• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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‘Numerous check-points, bad roads impede travel on Ghana-Nigeria corridor’

‘Numerous check-points, bad roads impede travel on Ghana-Nigeria corridor’

Too many check-points on the Accra (Ghana)-Lagos (Nigeria) corridor of the trans-West Africa highway, as well as the bad state of sections of the road, constitute the greatest challenge to doing business on that corridor as they impede the free flow of persons, goods and services, ABC Transport Company-Ghana‘s Country Manager, Samuel Kwesi Asamani, told MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in this interview in Accra. He urged more cooperation among customs and immigration services of ECOWAS member-states, as well as creation by the bloc of an oversight body or mechanism to monitor adherence by all customs and immigration services in the sub-region to relevant protocols of the bloc. He also spoke on ABC Transport Company’s present challenges, and on-going efforts to re-position the company for better service delivery. Excerpts:

How do you assess the trans-West Africa road transport sector relative to the sub-region’s economy?

That’s a wonderful question. I strongly believe that the West Africa sub-region has great potentials when it comes to transportation; because that is one of the vehicles for the integration of the whole sub-regional economy. Road transportation is one of the major mean of getting goods and services across borders. And, it cannot be de-emphasised or underrated. It’s a crucial means of logistics which has to be encouraged, and which has to be enhanced for the development of the sub-region. Prior to the covid-19 pandemic (in Ghana) in March 2020 preceding the closure of borders, road transportation was quite buoyant and vibrant within the sub-region. And we saw huge volumes of goods being carted across the borders. And we saw a lot of trans-national activities in terms of trade by land. We can only say that we need to continue our steps on the journey that we have begun with road transportation. We believe that when the road infrastructure are improved, the road networks are improved, when better roads are built, when single lanes are dualised across the sub-region, we will see more efficient delivery of items within reasonable time-periods. So, I strongly believe that the road transportation system as a vehicle for the delivery of items as a vehicle for the integration of the sub-region is so imperative and so important to making the vision of integrating the entire West African economy become a reality. It has so many potentials, and we cannot underestimate that.

What do you think of the present state of the Ghana-Nigeria corridor of the trans-West Africa Highway vis-à-vis ABC Transport Company’s experience on that corridor?

Doing business on the Ghana-Nigeria corridor is quite challenging. Quite challenging in the sense that there are so many road blocks (check-points) that impede the free flow of persons, goods and services on the corridor. When I say road blocks, I mean road blocks by security agencies, including customs, immigration and the police. Sometimes, we feel that the road blocks are too many. It makes business so expensive, because at every roadblock you get to, you spend precious time as you wait for the checking and searching of vehicles, cargo containers; it’s so depressing. I think it’s about time that the ECOWAS leaders take a serious look at the issue of the roadblocks and barriers within the corridor. Having said that, we also think there are certain portions of the corridor which needs to be tackled, which need to be addressed, especially on the Nigerian side of the corridor; specifically, from Seme border (the border post between Benin Republic and Nigeria) to Lagos. It’s nothing to write home about. Even though steps have been taken by governments to reconstruct the road and make it more motorable and pleasant, still those steps are yet to yield the desired result. I think it’s about time we move forward with the reconstruction of that road and make it more motorable to enable people and goods experience the freedom of moving on that road smoothly and with ease. I think these are some of the major challenges: the perennial roadblocks that impede the smooth flow of people and goods as well as the deplorable and poor nature of portions of the road within this corridor.

Specifically, how can the ECOWAS Commission and the respective governments whose countries the relevant portions of the corridor pass through make transporters’ and travellers’ experience on that corridor smoother, less stress-free and more profitable?

I am of the view that governments should be committed to the ECOWAS protocols. When governments are committed to the ECOWAS protocols, the letter and the spirit of the protocols, I think all these challenges will be surmounted; because the protocols are beautiful ideas that need to be implemented and actualized. If the key protocols are implemented, I do not see us not moving forward with ECOWAS. So, it is incumbent on, and the onus lies on the governments of the various ECOWAS member-states to be committed to actualising the various protocols and ideals of the ECOWAS. And to me, when thy do so, ECOWAS will be a wonderful bloc.

The ECOWAS protocols are beautiful documents, as you averred earlier. Still, as you also rightly noted, there are too many roadblocks by numerous state agencies, including customs and immigration, whose conduct on the road advertently or inadvertently, often frustrate actualisation of the protocols. How can the customs, immigration and other relevant state agencies across West Africa be made to walk the talk with regards to the subsisting ECOWAS protocols?

