Members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) continue to operate at motor parks and garages in Lagos State despite the suspension of its activities by the state government.
Checks at various parks by Daily Trust revealed that touts, popularly known as agbero, who now operate in mufti, have continued to extort drivers of commercial vehicles.
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The Lagos State Government, on March 9, 2022, announced the suspension of the activities of NURTW in the state. The suspension followed a crisis that rocked the union in recent times.
The Lagos chapter of NURTW, led by Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo, about a month ago, broke away from the national body of the union when he was suspended over misconduct, insubordination and inciting members of the state chapter against the apex body.
The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alabi, also threatened to deal ruthlessly with anyone or group of people who might want to take laws into their hands.
Mr Alabi was reacting to an alleged plan by members of NURTW to protest the suspension of its activities by the state government.
However, findings revealed that members of the union have continued to operate in parks and garages, as well as along access roads to the seaports.
Daily Trust also noticed that armed hoodlums, who are members of the union, have taken over the Orile-Mile 2-Badagry and the Mile 2-Apapa expressways, demanding money from truck and commercial bus drivers, as well as commercial motorcycle riders.
The activities of the hoodlums usually climax at 7pm when they block major roads with tables and old tyres, slowing down traffic considerably, in order to collect money from drivers.
A truck driver, Sule Danladi, lamented how members of NURTW at Iyana-Iba vandalised the windscreen and side mirror of his truck.
Danladi said, “ Usually, the hoodlums, wearing reflective jackets, station themselves on the roads. You either get beaten up for refusing to pay or your vehicle is vandalised. There are about five roadblocks from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko, and at every point you are forced to pay N1,000.
“Drivers are at no one’s mercy as security operatives look the other way. This is why the prices of foodstuff are skyrocketing.”
Another truck driver, Tokunbo Oyeleye, said the menace of the urchins was becoming unbearable, noting that they pounced on drivers, using their numbers as weapon of intimidation.
Oyeleye further said, “Different teams operate at Mile 2. There are over five extortion points between Mile 2 and Tin-Can. Each point collects a minimum of N1,000. We learnt that part of the money collected is given to security men on duty.
“They demand ‘security money (Owo Olopa)’, park chairman’s money and all manners of money.”
Even with the ban, “Nothing has changed,” said a driver at a park in Ojota who did not want his name in print.
Reports from several parks and garages also indicated that the collection of charges and levies have continued unabated.
The president of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Oluremi Ogungbemi, who commended the suspension of NURTW in the state, stressed that members of the union had no business with haulage operations.
Chief Ogungbemi said, “We are not in the same business with NURTW. To the best of my knowledge, they are into commuter; carrying passengers from one place to another and not haulage. As a maritime association, we are exclusively for trucking operations in the maritime industry.
“I also want to state that it is not only NURTW. There are other unions, like RTEAN, also collecting money from truckers.”
He further said despite the ban, members of the union were everywhere collecting and extorting money from his members.
N800 consolidated levy
A week after the suspension of NURTW activities by the state government, information went viral to the effect that the suspended chairman had ordered the branch chairmen to resume work at parks and garages.
A message purportedly emanating from MC Oluomo was said to have been forwarded to the chairmen and posted on the WhatsApp group of the union.
The message reads in part: “This is to formally inform all NURTW chairmen and entire members of the union to operate your day-to-day union activities at the various motor parks and garages accordingly and disregard any patrol policemen parading themselves in order to disrupt your union operations.”
However, the embattled MC Oluomo said, “The permission is strictly for the Lagos State Government tickets for the N800 consolidated transport levy; not union fees.”
He said as a law-abiding citizen he would not disobey the order of the state government.
He explained that, “My attention has been drawn to a purported news going round on social media about me authorising the sales of tickets. I have never authorised the sales of union tickets.
“I am a law abiding citizen. I cannot stop the sales of government tickets. I don’t even have such power. Please disregard the mix up. Thank you,”
Govt not aware agbero are still operating
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, in an interview with Daily Trust, said the suspension of the activities of the union was still in place.
He said the state was not aware that members of the union were operating in any park or garage in the state.
When asked if the state government engaged the services of members of NURTW to collect the consolidated levy, he said there was a task force management committee saddled with the responsibility.
Mr Omotosho explained that, “The suspension has not been lifted; it is still in place. We are not aware that they are operating in any park or garage. The state will soon make its position known on this issue.”
However, an aide to MC Oluomo, Jimoh Buhari, reiterated that the tickets being sold at the parks and garages were of the state government of N800.
Buhari said, “We have stated this time without number that the ticket being sold belongs to the state government, and that is N800. I am not aware of any other charge.”
Buhari’s claim was rubbished by a driver plying the Oshodi-Agege axis.
The driver said, “Just go to the parks and see things for yourself. Are those ones at the bus stop also collecting government levy; levy without receipt or ticket? The government can’t stop the activities of these boys because they use them during elections.”