of Tippers and Quarry Employers Association of Nigeria, Kwara State chapter, Alhaji Ibrahim Yusuf Mogaji, said the union was not notified of the grant but got the information from other transport unions.
He stated the union wrote the ministry in charge of the funds, and they were invited to a meeting where the complaints are made. The ministry promised to look into it and get back to them.
“Although we heard that other transporters got the sum of N30, 000, from the federal government, which we have sent to letter of complaints to, it is only the Kwara state government that gave our members N 5000 each during the lockdown.
The situation is worse for the Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria, TOAN, which said none of its members benefitted from the grant.
The Public Relations Officer, PRO, of the union, Isiaq AbdulGaniyu, told our reporter that representatives of the Federal Government contacted the union to provide 500 names of their members, which they did. Afterwards, they were invited for their biometrics capturing. Still, to date, no member of the association has received anything.
“What I know is that it is like some people have cornered our money as usual because we did all the documentation as requested, and nothing has been heard since then,” he added.
When our reporter visited the state of office of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW in Ilorin, officials of the union directed our union to the national secretariat of the union, saying they are the only authority that can give any information about number of beneficiaries of the grants in the state.
However, findings by our reporter confirmed that the union submitted no fewer than 700 beneficiaries comprising majorly of drivers, union executives, and workers at various branch units of the union.
A source who doesn’t want his name in print because he was not authorized to talk stated that although he could not give an account of how many members of the union benefitted from the scheme, he admitted that a few people benefited.
Several drivers interviewed who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the transport survival funds across the three senatorial zones are either unaware of the funds or are excluded from the scheme. In contrast, others who were aware of the funds and captured by the enumerators lamented that they had not received the funds.
Ahmed Ismaila, the Secretary of the National Union of Road Trasport Workers, NURTW, Kosubosu Unit in Baruten Local Government Area, said that he was not aware of any money being distributed by the federal government to transporters.
“I did not receive any money; I am not aware government is sharing money”, he said.
A driver at the Kwara Express Park in Ilesha-Baruba, Ibrahim Idris, stated that he heard about the grant in February this year when a form was given to him alongside three other drivers but has not heard anything since then, even though he filled the form.
“My brother working at the district office informed me of the grant, and I filled the form with three drivers from our park, putting our account number and BVN, but since then, we have not received any money,” he said.
In Offa, Adesola Johnson, a driver at the popular Owode Motor Park, told Sobi FM that he was unaware of the grants and did not know of any driver who benefitted.
It was the same story in Omu Aran headquarters of Irepodun local government area In Kwara South Senatorial district, where many drivers, motorcyclists and other eligible transporters said they did not benefit from the intervention.
Rasheed Afonja and Semiu Ayinde, both Okada riders at the ACOMORON Ifesowapo Unit, said despite enrolling to get the covid-19 palliatives, they didn’t receive any money.
“The enumerators took details of us were screened from this unit to benefit from the Covid-19 palliatives money, but we are yet to get anything”, Ayinde said.
A receptionist at the RTEAN office, Omu Aran, Tanwa Adekoya, revealed that she was the one that collated the lists submitted by the unit, including herself. She, however, stated no one in the unit had benefitted from the grant.
Although she works with a transport union office, a receptionist does not fall under beneficiaries.
Kamilu Rasak, a NURTW member who spoke with Sobi Fm in Jebba, said he heard about the grant but did not participate when others were doing their verification because he believed such a thing is a scam.
” I believe the money was a ploy by some people to scam us when they were asking for BVN and account number, so I did not participate. He reasoned that his fears were justified because none of the people he knew who registered was ever paid anything.
“Even those people that registered, none of them received any money,” he stated.
Baba Hamidu, a bus driver who plies the Lafiagi to Gbugbu road, said he did not hear of any driver that got the fund at the Lafiagi motor park.
“We only hear that government is coming to give us money for covid 19; we don’t know when they are coming,” he said.
At Obbo Ayegunle in Ekiti local government area of the state Sunday Awosile who owns a fleet of vehicles, he and his drivers said he was aware of the funds meant for transporters that he and his drivers registered for, but to date, none of them has gotten the money as promised by the enumerators.
The story is not different for Gani Babanla, a driver at the Oke Ode motor park in Ifelodun local government area of the state, told our reporter that he read in the newspapers how the government has disbursed money to transport workers across the country to cushion the effect of covid 19 on their business.
“Since then, I have been waiting for the day it will be our turn to receive the money too in Kwara state, although I learnt some people had been registered. Hopefully, they will remember us too,” he said.
When our reporter informed Brimah that many unions members complain about not getting the grant, he said the actual number of people that benefitted can only be confirmed from the federal government as they are the ones that carried out the disbursement in the state.
“Any transport workers who did not receive the grant can write to the KWASSIP office, which we will in turn forward to the unit in charge in Abuja, and hopefully it will be rectified,” he said.
*.This report is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.