CEO Rem-Bam Nigeria Ltd, Mr. Soye Oniagba, spoke with Patricia Adekoya on the many challenges of the haulage sector. Excerpts:
How many fleets of trucks do you have in your possession?
I can’t sit down here and tell you the number of trucks we have. With the last audit we did, I believe we have more than enough trucks in our possession. Some of them had since been involved in an accident.
What are your major challenges in the haulage sector?
We have a lot of challenges. In fact, very many of them, if I tell you I have many trucks, I must have taken loans from the bank. We have this job for which we took loan. We got about some new trucks, which we put into the fleets. We are supposed to be hauling Cement for Lafarge, all over the country. But along the line issues came up and the job was not going the way it was supposed to go. The bank has to take its money. A lot of issues cropped up, but I won’t see that as a challenge. The challenges we are having are the types of roads our trucks are plying in this country. The roads are in terrible shapes although they are trying to fix some of them now. And then the biggest problem is the human problem, the drivers. Like a friend of mine used to tell me, if you can manage 10 drivers, if you open an asylum you will manage it well. If you send a driver to Owerri from Lagos and decides to do something else, you may not know even when you have vehicle trackers on the vehicle this is because the tracker can only tell you that the truck is coming back from Owerri. But what he stops to do in Ore or stop to do in Onitsha or Benin, the tracker would not know.
Some of them will veer off their road to carry things that might even be detrimental to the well being of the vehicles. I have recorded cases were somebody who was supposed to go to Port Harcourt, went to Ondo State. And we saw on the tracker that he had veered off the road, and he said there was accident on the Lagos-Benin Express road, the road was blocked that was why he had decided to take Olukotu to Akure. We discovered that not only did he, go through that road, but he went to carry illegal plants and it was impounded. We had to spend a lot of money and pay fine before we could get out the truck. The case was taken to court, several cases like that. But at the end of the day, they did not send him to go and carry illegal thing. What we sent him to do was different from what he went there to do. These are human issues that affect haulage business in Nigeria.
Another issue is that if you sack one driver here today, tomorrow he gets another job elsewhere. There is no data to show people that this driver had committed something somewhere. It is now that some organisations are coming up trying to put this type of things in place, whereby you are sacking a driver you give the data and the photograph to them to publish so that they would know the type of person he is. But how many people will really bother to do a background check.
When we employ our drivers, we ask them for guarantors, we would take them to Alagbon Police Station to do finger print and get all the necessary information about them, we do background checking. Even with that, when issues arise, you would see the guarantors coming to your office to beg and preach, they would go to the church to get one letter from one pastor saying please he is a member of the church etc. A lot of all these issues had to do with the type of society we are living. They are cultural issues that have to do with our society.
What are the contributions of the sector to national development?
In other countries the contributions may not be as much as we have in Nigeria. In other countries, rail transportation is supposed to take more than 70, 80 per cent of our haulages. But in Nigeria, the rail system has been dead for so many years. The trucks had taken over the contribution of the rail industry into the economy. I will say trucking takes about 80 to 90 per cent of road haulages, which is supposed to be taken by the railways. Therefore, it has a lot of contributions to the economy.
Today, they are working on waterways, may be trying to dredge the Niger River so that some batches could move up North. But I don’t know how far they have gone and what success they have recorded so far. But a lot of our bulk carriages still go by the road and that is why many of our roads are having many challenges. And you discover that a lot of these roads were built some 30, 35 and 40 years ago. “Look at the Apapa-Oshodi Express road that they are just working on. Look at the Ibadan Express road they are just working on them. They are all in terrible and deplorable state.
The poor state of the roads affect the haulage business seriously, because a vehicle that is supposed to last for five years, because of the state of the road, the cost of repairs and spare parts, tyres and a lot of things, will not last more than three years. I don’t think there would be any transport company that you can say it’s making any reasonable profit from that business for today. Because by the time you begin to pay bank loans, you need to pay staff salaries, and some other things, you discover that you are running at a loss. I have over 300 drivers. In short close to 400 drivers that are on my pay roll.
Sir, does night travel pose any danger to the business security wise?
It does. In short, out rightly, we have a standing policy that wherever you are at 7pm you must park. It is Lafarge policy. It is our own policy too. Because our roads are not safe enough, there are not enough markings on the roads, so a lot of dangers are associated with night travels. But a vehicle would get spoilt on the way before the Road Safety gets to know about it, they are more interested on those ones they can arrest and make money from. “If you go through Lagos, the LASTMA people when they see a vehicle that is down that will be difficult for them to remove, they wouldn’t bother. But you attract their attention when you to drop passenger, or trying to do something even if the driver is there because that one would yield instant money they would go after that.
What are your major achievements?
It is only God that can measure achievement. But I would say, I thank God, I live well, I eat well and I believe my business is striving. Despite that we have challenges here and there, but the business is still in existence. It is still striving.
Who is your role model or where did you get your business idea?
I wouldn’t say I have a role model per se when it comes into business. It has been through trial and error and God’s intervention. Because I did not even sit down and set out that this is what I really wanted to do. How it came up, may be God wanted it that way. It is not as if I sat down and say this is what I want to do. It’s being through trying this, trying that and along the line God answered my prayer and said okay, either by trial and error you are on the right course. I never sat down and said, may be I want to be like this or like that. If anything and haven’t read about Jesus Christ, I decided to make Jesus Christ my role model. So that He will continue to guide and direct my ways.
What other businesses are you into?
We have other divisions apart from haulage. Our major business is not haulage. Our major business is construction. We are into constructions but lately we went into telecommunications.