Afolabi Munir Tinubu, economist and mortgage banker, is the Managing Director of Primero Transport Services Limited. He shared his life story with TUNDE ADELEKE.
How can the present mass transit system be improved upon to ease transportation challenges in a megacity like Lagos?
Let me start by saying that the Lagos State government has done an excellent job with the master plan that they came up with which is an all-encompassing transport model that includes sea, rail and land. However, the sector needs more investments in all facets of the industry. The kind of investment that the sector needs is huge and requires the federal and state governments, as well as the private sector, to deal with it successfully.
The state government by itself cannot fund the mass transit system alone. Due to the fact that Lagos State is highly populated, it requires more buses, ferries and rail. I don’t care how you plan it. You cannot construct enough roads to solve Lagos traffic challenges because Lagos State has a very small land mass and you cannot build your way out of Lagos congestion.
The key is to provide a world-class public transport system that encourages people to stop using their personal cars; encourage them to park their cars and use the mass transit system. For this to be successful, you have to ensure you provide world-class services. If you want people to park their cars at home, then you have to provide a service that they will not have to spend about two hours at the bus-stops, the ferry stations, or the rail stations. You have to ensure the buses, the trains and the ferries are clean, they are affordable and get commuters to their destinations on time. These are what will encourage people to leave their cars at home and use the public transport system. We need to work with the Lagos State government’s all-encompassing transport model and at the same time get the business model right. Until we get the business model right, the public transport of our dream will not materialise.
Will more effort in the area of private-public partnership go a long way?
That’s the only way. As stated earlier, the state government does not have enough resources to acquire all the buses and, at the same time, procure all the trains and ferries that are needed. Even if they do, history has shown that the government is not the best entity to run a public transportation business. So, they need to encourage the private sector to invest heavily in this area. If they are going to invest, you will have to show them how they are going to make a modicum of profit. While the government creates an enabling environment, the private people must understand that the sector will be profitable before they start investing. That is why I stated earlier that the business model needs to be reviewed and perfected for public-private partnerships to thrive in the industry.
The key is not just buying buses, ferries, or trains, it is to ensure the sustainability of it and that the system is successful. That is where the business model comes in. Some tough political decisions will have to be made. But if we want a world-class public transport system, we will have to ensure the private sector participates and leads it.
For the private investors to participate in the transport sector the way they should, there has to be some element of profit in it for them. They are not going to invest their capital if they are not sure about the returns. We need to ensure that we come up with a good business model that solves the challenges facing the industry. If the private investors need to invest billions of naira in this sector, there has to be justification for their investment.
As an investor, I can easily put my money in banks and collect interest or buy treasury bonds which guarantees the safety of my capital and interests. But if I am going to invest my capital in public transportation, I have to show that at the end of the day, it will be profitable. That is where the business model comes in. We all know that the state government does not have an infinite source of funds, and there are many competing projects that need to be funded by the government, like education, healthcare, and infrastructure development. They have to prioritise projects they are going to fund. Without the private sector intervention, we will not achieve the public transportation system of our dreams. But if we are going to get the private sector to come in, we will have to ensure there is a modicum of profit for their investment in the sector.
How would you describe your growing up years?
Growing up in Lagos was exciting. I was born in the early 60s. The late 60s and early 70s were a very exciting time in Lagos State. It was safer than now. Things worked well then, unlike now. The population then was not as huge as we have it today. Everybody, more or less, knew each other. That was before I went to England for further studies.
Look, anybody who grew up in Lagos in the 70s will tell you Lagos was clean, fun, safe, and secure. And you can move about almost any time with little or no worries about your safety. So, growing up in Lagos was really nice.
What about your educational background?
I got my O’ Level certificate in Nigeria. I went to school in England for my first degree in Economics and Politics. Also, I did my Master’s degree in England. And I hold an MBA. That’s the best you can get from me.
Can you describe your career trajectory?
My career trajectory is a bit peculiar. When I left Nigeria for America in 1989 after my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme, I was supposed to go to Law School in the United States.
But I never enrolled at any Law School. Instead, I ended up in the mortgage industry in the United States. I worked in the mortgage industry in America for about 20 years and worked for some of the top mortgage companies at the senior level. I eventually formed and ran my own company called Greater Washington Mortgage Company until the mortgage crisis. I came back to Nigeria about 12 years ago. I started a company called Maryland Wreckage that was removing abandoned vessels on the Lagos Lagoon. Eventually, I found myself in Primero Transport Services Limited and became a bus conductor. As you can see, I started as a mortgage banker and now run a bus company. But I thank God for all that I have gone through because it has made me a generalist.
Can you tell us how you met your wife?
I met my wife in America. We are happily married and we are blessed with two children.
What would you describe as your unforgettable experience?
This is a loaded question because I have gone through a lot of experiences both good and bad, and I cannot now say this is the most unforgettable one.
What adventure were you involved in as a youth?
You are asking me to put my neck in my nose and hang myself. Because like any young boy growing up in Lagos, you got involved in lots of escapades both at school and at home. I was involved in a lot of activities and adventures growing up. As the Bible says, when I was young, I behaved like a child. There is hardly any young person who has not gone through lots of different escapades growing up. As a matter of fact, it is better for you to ask this question from my friend that I grew up with; they would be able to tell you more about that than myself. I honestly should take the fifth [amendment] on this question, because growing up, one was not a choir boy. But I thank God for where I am today. That young boy is now an elderly person. So, when you look back, you thank God for your life. Like everybody else, one has made lots of mistakes. But God, in His wisdom, has made sure that I did not make mistakes that could not be corrected. And I thank God for where I am today.
How do you relax?
This is a very easy one. I play golf. I need to go back and start playing again because when the election campaign started last year, I stopped playing golf. But I really need to go back to it now. Also, I enjoy reading all genres of books. I have my personal friends that we hang out with, we usually open a nice bottle of wine, sit, relax, discuss everything under the sun and just have fun.
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