Why ‘Danfos’ Must Go, by Eromosele Abiodun

In line with its plan to phase out the yellow buses from Lagos roads, the state government said it was working towards setting aside a N30 billion sinking fund to transform public transportation

It is an incontrovertible fact that transportation is an essential part of human activity, and in many ways forms the basis of all socio-economic interactions. Without a doubt, no two locations will interact effectively without a viable means of movement. In most developing countries, inadequate transport facilities are often the norm rather than the exception. Thus, a good transport system is essential to support economic growth and development.
Since Nigeria attained independence in 1960, the problems of the country’s transport system include bad roads; inadequate fleets of buses or trucks; irregular, inadequate and overcrowded trains and airplanes and congested ports.
However, road transport is the most commonly used mode of transportation in Nigeria today. Road traffic depends on the pattern of human settlements, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the sub-sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP). Road transport activities involve the conveyance of passengers en-masse or in small numbers, the transportation of animals, farm produce and merchandise and the rendering of mobile services (clinics, libraries and banks).
The optional use of motor cars for pleasure, which can be distinguished from the three uses listed above, also contributes tremendously to the importance of road transport in Nigeria. This is more predominant in Nigeria than in most other
African countries because of the poor state of alternative means of transportation by which journeys could have been made and also due to the psychological satisfaction offered by the possession of a car.

Danfo as ‘public enemy’
In Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, the psychological satisfaction offered by the possession of a car can turn to a nightmare in an instant. You can only disagree with this submission if you have not been in Lagos for too long. Last week, Peter James (not real names) who works in a new generation bank went out with his friends in a car he bought recently. Two metres away from his house, a commercial bus, popularly known as Danfo ran into his car and damaged it.
He is not alone. At least a million car owners in Lagos have a story to tell about their encounter with Danfo drivers in Lagos. Not too long a long, a phenomenal known as ‘one chance’ was the talk of town in Lagos. Armed robbers terrorised Lagosians, using commercial busses as a decoy. Also a lot of people have lost their lives as a result of commercial busses driving against traffic.
The Danfo drivers and bus attendants, otherwise known as conductors are also victims of the gluttonous touts known at Agberos. For example, a commercial bus plying Ojuelegba-Apapa, pays between N4,000 and N5,000 to Agberos on a daily basis and this illegal taxation is transferred to unsuspecting passengers. Those who refuse to pay are beaten to stupor. However, all these may be history soon if the plan by the Lagos State Government to get rid of Danfo buses materialises.
Recently at the 14th annual lecture of the Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) in Lagos, the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, announced plans to ban the operations of commercial buses from Lagos roads before 2017 elapses.
He said the move was aimed at creating, “a well-structured and world class mass transportation system that would facilitate ease of movement within the city.”
According to the governor, the prime goal of his administration is to grow the state from fifth to third largest economy in Africa by 2020.
Ambode explained the significance of infrastructure projects his administration had been executing in strategic sectors of Lagos economy, noting that it was directed at up scaling the status of the state.
He stated that the establishment of massive lay-bys, rehabilitation of inner-city roads and the construction of flyovers in different parts of the state were designed to end the challenges of urbanisation.
Specifically, the governor noted that the main objective of his administration remained the growth of Lagos from fifth to third largest economy in Africa, which he said formed the heart of his government.
To realise this prime goal, Ambode insisted that yellow buses would be removed from Lagos roads for a more efficient, well-structured and world class mass transportation system that would facilitate ease of movement within the city.
He said the present connectivity mode in the state was not acceptable and befitting for a mega city, and as such, a well-structured transportation mode would soon be put in place to address the challenge.
Ambode said: “When I wake up in the morning and see all these yellow buses, commercial motorcycles and all kinds of tricycles, and we claim we are a mega city, that is not true. We must first acknowledge that that is a faulty connectivity that we are running. We have to look for the solution. That is why we want to banish yellow buses this year. We must address the issue of connectivity that makes people to move around with ease and that is where we are going. For instance, people going from Ikorodu to CMS have started leaving their cars at home because the buses are very convenient. So, why can’t we do that for other places? Yes, we do not have the money to do everything now but we can go to the capital market and then improve on the technology of collection of fares. That will encourage investors and then the city will change.”

