The quest by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) authorities to keep traffic flowing on the highways in the nation’s capital has pitted them against commercial transport operators angling for a slice of the huge FCT transport sector pie, CHRIS OGBOR, DAVID ADUGE-ANI and OIBOH PETER report ?
The move was reminiscent of how the Federal Government sprang a surprise on the whole country last January with the fuel price increase.
On Saturday, January 12, 2013 commuters and commercial transport operators making for Abuja, the nation’s capital got a rude shock from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Commercial buses painted in the official FCT green and white colours coming from states outside the FCT were stopped at the borders of the capital areas by heavily armed security personnel, who told them to drop their passengers and turn back.
Also, mini bus drivers living within the FCT who made for the city centre on that day were stopped from getting to their usual ‘parks’ in Wuse, Area One and Berger.
While the Saturday action affected only those making for the city centre to shop or for recreation purposes, and was on minimal scale, hell was let loose on Monday, January 14 when workers made for work. Thousands of workers coming from Nasarawa state were left stranded at Karu Under Bridge, while those coming from Suleja in Niger state were stuck at Dei Dei near a military checkpoint.
The situation soon degenerated into chaos as the commercial bus operators loitering around the Nyanya and Karu areas formed themselves into a mob and launched a violent protest in which some mass transit buses were vandalised.
Simultaneously, the FCT authorities also stepped up their clampdown on commercial motorcycle operators in Piwoyi, FHA Lugbe, Kubwa and other suburbs of Abuja.
Secretary, FCT Transport Secretariat, Jonathan Achara Ivoke, who spoke with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND through the Secretariat’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mrs. Stella Ojeme, said the measures were taken “in order to enforce the new feeder routes policy in Abuja, in tandem with the Abuja Master plan, which stipulates that mini buses would not be allowed to ply certain high-capacity bus routes.”????
Ojeme explained further: “Under the transportation policy and road traffic regulation, mini buses are not allowed to ply the following high-capacity bus routes: Wuse Market-Eagle Square-Asokoro-AYA-Nyanya; Area 3 junction-Tafawa Balewa-Herbert Macaulay Way-Berger junction-Jabi; Gudu market-Apo quarters-Ahmadu Bello Way-Federal Secretariat-Gwarinpa; and AYA-Shehu Shagari-Federal Secretariat-Transcorp-NICON junction.
“Mini buses can only operate on the following routes: Mombassa-Michael Opara-Olusegun Obasanjo-Moshood Abiola-area; Area 1-Gudu-Apo mechanic village; Area 1-cement market-Apo mechanic village; Jabi-Mbora-Kaura-Gudu market; Jabi-Mbora-Lugbe; Gwarinpa-Life Camp entrance-1st Gate; Bwari town-Dutse Alhaji-Expressway (ONEX); Kubwa (2nd Gate)-Gado Nasko road-Kubwa (1st Gate); and Mpape-Murtala Mohammed Expressway junction.”
The PRO disclosed that “the policy would have taken off last October but was shelved temporarily because the commercial drivers’ union pleaded with the FCT administration to give them more time to prepare for the new transport arrangement.”
She added: “The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Self-employed Commercial Drivers Association and Road Transport Employees Association were all members of the implementation committee set up by the Secretariat to commence this new policy.”
Expressing shock that the mob destroyed five buses belonging to the Transport Secretariat, Mrs. Ojeme claimed that about 120 buses have been procured by the FCT to convey commuters along the designated high-capacity bus routes.
''Fifty of these buses have been assigned to service Nyanya axis while additional buses have also been put out on other routes,” she stated.
Although the FCT authorities have suspended the mini bus clampdown for three weeks after consultations with stakeholders in the transport sector, members of the Owners and Drivers of Mini Bus Town Service Association have said they would resist the new policy.
Secretary of the association, Charles Ukwuegbo, said: “The association will continue to resist the policy within the ambit of the law, if the administration went ahead with it. This is because it is anti-masses and portends large-scale hardship for drivers and commuters.”
Also, some residents told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that the buses procured by the transport secretariat were grossly inadequate for the volume of commuters in FCT. They therefore called on the FCT administration to rethink the policy.
Since the last quarter of 2012, a special taskforce set up by the FCT Minister, Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed, has been combing the nooks and crannies of the Federal Capital City (FCC), impounding thousands of motorcycles.
The ministerial taskforce, which is headed by Ivoke, comprises the Military, the Nigeria Police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and men of the Directorate of Road Traffic Service (DRTS) popularly called the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO).
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND gathered that a team of the taskforce men stormed Piwoyi village, a suburb along Airport Road, Abuja at 11 am on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 and confiscated five motorcycles from some commercial operators there.
One of the commercial? Okada riders, 55-year-old Sunday Agbaje, said the taskforce’s Hilux pick-up van chased and knocked him down near Nike Gallery at Piwoyi village during the raid.
He claimed that he sustained injuries on his head, alleging that the taskforce collected his handset and abandoned him in a pool of his own blood.
Agbaje, who said he was into commercial motorcycling to take care of his family, claimed he spent about N50,000 to treat himself at a private hospital in Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Estate, Lugbe.
Another commercial rider, Mr. Izuchukwu Okolo, said he paid N15,000 in August last year to a VIO to recover his confiscated motorcycle, wondering “why the FCT has set up a taskforce to clampdown on commercial motorcycle operators in villages and satellite towns when we don’t operate on highways or the city centre.”
Okolo insisted that “Okada riding should not be banned because we have no other means of taking care of our families.”
It would be recalled that commercial motorcycle operators in FHA Lugbe staged a strike about two weeks ago because of the taskforce’s clampdown on them.?
Lamenting the raid, Mallam Abdullahi Dan Borno said: “I have been riding motorcycle in Lugbe for the past seven years and it has been my only source of livelihood. I have a wife and four children who are living with me here in Abuja. I have to feed my family and pay my children’s school fees through this job. I have no other source of income apart from what I’m presently doing. How do we survive if FCT administration and the taskforce continue to swoop down on us like robbers or animals?”
Chairman, Motorcycle Transport Union, FCT, Obi Nwaogugu, condemned what he described as “undignified attitude and lawless behaviour of the DRTS men against commercial motorcycle operators.”
Nwaogugu added: “Our members have sustained injuries from the lawlessness exhibited by men of the DRTS; they invaded the estate, chased and ran down our members without reason and confiscated uncountable number of motorcycles.”
In a chat with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND on the clampdown on commercial motorcycles, a resident at FHA Lugbe, Barrister Adegboyega Kolade said: “I’m aware that the activities of commercial motorcycle operators are banned within the city centre but I’m not aware that they have been banned within the estate also. Of course that is unrealistic because no estate can survive without Okada operators. All of us here are not car owners so it is only reasonable that we depend on the services of these operators to get around.’’
But PRO, DRTS, Mr. K.K. Iloduba (Jnr.), said the incessant attacks on VIO personnel informed the inclusion of armed military men in the special task force, alleging that “a VIO, Mr. Augustine Aji Odey, was stabbed by some Okada riders at Gudu market while performing his official duties.”
But Iloduba denied allegations of bribery levelled against the VIO, stressing that “confiscated motorcycles are usually packed at Gosa, along Airport Road, Abuja.”