Our Politicians, The NURTW and Us By Akintokunbo A Adejumo
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, “The National Union of Road Transport Workers is a Nigerian organisation which functions as a mixture of a public transport company, street gang, and a transport worker’s union. The organisation raises fund through several methods, but the largest of these is charging fees – of approximately 20 Nigerian Naira at illegal checkpoints, and from local shop owners. A large number of the NURTW have been arrested in recent months after a government crackdown on these unregulated fees, after the government embarked on a plan to stop people from collecting dues outside motor parks. These people are known as “agberos”.
To be honest with ourselves in this country, the NURTW can best be defined as a bunch of illiterate thugs, extortionists, murderers and highway robbers. I say this at the risk of their members in Ibadan attacking me. I wouldn’t put it past them, that is if they manage to read this article.
It has now become an accepted thing to see full grown able-bodied man collecting money by force (from owo union (union due), owo load (loading fee), owo olopa (police money), owo task force (task force money), owo aaro (morning, afternoon and evening money), owo agbero (tout fee), owo council (LG council fee) and sometimes traffic officers’ fee, etc.) under the guise of National Union of Road Transport Workers from operators of individually owned public vehicles (taxis, buses, danfos, molue) and motor bikes (okada and NAPEP tricycles).
All the fees are collectible in most of the major cities in Nigeria, sometimes under different names, but the police fee is not debatable. Although the police have at different times denied that its members collect any fee, but the reality is that the police collect fees at most bus stops, especially in Lagos. The OPS Messa, RRS, and other police units visit all motorcycle and motor parks at intervals to collect the fees every morning, afternoon and evening on daily basis. Any park that refuses to respond quickly would be maltreated and branded as illegal parks, while members would be arrested and sometimes tagged armed robbers.
According to their own website (the national one, I would guess, since I don’t see the notorious and illiterates bosses in Oyo and Lagos States ever thinking of a website) which is idealist and at least sounds people-oriented, “the NATIONAL UNION OF ROAD TRANSPORT WORKER (NURTW) Union is an organization that represents employees’ interests to management on such issues as wages, work hours, and working conditions”. When you read something like this, and know what actually obtains, the absurdity of the statement is disheartening.
Again, according to themselves, NURTW was formed to “Protect, defend & promote the rights, well-being and the interests of all workers in the union against discrimination and unfair labour practices”.
Service rendered by the Union to it Members:
(i) Militant functions
- To achieve higher wages and better working conditions
- To raise the status of workers as a part of industry
- To protect labours against victimization and injustice
(ii) Fraternal functions
- To take up welfare measures for improving the morale of workers
- To generate self confidence among workers
- To encourage sincerity and discipline among workers
- To provide opportunities for promotion and growth
- To protect women workers against discrimination.
Compatriots, if you are familiar with these obnoxious and vicious people and how they operate, the above “services” that they claim to render to their so-called “members” are risible.
The notorious and demeaning indiscipline and rowdiness in the City of Ibadan is a direct result of the unruliness and lawlessness of this bunch of overrated thuggish illiterates parading themselves as “union people”. They jump into the road, stopping their “members” – taxi drivers and the commercial motorcyclists, okada” extorting money from them; they often fight for control of the government-built motor parks and taxi-stands, and nobody know what the forcefully generated money is used for by this organization (but we know their vicious bosses take home a large part of the money, which they may or may not share with their political hirers and police). The fact is, their members, the real road transport workers do not benefit in any form from this massive revenue, and our governments at all levels keep their arms crossed looking at this menace to society and the peace and security of the public. We all know why, of course, successive politicians and governors, especially in most of the southern states are complicit in the use of these thugs while campaigning for elections and other unreasonable vices they commit, all in the “do-or-die” battle to get to power. The governors use them; the senators and members of the House of Representatives use them; the members of the states’ House of Assembly use them; local government Chairmen use them and even ward councillors use these road transport workers as thugs and enforcers to intimidate and even murder opponents, disrupt political rallies, intimidate electors at polling booths on election days, rig elections by outright hijacking of ballot boxes, and generally fomenting trouble during elections.
This is one area of our politics that the government of our beloved country must look into, and check the functioning of this forcefully generated revenue collected by men of the NURTW as it causes so much problems on our roads; sometimes, the “agbero” would delay the movement of the vehicle because of the money he wants to collect, so many times they will forcefully remove items like fuel tank cover, engine cover, wiper etc.; there are times when the agbero would fight the conductor and the driver so as to get money. We know the authorities – governments, police, etc. – would have at one time or the other seen or heard about this continuing incidence but they prefer to look on at the sides while mayhem is being committed. The “agbero” can aptly be described as the “foot-soldiers” of the top bosses of the union.
The NURTW has at various times claimed that it derived its functions and actions from its registration and an Act of Parliament during President Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN) government in the Second Republic. But the question is: does the Act stipulate the gangsterism and brigandage members of the union often manifest in carrying out their business?
According to an analyst who reacted to reasons why the government cannot take a proactive measure in curbing activities of these groups, “governments across the country are not unaware of the infamous activities of agberos. In some instances, some state governments have had to proscribe the various bodies they represent.”
Another analyst contends that it may be impossible for any democratic government to proscribe or condemn the unions’ activities, because all the political parties enjoy their patronage, as well as seek their support to win elections, especially in this era of the politics of ‘capturing states’.
It is a known fact that the partisanship of the law enforcement agencies had always been a serious issue in tackling the menace of agberos in our society, and it has indeed been alleged that the leadership of the police, as well as the politicians in and out of government, are the leading sponsors of this menace in the country.
There is obviously government’s lack of political will as being responsible for the persistent unacceptable acts of violence by the groups. Activities of the various security agencies in the state have also become a clog in the wheel of progress for commercial transportation in the country.
It is important that government at various levels need to take firm steps to curb the lawlessness of the NURTW (read agberos) in the country. They need to evolve tough policies in order to ensure that no group or individual in the society continues to act above the law.
The police and other security agencies must stop their unholy relationship with the lawless agberos so as to be able to hunt down, arrest and bring to book anybody involved in anti-social activities. Nobody, no matter how highly placed or connected, should be allowed to go scot-free after inflicting pains on other members of the society in carrying out their legitimate business.
Since it is claimed that the union was created by an Act of Parliament, then the National Assembly can review its activities and bring succour to the various cries of innocent Nigerians who are daily being terrorized by NURTW members. Everybody should be free to associate with any union he/she wants and not forced to pay fees under duress to any association, while the union should evolve another way of collecting its dues instead of constituting themselves into a nuisance on the roads, as not all the drivers are interested in being members of their association. And all activities of the union should be limited to its members.
We also need to go down hard on politicians to stop using the group as political thugs to win elections as it had always been difficult to call them to order after the election had been won, or rather rigged, as is often the case.
Recently in Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo State, a group of thugs, wielding cutlasses, dane guns and cudgels, said to be under the control of the “chieftain” of the NURTW in the state, overran a large piece of land belonging to members of Ibadan Progressive Union (IPU) at Bota Village, and “boned” all undeveloped plots, uprooting survey pillars and threatening anybody that came near them. My late father, being a member of the IPU, had bought some plots since the early 70’s, all paid for, with Certificates of Occupancy. The NURTW chieftain is said to enjoy the patronage and protection of the sitting governor and when their action was reported to the Police Command, the police advised the owners of the illegally-claimed land to “settle” with the thugs, because their (the police) hands are tied.
That is impunity and injustice for you! A society where a police force cannot tackle common thugs!
Akintokunbo A Adejumo