By Tijani Labaran | Daily Trust
16 employees died waiting for entitlements
At the peak of its operation, the Kogi State Transport Company Limited operated from six garages in Lokoja, Anyigba, Lagos, Kaduna, Ankpa and Kabba, to the delight of many travellers. However, almost 30 years since it came into existence, the firm, which is the parent company of Kogi Travellers, which has now been renamed Confluence City Express, is a shadow of its former self.
The company’s main garage in Lokoja only presents empty desks and abandoned buses. The atmosphere in the loading spot is that of abandonment and desertion. Except the makeshift umbrella shade where a technician was on wire works and the passengers’ waiting point that has now been turned into a worship arena, no life was spotted in the once ever-busy garage.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the sorry state of the company’s main garage is a reflection of what is obtainable in other garages across the country.
It was learnt that the transport company found itself in this situation as a result of graft and policy summersault of various administrations in the state. Our correspondent gathered that the issuance of a circular of compulsory leave to workers, which was signed by the then general manager of the company, Augustine Tokula, an engineer, on June 30, 2011, sealed the fate of the company.
A senior staff who headed a department of the company said that no worker was disengaged, but they have all been on compulsory leave for 10 years and 10 months as directed by the circular signed by the general manager and pasted on the notice board in Lokoja.
“The management team told us verbally that the closure was for two weeks, but it has run into 10 years and 10 months,” he said.
Comrade Mahmud Idris, the state chairman of the Amalgamated Union of Public Cooperation, Civil Service and Technical Service Employees (AUPCTRE), said that in its heydays, the transport company remitted between N3.5million to N5million monthly.
Idris, who claimed to be in the forefront of the establishment of the company in 1993, said Kogi Travellers ran into bankruptcy because of government’s interventions.
“We got buses from Benue Links and Kwara Express in 1993 as part of asset sharing to establish Kogi Travellers after registration at the Cooperate Affairs Commission (CAC), under the administration of the late Prince Abubakar Audu. By 1996, the establishment was perfected and unionised,” he said.
He explained that in an attempt to increase its efficiency, the then governor of the state, Ibrahim Idris, paid for 50 vehicles, but only 25 were supplied to the fleet of the company, while one was later withdrawn for a special purpose, reducing the number to 24.
“Surprisingly, the one given to the police but bearing our brand and used for tracking criminals created ill feelings against the company and hoodlums started attacking our buses on the road. In one of such attacks on a Lagos road, female passengers were raped.
“During elections, especially under the Ibrahim Idris administration, the vehicles were withdrawn for campaigns for months, besides being used for social programmes like marriages, burial and socio-cultural activities of public officeholders, free of charge,” he alleged.
He explained that in such periods, the vehicles were off the road and sometimes returned with technical issues.
“And the company would spend its money to put the vehicles in good shape before going back to the road for business. Surprisingly, the revenue that accrued from the 24 vehicles was paid directly to the account of the state government rather than the company’s account, which was servicing the debt,” he added.
He, however, said that although former Governor Idris was paying the salaries of workers, servicing the vehicles and other interventions were too much load for the company to bear and survive.
Our correspondent gathered that a lifeline was to be injected into the company when former Governor Idris Wada struck a deal with a commercial bank to inject N600m to run the company on a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement, but it never saw the light of day.
Comrade Idris said that rather than pay the money to the bank based on the agreement, so that the company would commence operation, Wada decided to give it to the then commissioner for transport to revive, a move, he said died on arrival.
He further said, “Vehicles used for a tournament in Abuja were refurbished and ferried to the fleet of the company – 11 buses and three luxury vehicles (Leyland). We raised the alarm, but Governor Wada did not do anything about it. Shortly after that, he lost election and left power. So the vehicles were packed while many of them disappeared,” he said.
He added that when all efforts did not yield the desired results, the union went to the National Industrial Court in Abuja for redress, and judgement was given in its favour, with a directive to settle all the entitlements of workers.
“We heard that the state government, under Yahaya Bello, paid N300m to the bank to offset the salary arrears of workers as ruled by the court. The workers were happy and preparing to receive their salaries when another judgement from the same court, acting on the appeal of the state government, set aside the earlier ruling, saying the union had no right to take the state government to court on behalf of the employees,” he said.
He, however, hinted that there is a move by the state government for both parties to settle the case out of court, but government officials have not honoured any of such meetings when scheduled.
16 workers died waiting for entitlements
A senior staff of the company who headed a department and is a member of the workers’ union, Ahmed Umar, said that two years after it was closed down, the then government under Captain Wada, responded to the workers’ petition to the House of Assembly and set up a 16-man committee to resolve the crisis. He said the committee had absolved workers of any wrongdoing and urged the state government to pay all their entitlements, as well as update or increase the vehicles in the fleet of the company to commence full operation.
“Captain Wada did not waste time in implementing the committee’s report. He supplied new vehicles to the company. We were even waiting to receive payment of our backlog of salaries and other entitlements and commence operation when he lost election to return as governor,” he said.
He said the closure of the transport company had left sorrows and pains among workers.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that 16 out of the 142 workers that were sent off on compulsory leave have died while waiting for their entitlements.
Comrade Umar said it was very pathetic that one Samuel Alade from the department of e ngineering died because he could not afford N2,500 to treat himself of an illness. According to him, it was a similar sad tale for Mathew Amupitan and 14 others.
Comrade Idris also said they had lost many workers because of the hardship associated with the closure of the company and non-payment of their entitlements.
Recounting his ordeal, James Achimugwu told Daily Trust on Sunday that he left for his country home in Agojeju, Omalla Local Government Area of the state to farm shortly after the company became bankrupt.
“But it was short-lived. After my encounter with herdsmen in the farm, I had to run back to Lokoja to engage in commercial motorcycle (okada) business to feed my family,” he said.
Apart from government’s interference, our correspondent gathered that sharp practices in the company also contributed to its destruction. Vehicle spare parts and maintenance cost were alleged to have been overvalued. There were also receipt racketeering and other corrupt tendencies.
It was, however, gathered that the company has been leased to an individual and it is rendering skeletal services, A staff of the new management of the transport company who did not want his name mentioned told Daily Trust on Sunday that they were on course despite challenges.
He said that Confluence City Express, which is an offshoot of Kogi Travellers, is currently running on three routes – Lagos, Ilorin and Kaduna – with few vehicles in its fleet. The staff, who said the new management took over the company about eight months ago, called on the state government to rescue it by supplying new vehicles to ply other routes.
Attempts to reach the Kogi State Commissioner for Transport, Mr Baron Okwoli for comments were not successful as he was said to be unavailable after several visits to his office and home. The permanent secretary in the ministry declined to comment, saying he was not qualified to speak on the subject.