By Paulinus Nsirim
There is no doubt that public transportation and commuter service form an integral part in the social contract, collective interactions and the filial operations that define and govern our existential operations in modern cities and societies.
The sudden outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise and spread rapidly across the globe, causing a complete truncation in the daily norms and routines of our communities and sadly resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people across the world.
No country has been spared, no society has been left untouched by the deadly pandemic.
It is little wonder therefore that by virtue of its robust, interconnecting nature, the public transportation system became a critical area of interest, particularly in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, as records have shown that one of the fastest ways of spreading the infection is through the public transportation system.
Mindful of the critical role which public transportation will play in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State was arguably the first Governor in Nigeria, to take practical steps to address this anticipated occurrence.
The signing of Executive Orders which defined the fight against the spread of coronavirus, was later to be replicated by the Federal Government and other state governments. Governor Wike himself was on the frontline to protect the people of Rivers State, by leading the State Task Force on Enforcement and adherence of the directives.
Through these proactive actions, as well as other precautionary measures to protect Rivers people from coronavirus, already put in place since March, including the periodic lockdowns of specific areas of the state for specific days, to enforcing social distancing and other precautionary measures, Governor Wike succeeded in protecting majority of Rivers people during this pandemic and left no one in doubt of his commitment to put Rivers State.
On May 27, 2020 the State Executive Council Meeting presided over by Governor Wike at Government House, Port Harcourt, approved the implementation of the Free Bus Scheme to further address the public transportation system and check the community spread of Coronavirus in the state.
Implementation of the scheme began on June 1, 2020 with a total of 28 luxury buses deployed for the pilot scheme and will operate strictly in line with advisories on social distancing, use of hand sanitizers and wearing of face masks.
The buses, which will operate from 6:30 am to 7 pm daily, will pick and drop passengers only at designated bus stops.
The Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Sunny Ejekwu inaugurated the scheme and commended Governor Wike for the initiative, which he confirmed was the first of it's kind in the country.
He added that the buses will ply Obio/Akpor, Port Harcourt, Oyigbo and Eleme Local Government Areas as a pilot scheme.
Ejekwu also pointed out during the launch, that the scheme has once again highlighted the pulse of Governor Wike as a caring leader who is concerned about the health and welfare of Rivers people.
It is on record that since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, Governor Wike has done so much to show his love for Rivers people, some of which have been exhibited through the provision of palliatives, where he not only released the sum of N2 billion to buy up all the produce from Rivers farmers and fishermen, thus empowering them too.
The Palliatives committee led by the dynamic PDP Chairman, Ambassador Desmond Akawor and comprising members drawn from all segmets of society including the clergy, civil society and the media too, had reached every nook and cranny of the state, to distribute palliatives to the vulnerable and less privileged, irrespective of political party affiliation.
Many Rivers residents who have already started enjoying the safety and comfort of the Free buses, have expressed happiness with the initiative and have been pleasantly surprised that government would provide such a free service.
They described the Scheme as a gift you can only get from a compassionate and visionary leader, who has the interest and welfare of his people at heart.
Discerning Rivers people, who have objectively and dispassionately followed and assessed the actions and strategies of Governor Wike in addressing the Coronavirus pandemic and curtailing its spread in the state concur that he is a visionary and courageous leader who is totally committed and desirous to ensure that the community spread of the pandemic is curtailed in every sector of the lives of people living and doing business in the State.
Governor Wike is quite aware that some of the different measures being put in place in the wake of the COVID19 outbreak, may still not sufficiently address the community spread of the pandemic, especially in our public transportation system. The terminals and bus stops for loading and offloading passengers are often over crowded thus posing a real danger to social distancing, commercial vehicles are usually overloaded with tight seating arrangements, amongst other challenges.
What the Governor has thus done, with the provision of the Free bus scheme, is not only to limit and ultimately prevent the spread of Covid-19 through the public transportation system, he has equally ensured that the people do not suffer undue transportation hardship as a result of some of the Covid-19 directives stipulated for the transport sector during this period.
Governor Wike's operational strategy and mantra has been to Prepare, Protect, Contain, Reduce and ultimately Curtail coronavirus in Rivers state.
The Governor has quite passionately expressed the fact that he is desirous to further strengthen prevention measures across the State to keep Rivers citizens and residents safe, through practical commitment and diligence, and he has proved with his actions in the intervening weeks and months since the pandemic broke out, that Rivers lives matter no matter who exercises whatever powers.
His operating principle has always been Rivers first and in handling the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Wike has placed the defence and protection of Rivers lives above all other considerations.
The reality of the successes recorded by the proactive measures initiated and executed by Governor Wike in the coronavirus war have been acknowledged and applauded by Rivers people and other objective minds and the near total compliance to some of the directives and the commendations showered on him by majority of the people who now realize the genuineness of his intentions; the ingenuity and visionary calculations of his actions, established once again with the provision of the Free Bus Scheme, have all gone to butress the fact that this is a man and a leader, loved and adored by his people.
The whole world is currently in crisis mode, fighting a common enemy which neither discriminates nor distinguishes and differentiates amongst classes, races and creeds in it's single mindedness and as Governor Wike himself has succinctly pointed out and reiterated, the coronavirus is no respecter of persons. It has killed both the influential and the less privileged, hence the need to be more vigilant by our people.
The Free Bus Scheme is therefore a step in the right direction in the strategic effort to curtail the spread of Covid-19 in the state and Rivers residents will do well to embrace and enjoy the scheme and help to stop the spread of Coronavirus in the state.
Paulinus Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State