N30b public transport
In line with its plan to phase out the yellow buses from Lagos roads, the state government said it was working towards setting aside a N30 billion sinking fund to transform public transportation.
According to Ambode, the amount would help instill credibility in a N100 billion public transportation bond that the state would float later in the year.
He said already, the state decided not to touch its share of the Paris Club refund of N14.5 billion, which has since been kept in the sinking fund. He also anticipated that the second batch of the Paris Club refund would be paid next month and eventually to take the sum to N29 billion, adding that his government would thereafter add another N1 billion to it to make it a total of N30 billion to kick start the initiative.
He explained: “We are working on the financial template and this is the breakdown – government has a sinking fund that we want to put into this bond. You are aware that the federal government paid the refund of the Paris Club Loan last December and this is a money belonging to the state governments due to the refund and so Lagos State decided not to touch its share of the Paris Club refund.
“By the time we have N30 billion as a sinking fund to drive the bus initiative against the bond of N100 billion that we want to put into the market, there will be that credibility and credence that the bond will drive itself and that is the whole idea
“The second level of the initiative is that we intend to give out franchise to people and this franchise is going to come in multiple of 50 buses each, 100 buses, 200 buses and so on. So, if you have that franchise, you are going to give us a down payment of 25 per cent of the buses. So, these are bankable projects as we have a sinking fund and so our exposure as a government is just technically 75 per cent.”
He noted that public transportation is not a profitable business and that one is not likely to see major investors in it that was why the state decided to use its vehicle – the LAGBUS, which is a private company to drive the proposed public transportation infrastructure bond.
“That bond is coming to the capital market in which every individual, every Lagosian should be interested in buying into the bond and then we believe that N100 billion bond that span for seven to ten years can take care of the structure that we have put in place.”
According to Ambode, from the kind of machinery his government wants to use to run the buses, there would be no cash takings, saying that everything would be automated and obviously who ever has a franchise, would have the recourse to take part of the money while part of the intake also goes to the repayment of the facility.
“The only part I just want to quickly mention here is the human angle. I, Akin Ambode cannot drive the buses, a medium size bus that I provide replaces two yellow buses (Danfo) and obviously it is from the community of the drivers that own the Danfos that we have to absolve into this new culture; they have to be the new drivers.
“The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) are the ones invited to own the buses. I, as government, is just providing the infrastructure because they cannot buy these new buses hundred per cent cash and so government needs to stand up for them and so you know what, you the dealers, continue to provide the buses, come and put the SKD company in Lagos, then come and do maintenance facility for us, come and put the spare parts in Lagos for us and then we create more employment,” he said.
This, the Lagos State governor said would be a paradigm shift from where the yellow bus drivers move from being addressed as ‘Danfo’ drivers but professional drivers.
“So, we will buy back the Danfos from them and it becomes the seed money to become eventual owners of those buses in the years the facility is spread. It is something we have been working on in the last one year and we don’t come out to say we are going to do anything without working properly on it. It is process and now we are at the advocacy process.
“Yes, we have almost 23 million people, we have 11 million people moving almost every moment within the ambit of Lagos and you are wondering about six million of them move by walking. They don’t really use buses, they don’t use plane or others. So, the concept there is you want to find something that can move the ordinary Lagosians from one point to the other so that productivity can increase.
“Having said that, road transportation is not the only means of moving people but the way Lagos is designed presently, road transportation that is happening here though we have water, we want pedestrian walk and all that.
“So, what we have decided to do is that we have this buses that are not working efficiently and government on its part has not been able to provide efficient alternative. “Now looking at it, if we are to intervene, should we continue with this private ownership of buses which you have had these yellow buses since the time of former Governor Alhaji Lateef Jakande over 30 years ago?
“So, we decided that no matter the solution that we want to give the traffic management, we must also now provide a comfortable means of moving people that allow the middle class and majority of people to drop their cars at home.
“Now, we have 30,000 of these yellow buses in the city and they cram about 12 people inside it. And so, we decided that the best thing is to allow the buses go and so the bus reform initiative itself is a three-year plan of 2017 to 2019 in which it intends to bring in new buses of 5,000 units in the three-year plan.
“The bigger size buses will take 70 people and then the medium range buses will take 30 people. We believe that the middle range buses will be supplied up to 70 per cent of the total volume which will amount to about 3,600 units and then the longer range in that direction,” he explained.
. Published by THISDAY on March 17, 2017.