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From Chuks Onuoha, Umuahia
Chief John Nwagwu, one of the pioneer members of staff of Abia Line Network Transport Company did not know how deep the company’S neck was deep in debt when he was appointed acting general manager.
It was when he mouted the saddle on December 28, last year that the picture of what was ahead of him became clear to him.
The two questions were whether to accept the offer and confront the huge challenges that had crippled the company headlong or run away. He was aware that if he took the later decision, posterity would record him as one who failed in the midst of all odds.
“I took up the challenges and resumed,” he reminisced.
According to him, “immediately it was New Year, debtors came from every corner, demanding to be paid, yet there was no money to pay them. One day I was in the office, when some of the banks that the company owed came with security agents to seal the company.
“So, when the banks came and threatened to seal the company, we pleaded with them. I told them that If they did, how would they recover their debt. They reasoned with us and we entered into an agreement to pay certain amount so that they could leave us to be paying the rest gradually.
“We mopped up fund from different sources and paid them about N8 million. We went further to concede some of our viable routes to them, that they will be collecting money directly from those routes. So as I talk, they are collecting their money directly from the field. If we are able to service our debts, we can now negotiate to get loans for buses.
It was obvious that the government handed over an ailing company and watched what he was going to do with it. And eight months after, Nwagwu can beat his chest that Abia Line Network is becoming a success story.
“Most of the vehicles you see here do not belong to the government; they belong to individuals because we also operate franchise. It is when the government gives out vehicles that they will be interested in what comes out from their investment. Vehicles were not given to us by the government, they were on loan and the liability lies on the company. They only grant us consent to negotiate for loans, and even that consent lies on Abia Transport Network. We have been battling to see how this place will survive. It is true that banks granted us loan, but the payment of that loan still lies on Abia Line Network. All we are doing is trying to make sure that this place exists so that by the time we are leaving, whatever is our right will be given to us. Anyone in position of leadership who has intention to cheat is doing harm to himself,” Nwagwu said.
The transport company boss explained that when he first came the number of vehicles were about 45 buses and operational buses were about 16.
“Most people had stopped coming to work when I came because of the one year salary debt and I did not blame them because how can someone come to work and does not receive salary? We still continued, called for a meeting, appealed to them to agree for us to forget allowances and get at least our salaries. By the grace of God we have paid up to eight months when most ministries are still owing up to eight months to civil servants.
“The only secret behind my success is that I am as old as the company and I know the in and out of the organization. My only problem with all of them that sat on this sit is that when they came, they look at those of us who had been here as enemies. They never asked us how the company could be made to move forward. They believed that the company is a mining site, but soon discover otherwise and move out.
“I know that those who came in here as politicians came to make little money and go, that is the truth about it. Most times they go out of their way to compensate themselves. If you are the manager, anybody who will be an obstacle to them, they keep you by the side.
“If you come into a place,you should be patient to find out how they are surviving , if you happen to ignore those who are on the ground to run the place the way you like, you will have problem. That is what we have been suffering here since we came in, that is why the place is the way it is today. Those who came before us grounded it when they did not see the gold they wanted. But the gold is there, embedded in patience and hard work; only those who are true managers will find it and benefit from it. Abia Transport, if well funded and managed is a goldmine, but it is not everybody that sees the gold in it, only those who are ready to do work for the company will stand to enjoy it…
“There are lot of things to be done for the place to move forward. If we diversify to other areas, we can no longer depend on transport alone to survive. Moving passengers from one point to the other is not the dream we have in Abia Transport. If the government comes to our aide today, they will know that people who are capable of turning the fortunes of the place are now in charge,” Nwagwu said.