The executive president, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), High Chief Musa Shehu Isiwele in this interview with EKUSON NW’OGBUNKA recently in Abuja is of the opinion that government’s new stand on fuel price pump will be detrimental to the economy, the public and transporters because NNPC Mega stations in the country are not enough to sell at government price of N145.00 per litre. Isiwele also speaks on other matters effecting road transport sector. Excerpts:
Year 2017 has come and gone, what would be your new year 2018 message to your trade union members and other transport trade unions?
My message is for all the trade unions in the transport industry to be speaking constructively with one voice as is obtainable in the developed countries. Let us shun unnecessary antagonisms and disputes. Transport sector is very important in the economy of every country. If we can come together and speak reasonably with one voice on a particular issue as it affects the sector, the government will listen to us. What peace can’t achieve, trouble can’t. To my members in RTEAN, I urge them to love one another; continue to ensure that their vehicles are road-worthy. Let them ensure that their tyres, other parts and particulars are in order. Let them continue to drive with care so as not to cause any accident in this 2018. In 2017, I thank God that we didn’t meet any fatal accident. We started our national Secretariat during the recession and by the grace of God, in this 2018 we shall occupy it.
The government has come up with options in the price of fuel pump price per litre. Only NNPC Mega stations will be selling at N145 per litre while privately-owned ones shall sell as they buy; to you, what is the implication to the transport sector?
To me as a transporter, it will impact negatively on Nigerians, transporters and the economy too, because the number of NNPC Mega Filing Stations are not enough in this country. I want to inform you that the Mega Filing Stations are not in some of the local governments in this country. I want to humbly advise the government to continue to regulate all the fuel pump prices as before. You know that with the deregulation in practice, price of living, i.e., goods and services will go up beyond imagination because as soon as fuel price has gone up, means of transportation will inevitably go up and it will affect all. Imagine what happened during the recently celebrated Christmas which we are of course experiencing now. In most of the filing stations, especially in the nearby Nasarawa state, they would say that they are selling at the usual N145.00, but when you go to buy, they would show you the amount they are selling in their calculators. Helplessly, you have no other option than to buy at their price. Increase in fuel pump price brings about increase in the transport fares which is usually transferred to the cost of living. So I reiterate that the government should continue to regulate the price. But if the government wants to maintain that it must be through NNPC, let them build more Mega Filing Stations to ensure that they are available in all the nooks and crannies of the country in the interest of the masses.
I agree with one of the Senate Committees for suggesting uniformity of price with the reason that the Mega Filing Stations available are not enough for the private vehicle owners not to talk of the commercial ones. If this is not reversed, it will attract queues in the filing stations under government regulation price. In Urombin Edo state, you have only one Mega Filing station and whenever you go there, you must queues, because of the price and quality. I bought fuel from one private station as I was travelling one day, before you could realise what was happening, my Lexus and other cars got spoilt resulting from the adulterated fuel I bought from the filing station. As transporters, ours is to charge as we buy but we must put the interest of the people into consideration. So I reiterate and appeal that the government should have a rethink over this in the interest of the economy and the people.
But the fuel lands into the country at about N171 per litre, how long do you expect the government to continue to sell at a reduced price of N145.00 per litre?
I wonder what stops the givernment from repairing all our depots and use the proceeds with which they have been using on subsidies for road repairs, payment of salaries, among others. In fact I suggest that the government makes it mandatory for each state government to have a depots so as to stop the importation of fuel into this country. The use of fuel is inevitable. You want to go out, it will be with fuel; you want to use generator, you need fuel; you want to use your car, you need fuel. So fuel is so important that we need to do something about it and the answer is putting your own refineries in order or make each state government have at least one.
You have always been in government and what people like you say goes a long way. Everybody, including the government wants the refineries repaired or new ones built and still past and present governments are yet to achieve this.
In your opinion as an insider, what do you think has been responsible for the hindrance?
The hindrance is usually from saboteurs. It is like what has been happening in the power sector. If those who are selling generators see how to stop power supply forever, they will stop at nothing to ensure that there is no improvement in the electricity supplies, because it will affect them seriously; that is Nigeria for you.
Why not attract foreign investors to build refineries; why shouldn’t Nigerian businessmen emulate Dangote who is building one at the moment in Lagos?
In your own opinion, who do you think should be blamed for this, or are you saying that the governments, past and present are not doing enough toward the direction?
The problem should be attributed to employment of quacks, non experts in the depots. If the right people are employed, there will be difference positively. Most of the employees after 10 years would resign leaving the targets dormant. We need to be serious in the development of the refineries for our own good. We have the crude here and we export it, then import it back, refined. It is not good for us. Let Buhari extend his fight against corruption there and you will see positive results.
Chinese have given us railways. Why not give them the refineries to either repair or put the old ones in order and agree on terms with them?
Considering the positions of the transporters and trade unions in the sector, don’t you think that you people are capable of building refineries in this country?
You are saying the truth my brother, but it is unfortunate that the trade unions in the sector are not united. In fact they see one another as enemy and it shouldn’t be like that because we should use the unions to help ourselves, Nigerians and the government too. I have given it as a recommendation to the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) Marshall, urging him to broker peace between them. He did it and for the first time in the history of their existence, we shook hands with each other and greeted each other too.
So with the help of the government and unity among member trade unions, through Bank of Industry (BoI), we can do that, because we need refineries, enough of them in this country, which if done would go a long way.
Buhari in his new year message has set aside the sum of N100billion for road reconstruction and construction across geopolitical zones of the country to be completed in 2019, which if done would be beneficial to the transporters, do you see him doing that?
Yes I see him doing that because it will be beneficial to all. Now the onus is on us to hold Fashola responsible if it is not done. We however appeal to the Senate to pass the budget to enable the government meet its 2019 target.
Though they are not enough, but I want to commend the Federal Government for approving toll gates for about 30 high ways. Well, we should start with them while expecting more. The toll gates if well managed,their proceeds can be used to fix the roads. It would save lives, because it will help drivers as a resting point too. After a long drive, you stop, rest, sleep safely and start all over again. I want to assure you that the right people to manage the toll gates are those of us in the system who will ensure that their proceeds are used for the roads, because good roads save lives and enhance the economy by way of smooth transportation of goods and services at affordable rates.