A stakeholder engagement meeting S4C convened on December 24, 2019, in Owerri, Imo State sought to broker talks between Imo State Government and urban stakeholders over rising tension arising from the concession of the state-owned Imo Transport Company (ITC) to a private company, Transport Hub Limited. Amid local protests and widespread speculations regarding the nature, scope and ownership of the concession, the meeting aimed to explore an amicable resolution of issues and get logical answers to the serious queries of concerned stakeholders.
Present at the meeting were senior government representatives such as the Commissioner for Transport, the Special Assistant to the governor on Transport, ITC Interim Management Committee, the leadership of the concession company, ITC employees, representatives of the media and civil society etc. Ahead of the meeting, S4C requested a copy of the ITC concession agreement from the state authorities, demanding full disclosure of the due process procedures, negotiation and contractual terms of the concession.
ITC is a private limited liability company owned by the state. Accordingly, Imo State Government constituted a negotiating team, led by the Technical Adviser to the Governor, Mr. Paschal Madu, to negotiate the terms of the concession with the private company. The concession agreement delivered to S4C showed that an agreement was executed between Imo State Government, Imo Transport Company and Transport Hub Limited (THL) on December 12, 2019.
To clear issues and locate common grounds around the contentious issues, THL director, Mr. George Nwangwu explained the contract terms. First off, the concession is for a period of 10 years, subject to a two-year interim period to accomplish a set of agreed-upon key performance indicators (KPI). In other words, without meeting the set goals outlined in the KPI within the 2-year period, the contract fails and the concession thereby terminated. The KPI imposed an obligation on THL to among other things:
- Increase ITC fleet with the addition of at least 100 vehicles and buses
- Rebuild the company’s bus terminal
- Refurbish ITC park at Onitsha road and make it functional
- Not to disengage any existing employees without recourse to the government
The procedure for the award of the concession was through an unsolicited proposal approach, which allows private actors with a strong capital-base and tracks record of work performance to tender innovative ideas and solutions to festering local challenges. THL is a private sector innovation and subsidiary of Diamond Chips Limited. The parent company is reputed for initiating and managing concessions such as the Onitsha Port, Shiroro power plant among others. After a stint at the Bureau of Public Enterprises, THL director was a former technical adviser on public-private partnerships (PPP) to the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
The concession also had other technical components which among other things include: to expand inner-city bus connections, introduce bus-rapid terminal (BRT) model of transportation across the state metropolis, build an assembly plant for ITC and bolster entrepreneurship and job creation through the democratization of ITC ticket sales using technology and driver-to-bus owner schemes etc. Convinced that THL’s innovative ideas hold enormous potential to not only revamp ITC operations, but also transform the entire transportation sector in Imo State, the state government awarded the concession to the company in furtherance of the stated goals and according to the agreed timelines. The technical proposal was submitted in August 2019 and the concession awarded in December 2019 following months of intense negotiation meetings and contractual term reviews.
Regarding the concerns about workers’ welfare, Mr. Nwangwu clarified that ITC Interim Management Committee was carried along in all the contract negotiations up to the handover to the company to THL. The ITC Interim Management Committee Chair, Mr. Emeka Ariguzo, affirmed that robust consultations have been held between the employees and the concession company. Departing from the previous work culture, salaries are now being paid on time. Not only that, discussions are underway between THL and the Interim Management Committee, exploring solutions to a number of issues such as providing buses to inactive drivers, clearing salary arrears that accumulated over the years, especially under the previous Rochas-led administration. As of December 24, 2019, ITC workers’ salaries have been paid, something that was unheard of in the past.
Media and civil society representatives asked several questions about the concession. Topping the list of queries is the issue of THL’s beneficial ownership in light of widespread speculations linking the company to the governor’s relatives. THL director vehemently debunked these allegations reiterating the company’s track record in managing PPPs and concessions in different states of Nigeria. Another notable issue was the absence of parliamentary participation in the award of the concession. The other question relates to the absence of public communication and stakeholder engagement prior to the take-off of the concession. Fielding answers to the questions, Imo Commissioner for Transport clarified that not all executive decisions are routed through the parliament and there is no law requiring all executive decisions to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny when there is no illegality. For instance, the state is rehabilitating 27 major roads across the state, a decision taken out of necessity considering the massively deteriorated and impassable condition of the state road networks.
Imo transport commissioner insisted that the concession was awarded through a competitive and transparent process and the records are available for any interested stakeholder to independently access and evaluate. THL director added that the delivery of the concession contract documents to S4C upon request, the willingness to attend this meeting convened by urban governance watchdogs and answer questions from stakeholders evidenced company’s willingness to engage and resolve difficult issues.
Having experienced executive recklessness and several failed promises from previous administrations, Imo citizens are determined to say goodbye to the era when state resources were plundered with impunity. What came out strongly from the meeting is that while an improved ITC may mean more jobs and better transportation services for Imo people, the place of civic engagement in city transportation reforms cannot be overlooked. With the change of baton from Governor Emeka Ihedioha to Governor Hope Uzodinma, stakeholders watch with bated breath whether the sudden political changeover in the state may affect critical investment decisions such as the ITC concession.