ISAAC SHOBAYO reports that a protest by Keke NAPEP operators in Jos, Plateau State over what they considered exploitative actions by law enforcement agencies in the state turned bloody even as the operators denied involvement, alleging hijack by hoodlums.
LIKE every other major city across the nation, tricycle operators in Jos, Plateau State capital, popularly known as Keke NAPEP are organised under the Amalgamated Commercial Tricycles Owners and Riders Association of Nigeria.
As a formidable group and like every other association in the transport sector in Nigeria they watch one another’s back and often rise up against what they consider a common problem to all members.
That was exactly what happened last Monday following protest by the Keke NAPEP operators over what they considered exploitative demands through over –taxation, including high-handedness of government officials against them.
The protest which was intended to be a peaceful one actually shattered the prevailing fragile peaceful atmosphere in the state capital. In the course of the protest things went awry as many vehicles were vandalized, properties destroyed and commuters and other road users were molested.
As the protests went on other members of the group positioned themselves at various strategic parts of the state capital to ensure that their members complied with the stay-at-home directive issued by ACOMORAN. For several hours human and vehicular movements in Jos were grounded, while many commuters resorted to trekking and many others were stranded at bus stops.
The few cabs available took advantage of the situation to increase their fares.At Bauchi road, Angwan Rukuba, Polo roundabout, Airport junction and several other places within the city, the protest nearly turned violent. Several Vehicles including that a Federal Road Safety Commission patrol vehicle were allegedly burnt down by the protesters while six officers were also injured.
Not only that, some Vehicle Inspectorate Officers were allegedly harassed and beaten, with some sustaining serious injuries. Mr. Andrew Bala, the Plateau State command’s Public
Education Officer, confirmed the incident. He said the protesters visited the Bauchi Ring Road unit command and allegedly beat up officers on duty. He alleged further that they also vandalised the building.
“They burnt one of our patrol vehicles, vandalised another and destroyed a lot of valuables at our office premises on Bauchi Ring Road. They also vandalised eight other vehicles in the office premises and some at a mechanic workshop close to the office. In our bid to resist the act, six of our personnel were badly injured,” Bala said.
The FRSC officer alleged that the operators simply wanted to take law into their hands saying that the issues at stake such as driver’s license, workshops and training of the operators were open for discussion with the authority concerned and for proper enlightenment.
“It is surprising that they (ACOMORAN) are claiming that they would not obtain driver’s license; does that make sense?,” he asked.
Leader of ACOMORAN in Plateau State, Musa Adamu, In an interview with Sunday Tribune said that his members were only protesting alleged ‘obnoxious laws’ made by the state government which, they alleged, empowered the VIOs to constantly harass them on the streets after proper registration of their tricycles.
“We were protesting the exorbitant tax being charged on us which is very high, considering the harsh economic realities in the nation and also the constant harassment on us in the state by men of the Vehicle Inspection Office of Plateau State Ministry of Works and Transport.
“We disagree with the training fee of N5,800 for each tricycle operator after proper registration from the state government. We are also made to understand that we are going to pay another N24,000 each for a levy that we don’t know anything about.
“This is wickedness, we are barely surviving (on our little income) but government is making life difficult for us. They have also insisted that every tricycle operator must have a driver’s license. We are not saying no to that but they must give us sufficient time,” Adamu said.
Some of the tricycle operators interviewed by Sunday Tribune accused the state government of being insensitive to their plight despite the harsh economic reality in the country, adding that they were constantly being exploited by men of the FRSC and VIOs.
One of the ACOMORAN officials who craved anonymity said that officially the driver’s license was N5,800 but it could only be obtained for N15,000 adding that government also issued a directive that all Keke NAPEP operators must go to a driving school.
According to him, it is ridiculous and a waste of time alleging that it was a ploy to enrich some people in government.
To prevent the situation from degenerating, the state government through a statement signed by the Permanent Secretary (Security), Mr. Cornelius Shobial suspended the operation of tricycle operators in the state capital. This has, however, worsened the plight of the commuters.
A source close to the Ministry of Works and Transport saddled with the responsibility of regulating activities of Keke NAPEP operators confirmed the reason for the suspension.
“we had to take the action to protect lives and properties; the protest was confrontational. Within few hours of the protest, the people had damaged many properties and we don’t want anything that could tinker with the prevailing peace in the state, so we just have to suspend their operation,” the source said.
Though the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport Mr. Gabriel Mafulul assured the protesters while addressing them on Monday that the levies would be reviewed, Sunday Tribune learnt that the levies were introduced as part of the revenue drive by the state government towards financing some of the key projects embarked upon by it.
Mafulul said the state government had never at any time told the operators that it was compulsory for them to attend a driving school adding that what the government had in the pipeline was a seminar or workshop for the Keke NAPEP Operators to train them on basic road signs, rule and regulations to minimise accidents.
In spite of the government explanation, the general impression by residents was that it did not consider the peculiar economic situation in the state before introducing the levies.
A human rights activist, Michael Garba said the government should desist from copying templates from other states that are unsuitable and not in tandem with the peculiarity of the state.
”The fact that it is working in Lagos does not mean it would work in Plateau State; the state of the economy in both states, is not the same thing,” he said.
An ACOMORAN official in Plateau State, Adullahi Sarki while speaking on the protest said it was planned to be peaceful but regretted that “it was hijacked by hoodlums” adding that his members were not involved in the alleged vandalisation of property and molestation of FRSC officials.
According to him, some miscreants simply took the advantage of the protest to disrupt public peace and tarnish the image of ACOMORAN members.
”It may interest you to know that we have many graduates and decent people among us, so we should not be seen as miscreants, we are decent people.
“Our members are peace-loving people; most of our members stayed at home on Monday, but it’s rather unfortunate that the protest which was meant to be peaceful turned out the way it was. I can confirm that the protest was hijacked by hoodlums,” he said.
A cross section of FRSC officials and VIOs who spoke with Sunday Tribune debunked the insinuation that they extort money from the Keke NAPEP operators in the state alleging that majority of them were lawless and unwilling to obey simple instructions that could bring decency to their operations.
Though the state had lifted the suspension on the operations of the ACOMORAN members, a source close to the meeting between them and government officials led by the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Transport and his counterpart in charge of security revealed that the state government has decided to review the cost of the driver’s license and other levies but maintained that it would not compromise its stance that every member must have the license.
A source close to the meeting further disclosed that members of the association will repair all the damaged vehicles and properties vandalised in the course of the protest. At the meeting it was also suggested that there should be an understanding between the operators and men of FRSC and VIOs.
However, as peace seems to have resumed and commuters could now go about their daily activities with less hassles, all the sides in the fiasco are expected to maintain the peace and not precipitate a return to that black Monday.
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