That’s an excellent question. I think customs and immigration make up ECOWAS when it comes to border crossings and cross-border travels; they are the most important people on the trans-ECOWAS roads. They are responsible for the checks, including the checking of goods, and the checking of documents. I think that the customs of all the member-states of ECOWAS need to be given thorough training and re-training to make them more committed to their core mandate. Because when the customs and the immigration are committed to their core mandate, I think movement within the sub-region will be quite liberal, movement will be quite free, and movement across the sub-region will be sweet. Having said that, I also think that governments must ensure that there is an oversight, there’s continuous oversight of customs and other officers on the roads. There’s this documentary that Anas (Anas Arameyaw Anas, a popular Ghanaian investigative journalist) once showed on Ghana television about who watches over the watchman. There must be somebody watching over the watchman. Somebody has to watch over the watchman. We must be committed to our mandate. And, being committed to our mandate means that we have to be proactive in doing our jobs; and, diligent with our duties. Customs will always be there. Governments will always want to generate more revenue through customs, but I think that the customs of the various countries in West Africa should be more collaborative, should be more cooperative with each other as to be able to make travel (within the sub-region) more stress-free, and make the crossing of goods within the sub-region, also, stress-free.

Kindly assess the experience of ABC Transport Company-Ghana over the years in the trans-West Africa road-based passenger transport business? How is the company doing presently?

ABC has been a very vibrant and formidable force in terms of passenger road transportation within the West African sub-region, especially on the Accra (Ghana)-Lagos (Nigeria) corridor. But, the emergence of the covid-19 (pandemic) has emasculated most companies, not just ABC; weakened most companies, and brought most companies to their knees. We think that ABC is doing its best, even though we are not in our glory moments as before; but, I think we are doing our best. We continue to be on the road; we continue to serve our customers with the best service; and, we will ensure that we contribute our quota; we contribute our bit when it comes to West Africa’s economic integration through road transportation.

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ABC Transport is a pioneer on the Lagos-Accra corridor, the route that was, arguably, its most profitable. But recently, ABC Transport appears to have lost its competitive edge on that corridor, ironically, to competitors who are mostly new-comers in the business; and, who appear to be doing better on that corridor. So, would you still attribute your current challenges to Covid-19? What is really happening to ABC Transport?

To talk about ABC vis-à-vis completion is, I think, fair. We are living in a competitive environment. It’s a laisez-faire West Africa economy; the economy of the sub-region is liberal. This is an economy where any company at all can enter; there is free entry and free exit. So having competitors is not so bad, per se. It rather sharpens us, and gives us the drive to sharpen our abilities; it gives us the drive to ensure that we do things right; and, make sure that we are always on top; that is what we are aspiring to. And, being on top is not easy. We do acknowledge that there are challenges; but we, also, believe that those challenges are surmountable. As we move forward, we strongly trust and believe ABC is going to go back to its glory days. These days we find ourselves in quite a disturbing situation; but we believe that our people at the helm of affairs are doing their best to reorganize the company, and to make sure we re-assume the foremost place we used to occupy, and that people know us for. So, there is no cause for alarm; we’ll get there someday. We are working towards it, and shortly things will turn around.

For quite a while now your long buses, otherwise called coaches, have been noticeably out of operation on the Accra-Lagos corridor; and have, rather, been replaced by smaller buses. Why this shift?

That is correct. You may have also noticed that most companies operating on the corridor no longer use the long buses, or coaches, as they are called. We all know the economic situations of Ghana and Nigeria; we know the cost of fuel now in Ghana and, also, in Nigeria. Also, the impact of covid (-19); we are reeling from the effects of the pandemic. As such, we are not getting the turnout as we used to. Now, one needs to see the need, the necessity of travelling before one travels. Students that used to stay in Ghana are not coming in their numbers as they used to. Traders and businesspeople that used to shuttle between Accra and Lagos, and Lagos and Accra, are not doing so as they used to due to cash-flow issues, which, of course, can be blamed on covid-19. Every organization, every company, every business person is, one way or the other, reeling from its effects. As such, we don’t put our long coaches on the road; it’s expensive to put the long coaches on the road. You and I know that patronage is not encouraging; you and I know that fuel is very expensive. And, as such it will not be profitable for us to use the long coaches when we know that we will not be getting the right numbers to be able to move the bus, or the coach. So this is the explanation I can give to that.

So how do you assess the business environment in Ghana and its effects on the present fortunes of ABC Transport-Ghana’s operations in the country?

The local environment? We have been hammering on the sub-regional economy, and all of that. But now let’s situate it to the Ghanaian context. The Ghanaian economy is presently trying to come back from the shocks of the Russia-Ukraine war, from the shocks of the coviid-19 pandemic. And, of course, their effect on our economy has been the decision of our government to go the International Monetary Fund, IMF, for some economic bail-out in order to fix the country’s fiscal challenges. We also know that inflation has been high in Ghana; (the cost of) everything has gone up due to fuel price increments. So, the local economy has declined when it comes to economic activities. The data speaks for itself. We have seen a lot of government factsheets telling us the economy is not doing well; inflation is around 42 per cent now; it was around 52 per cent last November. We have seen the price of fuel decline in recent times, but as at last December the cost of diesel was around 23Ghana cedis per liter. The (Bank of Ghana or the Central Bank of Ghana) policy rates have been high; the bank rates have also been high. These are indicators which are not giving us positive signals. All the macro-economic indicators are not pointing well, they are not so encouraging. They are indications that the economy is not too buoyant. So it’s obvious that the purchasing power will be minimal, disposable income is not so available to people. And when disposable income is not too available to people, you don’t expect them to about travelling. As I said before, there must be a need to travel before they travel. That is why if you go around the city, all transport companies are not doing so well because people who otherwise would be travelling to Lagos bi-weekly are now doing so once in six months, or once in three months. So economic activities have declined, we admit, and it’s having a serious toll on our operations.

