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Excerpts From IDYIM’s Session With Mr Fola Tinubu (MD Primero Nig. LTD)

May 23, 2020
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Fola Tinubu is the Managing Director of Primero Transport Services, he is a talented business manager and has consistently shown tremendous ability to balance the strong elements of his financial, managerial and business background with the company’s broader business strategies.

He holds a B.A Degree in Economics and Politics from the University of East Anglia in Norwich England, and an MBA from the University of Stirling (Scotland).
Under his Leadership, Primero has been awarded several awards such as the Outstanding Transport Operator of the Year (2018), the Most Efficient Public Mass Bus Transport Operator of the Year (2018) and the Excellent Transport Operator of the Year (2019).

Excerpts

IDYIM: With the current situation of the pandemic that is ravaging the world,what lessons have you learnt or what do you think you ought to have put in place that would have reduced the loss in your business?

Mr. Fola: Nobody could have envisaged this, the last time this kind of thing happened was over 100 years ago. In business you can not plan for every eventualities because if you try to do that, You will not get started. There’s so much that will occur while you’re running a business, the key is for you to react fast as soon as it occurs. 

IDYIM: Lagos State stands to be the worst hit in terms of the Covid19 effect on general business administration and your business domicile right here, could you describe some of the major turning points as a result of the pandemic on your organization’s decision, procedures, and processes.

Mr. Fola: The biggest problem for us is that we have been asked to reduce the number of people on our buses from 70 to 20, this has affected our revenue negatively because our cost of operations remains the same.

IDYIM: How has this affected business decisions for you?

Mr. Fola: The reduction in passengers numbers has seen our revenue go down by over 60 percent.

IDYIM: Daily riders is in excess of 200,000 to 250,000, yet there is constant complaints of passengers staying hours at the terminals before boarding which invariably the result of shortage of buses. How do u intend to address this?

Mr. Fola: Daily rider is less than that and the reason why people have to wait is because our fares are too cheap compared to every other mode of transport out there and we have to face the fact that the fares are too low and there’s no subsidy from anyone.

IDYIM: What is the way out of the situation?

Mr. Fola: The solution is either we are allowed to charge market prices or the government provides subsidy.

IDYIM: We are conscious of the various strategies deployed by your organisation toward curtailing the spread of Covid19 in Lagos State, However, it is observed that maintaining physical distancing at your bus sheds even before the pandemic has remained below the belt, people stay on the queue for hours. Are you factoring models to attend to the loss of time in the queue by commuters?

Mr. Fola: The bus stops were not designed for physical distancing, and because during rush hour, a lot of people show up at the same time. The key is to deploy more buses and move them as quickly as possible to reduce the number of people and waiting time. But unfortunately we are now using 3 buses to do what one bus will do because of restriction of people we can carry. So we are in a dilemma here. We have suggested to LASG that we need to go to 42 passengers per bus, open the windows, seating only and everyone should wear mask. If we do that, it will reduce the waiting time and also reduce the crowd.

IDYIM: There is a school of thought that believe lagos state govt is not only a regulator but also a player in the industry, Lagos State donated some buses to your company to enhance your operations some years back,would that not be palliative?

Mr. Fola: Lagos State has never donated any bus to our company, it was a gimmick by the previous administration. We started with 430 buses and we still have 430 buses.

IDYIM: There are strong indications that the company might shut down operations from 25th of May,2020. Is this a fact or mere fallacy?

Mr. Fola: There’s a strong possibility that our buses will not be on the road from the 25th of May. Like I said earlier, we are running at a huge loss carrying 20 people and our cost of operations remains the same. Something has to give, we either get help from either federal or state government or we are allowed to charge enough fares to cover our expenses. The way it is now is not sustainable.

IDYIM: That is serious line decision to make Sir. but are you saying your company can not fix her prices by itself?

Mr. Fola: We are a regulated company and we must get approval before we can change our prices and that’s exactly the problem.

IDYIM: We hear in the UK and other parts of Europe where people can determine the time by the hours and minutes when buses will arrive and depart the bus sheds with passengers, can this happen in Lagos with the attendant issue of road traffic jam? And do you think your company has the required capacity to prosecute the new and emerging phase of transport management in Lagos State.

Mr. Fola: It can definitely happen here, but all of these things cost money, the commuters don’t want an increase in fares, the government does not subsidise, where is the money to pay for all of these will come from. We all want world class services but nobody wants to pay for it. There’s no free lunch anywhere.

The transport system needs to be deregulated and allow the operators to charge market prices.

IDYIM: There are news that your company laid off some personnel already, with the 25th plan are we looking at more disengagement of staff?

Mr. Fola: We have not laid off a single staff, what we did was asked them to go on unpaid leave while we resolve our issues with LASG. We had to do this to ensure the survivability of the company.

IDYIM: Transport is regarded as a form of social service, allowing operators charge price maybe counter-productive. What means can you suggest as a way of subsidy from the government?

Mr. Fola: This is a political decision that the politicians need to make. My job is to ensure the viability of Primero. The politicians need to decide if we want to go to full deregulation or what ever model they want. But the present system is not working and is not sustainable. Unless we want to go to danfo mode of public transport.

IDYIM: The company has been running its business with imported buses and parts. With the proximity of going concern of the business and the prudence in managing higher overheads as a result of naira to dollars exchange fluctuations. Why is the company not engaging domestic companies like Innoson?

Mr. Fola: We are in the process of starting an assembly plant here to start to assemble buses and also make some parts locally. That’s why it’s so painful that people are not seeing the big picture.

IDYIM: Finally, As a Businessman that has seen both regulated and deregulated regime, what business advice can you give young business-minded people on this platform.

Mr. Fola: My advice to young people that wants to go into business is to try as much as possible to go into unregulated businesses. That way the market forces determines your success or failure. That’s the problem why there’s always fuel shortage in the country because the government wants to please the masses but are not willing to pay the cost and they try to transfer the cost to private companies which will never work.

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