Vehicles belonging to the Port Harcourt City Bus Service (PHCBS) now ply the major roads of our state capital in their numbers. The service, as we are told, is a joint venture between the Rivers State Government, Skye Bank Plc and the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).
Launched in January 2009, the mass transit bus service came as a filler to the gap created by the ban on the operation of commercial motorcycles popularly known as Okada, especially in Port Harcourt, Obio/Akpor, Eleme and Oyigbo Local Government Areas.
Much as one will readily commend the scheme as having served in no mean measure to check the anger, exploitation and total frustration that would have attended the Okada ban, it will surely not be out of place to state that the age and make of some of the buses now being deployed under the scheme leaves much to be desired.
Let’s get this straight. Right from inception, Rivers State has always marked itself out as an entity that believes in the provision of quality services for its people. Alfred Diete-Spiff, pioneer military governor of the state and current Amanyanabo of Twon Brass in neighbouring Bayelsa State, always gets a standing ovation whenever his majestic presence is announced at any public gathering in both states. Obviously, this is a people’s way of appreciating a worthy public servant.
The then Navy Commander Diete-Spiff had, while grappling with the task of reconstructing and rehabilitating a newly created but war-torn Rivers state in the early 1970s, insisted on the use of best designs and quality materials in the provision of public amenities for the people. The Secretariat Complex in Port Harcourt, along with its skyscraping Point Block, is one of the many enduring landmarks of that era.
Equally worthy of mention and even more relevant to this discourse is the state-sponsored public transportation system which was introduced by Diete-Spiff. Waterline, as the scheme was then called, had in its fleet some of the sturdiest and most reliable brands of luxury buses and ferry boats of the time. Although succeeding administrations, both military and civilian, tried to add to the fleet inherited from this pioneer regime, their commitments to quality and proper maintenance were largely suspect. And so, only those early post-war acquisitions, particularly the marine vessels, endured until the splitting of old Rivers State in 1996.
Back to the moment. The new bus service scheme now operating in the state started with the deployment of few fairly-used and refurbished Marcopolo (Mercedes Benz) and Ashok Leyland buses adorned with the yellow and blue colours of Skye Bank.
There was an addition of a few Tata buses, later. Most of these vehicles, at their initial outings, still had all their interior and exterior lights and fittings, including in-built radio systems.
Commuters were indeed happy with the state government for such timely intervention. They were equally gladdened by the fact that these buses came in fairly sturdy shapes, with promises of endurance and longevity.
Talking of endurance, the individual strengths of these vehicles can hardly be tested by the excessive loads they convey per trip nor the number of non-stop rounds they make per day, but by the numerous gauntlets they have had to run in the hands of Area Boys (Agberos) at nearly every bus stop along their assigned routes. In fact, only little else can account for the heavily battered panels, missing bumpers and vandalised exterior lamps of most of these buses a few months after their deployment.
It is for this reason that one expects operators of the scheme, particularly Skye Bank, to always go for such vehicles as were already being used. Surely, their latest additions to the PHCBS fleet are glorified scraps, to say the very least. Those vehicles could have been imported from the most impoverished European or Asian country. Their make or model is not readily identifiable. Neither has one, at any time, seen their rear doors open for passengers to enter or exit. In fact, about three of these vans were said to have broken down at various spots along Aba Road on their very first day of operation. Too bad!
Any further importation and use of such apparently scrapped vehicles can only add to the already high cost of operation. And recouping such expenses through whatever marginal increase in fare will most certainly be an uphill, if not futile, exercise.
Traders Protest FG’s Move To Restore Festac Town
The move by the Federal Government to restore Festac Town in Lagos to its original status has sparked up protest among traders occupying Agboju Amuwo Planks and Building Materials Market.
The traders on Wednesday, protested at the FHA office in Festac Town against the demolition of their market, following the demolition of illegal structures by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) ahead of the restoration.
The Tide recalls that there was a petition to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, in 2020 about illegal structures that had taken over Festac Town.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ meeting on the restoration of Festac town organised by FHA, last year, its South-West Zonal Manager, Mr Akintola Olagbemiro, said, “This year, we commenced the restoration of Festac town, following the consent judgement from the court against illegal occupants of Festac land.
“Our action is to save the residents from the insecurity that has taken over the entire Festac town as a result of illegal structures everywhere”.
