It was a hectic time for travellers on the ever-busy Zaria-Kano highway between Wednesday, January 11 and Saturday, January 14, 2023, when protesting petroleum tanker drivers blocked the road over the alleged killing of one of their members by a soldier.
The unfortunate incident happened around 3:30pm at Tashar Yari in Makarfi LGA of Kaduna State when the victim, who was driving a cement truck, had an altercation with a soldier attached to a construction company on the road.
Daily Trust couldn’t ascertain what led to the altercation between the duo, which led to the shooting that claimed the driver’s life, however, many motorists caught in the gridlock had to spend the night on the highway as they couldn’t make a U-turn and take another route, especially those not familiar with the area.
Other commercial motorists had to navigate through the nearby villages into Makarfi’s main town to avoid the heavy traffic holdup.
“The road was blocked completely; it was terrible. Women and children were stranded in the bush. I spent six hours from Kano to Kaduna due to the gridlock,” a traveler, Bello Musa, told Daily Trust.
It was gathered that the shooting of the unarmed driver was what provoked his colleagues into blocking the highway, demanding the arrest of the suspect and justice for the victim and his family.
All efforts by the security agencies, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the representatives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), to persuade the protesting drivers to reopen the road failed as they insisted the suspect must be punished.
It was also gathered that the tanker drivers decided to block the highway to show their displeasure with the way and manner they were being treated on the highways by security agencies.
The Tashar Yari incident was not the first in Kaduna and other parts of the country where security agencies either shoot at or harass road users, which always led to the blocking of the road by enraged drivers.
A similar incident happened a year ago along the Nnamdi Azikiwe Bypass, near Amingo Junction, in Kaduna State, when some security personnel chased a truck driver and shot his tyre, leading to another blockage of the busy road. The road was reopened only after the tyre was paid for.
Again, in 2020, a bus driver was killed by a security agent along the Kaduna-Abuja highway, near Tafa town, which led to the blocking of the road by tanker drivers.
A similar incident happened at Tureta village about 50km from Sokoto town in December 2022 where security agent shot the tyre of a truck carrying cement and the drivers, in solidarity again, blocked the highway, again, until the tyre was paid for.
On June 19, 2022, the same tanker drivers blocked the Zaria-Kano highway for eight hours after a driver was allegedly injured by a staff of Kaduna Urban Development Agency selling stickers to drivers.
Similarly, in 2022, tanker drivers blocked the Abuja-Lokoja highway in protest against the killing of their colleague for refusing to stop at a military checkpoint on the highway.
Also in May 2022, the Enugu-Port Harcourt motorway was also blocked by drivers over the bad condition of the road and extortion by security agencies around the Ava axis.
For heavy truck drivers, blocking roads has become a norm each time they had an encounter with security agents along the road. Some of the drivers told Daily Trust that their action was to force the government to take action.
Some of the drivers claimed they are always harassed by security operatives and believed their only weapon is to block the road when their member is extra-judicially killed or harassed.
Tukur Salisu, a tanker driver in Kaduna, said he had been personally harassed by security agents on the highway for refusing to part with money.
“We have been facing challenges and harassment on the highway from security agencies for years, and nothing has been done to address the issues. This is what leads to the blocking of roads anytime one of our members gets killed unjustly,” he said.
“We block the road to get the attention of the authorities, especially the government, because doing so will force them to take action or pay compensation for the damage done by their security officials,” he said.
He explained further that, though they are not deriving pleasure from putting other road users in hardship, but that they have no other option to express their anger and get quick response.
Tanker drivers have to be law-abiding…FRSC
The Federal Road Safety Commission’s acting sector commander, Lawal Garba, however, said the tanker drivers needed to be law-abiding by respecting the rights of other road users.
He expressed displeasure with their actions each time they had a misunderstanding with security agents on the highway, saying they needed to understand that there were other innocent Nigerians using the same road and blocking the road would put those innocent travellers in great difficulties.
“Their action is very wrong, and my advice to the drivers is to always be law-abiding. When they abide by the law, such unfortunate incidents would be avoided.
The security agents too should be patient with civilians so as to avoid such occurrences.”
He explained further that the commission always educated the drivers’ union and other stakeholders during their stakeholder forum meetings on the need to avoid taking laws into their own hands.
“But the problem is that some tanker drivers have this sense of ego because they are driving heavy vehicles. Their aggression and arrogance while on the wheel always lead to such problems. But we will continue to sensitise both the security agents and the drivers on the need to always respect each other’s rights, including that of the animals using the road,” he said.
We always caution our members against blocking highways – PTD ex-chairman
A former chairman of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers Union in Kaduna, Comrade Nuhu Mohammed Intelligent, who is also one of the national leaders of the union, said the union was always against the blocking of roads by its members during protests.
According to him, their members are always advised to report any harassment or injustice done to them by security personnel and not to take the law into their own hands.
“We are always telling drivers to avoid blocking roads, which always causes hardship to other road users, particularly now that we are facing insecurity on our major highways,” he said.
Comrade Nuhu also cautioned the security personnel to desist from shooting drivers on the highway at the slightest provocation.
According to him, most of the security agents who killed innocent drivers lacked patriotism, which is why they exercised too much power by shooting people unnecessarily.
He urged the leadership of the police and military to always sensitise their personnel against shooting innocent Nigerians whom they are employed to protect.
Daily Trust also gathered that the suspected soldier involved in the killing of the driver at Tashar Yari, Makarfi, is in military custody.
Meanwhile, the Police Public Relations Officer, Kaduna State Command, DSP Mohammed Jalige, has confirmed the incident and said the Commissioner of Police, Yekini Ayoku, has ordered an investigation into the matter.
He described the Tashar Yari incident as unfortunate, saying the command has done its best within the last three days to ensure the road was reopened.
He said they would continue to use all strategies to avoid the future occurrence of such incidents on the highways.
According to him, many innocent travellers were subjected to hardships, and many perishable goods being transported to the southern parts of the country got rotten during the days of blockage by the drivers.
Efforts to hear from the army authority, however, failed as the Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, 1 Division Kaduna, Lt.-Col. Musa Yahaya, said he was away attending a course.