What specific steps is ABC Transport-Ghana taking to bounce back as quickly as possible?

We do admit that there have been some operational challenges; there have been some liquidity challenges when it comes to our Ghana office. That’s an undeniable fact. Our office space (here in Accra) has been halved; a portion has been ceded. These are all part of the strategic steps by our senior management to ensure that we become more viable in the future. We felt that the cost of renting the whole hall was a big toll on the company’s revenue, which necessitated a re-structuring of our space. And this they did. As part of cost-cutting measures we needed to rent out a portion of what hitherto was our original space. We are now using smaller buses, for instance, 14-seater buses as against long buses. That’s also another step taken by management to ensure we cut down on our expenses. The frivolous and unbudgeted-for expenses are being cut as a result of these measures being taken by management. So, we are trying to bring the company back on track by trying to find possible ways to cut costs to enable the company operate on a smaller but more efficient way.

What are your operational challenges in Ghana?

We have challenges with our taxes. These are issues that sometimes are difficult to speak about. We think the tax regime is quite rigid, and it’s have quite a serious impact on our income. There is also the issue, as you observed earlier, of an increasingly competitive business environment where lots of small companies have emerged, and as such widening people\scope of choice. Now people have options. And because of the covid-19, people are also exploring other creative ways of getting to Lagos with ease. So, these are some of the challenges we face when it comes to operations. But we can also say that we are trying to re-position ourselves to be able to beat the competition by promoting the company in so many ways.

And, what are those ways?

We send people to share flyers at markets and various event centers, at churches, social centers, universities and other academic institutions. We do these to create awareness of our service, that we exist; and, that we are not in hibernation. So, these are steps we’ve taken.

Those steps do not seem to extend to advertising your brand in the traditional media?

That is correct. You know every company has its own target audience and target market. We have our own promotional strategies; we advertise online; we have our web platform; we are social media, we are strong on Facebook. And, these days the world is going digital; our most key targets who are the younger folks are people who are inclined to the social media, and as such would always like to go online for any information, or advert, which is being shared by a company. So, I think we are exploring that option, the social media option. We also engage in one-on-one interactions with people when the need arises. So, these are steps that had worked for us in the past; and, we believe they will work for us again.

What are your achievements so far?

ABC Ghana, over the years, has done it bit. If I’m not mistaken, we have lifted over 100, 000 passengers across the border into Togo, Benin and Nigeria. We’ve provided first-class passenger transport service to the huge number of people who have patronized our service; they’d enjoyed our service through our creative and innovative on-board refreshment system. When it comes to achievements, we have been very vibrant when it comes to the Ghana-Nigeria corridor. Through our vibrancy on the corridor, so many people have been inspired to adopt our on-board refreshment services, and all of that. So, when it comes to achievements, we are pace-setters, we’ve done our best, and have inspired so many people as to how best they can go in managing a passenger transportation system on the road with coaches and sprinters.

So, what’s the future like for ABC Transport-Ghana?

The future is bright!

How bright?

As I said earlier, we are still in the re-structuring process.

How long would the process take?

Before the end of the year, new buses will join our fleet; we are going to roll out new buses; you’ll see more of ABC on the road; and, you’ll be proud again of the ABC you’ve always cherished.

Kindly tell us about yourself?

I am Samuel Kwesi Asamani; I’m a Ghanaian. I joined ABC about twelve years ago; and, I have been in this logistics business for that number of years. It’s been a wonderful experience, though it has not been a roller-coaster ride; but it’s been a wonderful experience when it comes to road transport business.

What are your previous experiences?

I have worked with other automotive companies, such as PAC Motors which used to be the second most viable auto company in Ghana, and was dealing in Chrysler jeep, Tata buses and all of that. I also worked with Sun-Seekers Tours, which was a tour company as well as being into transportation business. Over the years, I’ve been in logistics and transportation.

Is ABC-Ghana considering packaging tours? And, your final words?

ABC has always offered tour packages for people and various interest groups from Nigeria, Togo and Benin. We’re known for organizing group tours into Ghana. This is not a new thing to us; we have always done it. But like I said, we are in the re-packaging and re-strategising stage. All these fantastic ideas will be brought on board as we move forward. So, it’s not something we’ve put on the back-burner. We are sure and very optimistic that before the end of the year, you’ll see the new face of ABC; and, you’ll see the best of the company.