The chairman of allottees of First Gate to Third Gate, Mr Kole Olatunji, in his remarks at the meeting said the land from First Gate to Third Gate was allocated between 1985 and 1999, noting that with the consent judgment, original owners of the land as allocated should take over their plots.
But the chairman of plank market, Muhammed Bello, protested the seven-day notice given to traders to vacate the place without alternative arrangements.
Bello said: “How do they expect us to remove our wares in seven days?
“What we want is that they should allow us to remain there and we will pay whatever amount they ask us to pay”.
Speaking in the same vein, the chairman of Cane Chair and Furniture Association, Emmanuel Okoye said: “We need freedom. Let them tell us where they want us to stay. That place was swampy. We filled the place with several millions of Naira which we got as loans.
“We also rely on loans to do our business. Whatever the government wants us to pay; we are ready to pay to remain there. We have been there for 27 years. What we lost to the demolition is over N300 million”.
Fuel Tanker Explosion Kills Five, Injures Two In Ogun
No fewer than five persons were on Wednesday burnt to death, while two others sustained first degree of injury in a fuel tanker explosion at Ajilete, along Owode-Idiroko road, in Yewa South local government area of Ogun State.
Eyewitness accounts revealed that a truck bearing 33,000 litres of petroleum product was descending the steep portion of the road when its tank suddenly detached from truck’s body and tumbled to the ground with a bang.
The explosion, the witnesses said, killed five persons on the spot, while two other persons were injured.
The Tide learnt that the seven victims were all residents of the area where the accident occurred.
Confirming the incident, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) Commander, Idiroko Unit, Akinwunmi Olaluwoye, said five deaths were recorded in the accident which occurred at about 8.15 am on Wednesday.
According to him, the remains of the dead had been claimed by their families.
He disclosed that a bus and a motorcycle were also caught in a web of the explosion and razed.
He said, “no vehicle rammed into the tanker. The tank dropped off from the back of the tanker and exploded. The number of persons involved are seven; five dead, two injured.
“The driver had taken away the head of the truck as at the time we got there. But we have allowed the police to take charge and handle that aspect”.
Travellers To Access $4,000 As CBN Boosts Forex Supplies
Nigerians travelling abroad can now access a maximum amount of $4,000 foreign exchange from banks following the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) announcement to increase forex supplies.
The CBN had said in a recent statement that it had concluded plans to increase the amount of foreign exchange allocated to banks to meet legitimate needs.
This followed the warning by the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, to Deposit Money Banks to desist from denying customers the opportunity to purchase foreign exchange.
The purposes to access forex included Personal Travel Allowance, Basic Travel Allowance, tuition fees, and medical payments as well as Small and Medium Enterprises transactions or for the repatriation of Foreign Direct Investment proceeds, the CBN had stated.
Sources from some of the banks said those travelling on business trips could also access a maximum amount of $5,000 for each trip.
At a virtual Bankers’ Committee meeting last week, the bankers discussed how the CBN intended to assist with forex to ensure availability for the upcoming summer period and the return of students to school in September.
The CBN also said the BDCs would continue to have their weekly allocations.
The committee observed that the rates were going up.
It stated, “The CBN has said that all the banks must make availability at all times and anyone who wants to buy BTA, PTA, medical fees, student school fees and all the eligible invisible purchases to ensure that Nigerians are not forced to go and queue in the parallel market.
“So what the Central Bank is doing is to encourage all banks to make sure that there is available forex at all times, and that his information should be communicated on all our platforms.
“We are asking our customers to come to the branches and for BTA, for example, present the required documents, which are basically your international passport, your visa, your valid ticket and fill up the form in the bank.
“And what we have been instructed to do is ensure that we don’t turn anybody back and that we should request from the Central Bank once we exhaust the forex that we have.
“The idea is to have a hitch-free summer period and the resumption for children to go back to school. The idea is to ensure there is less pressure on the forex and then the rates will come down”.
Speaking during the virtual meeting, the Group Managing Director, Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe, said, “I think again as part of the Central Bank’s role in terms of price stability and the need to support small and medium enterprises, there was highlight of the need for banks to go and support SMEs who import small raw materials for them to set up their businesses”.
The Managing Director, Ecobank, Patrick Akinwuntan, said, “All banks are available to ensure forex need is met.”
Managing Director, Sterling Bank, Abubakar Suleiman, said the CBN had provided sufficient foreign exchange to meet the needs of all legitimate Nigerian travellers and therefore, the idea of going to any other market should not arise at all.
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