Ahead of the governorship election in Anambra State, the chairman of the state branch of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Chief Austin Udozor, gives conditions for the group to work for the reelection bid of Governor Willie Obiano. Excerpts…
How has the recession affected your operations? As key players in the nation’s commerce, members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers are affected by the economic hardship of the day.
We are particularly hard up in the areas of replacement of vehicle spare parts and cost of the petroleum inputs like lubricants, diesel and petrol (that is the Premium Motor Spirit-PMS). Their costs have gone up so high, but we are doing our best hoping things would soon get better.
Anambra has fairly good road network, so what are other challenges you are facing in the discharge of your job? Well it’s an established fact that it’s the natural function of the NURTW to supervise and oversee to the welfare of drivers and the issue of loading/off-loading of both commuters and goods at all motor parks. But unfortunately in Anambra State, this our natural duty was forcefully taken away and handed over to some individuals as political patronages.
How do you mean? The state government said it is the way it intends to run the parks, that these were contracted out to party members who paid certain deposits. They were then handed over the parks for a fee.
These contractors then handpicked people who know nothing about transport sector management, to run the parks for them. That’s why the sector has been wishy washy in the state. As it is today, there is no order in the parks all over the state . Were you not given the right of first refusal? No, not at all.
We were never informed, contacted or offered any conditions at all. Actually we had a pending issue which had been there since the era of former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju when a unilateral state bye-law was made against us.
The matter went to court, and we won. But we were still not allowed back to our job. So, last October, we returned to Anambra State High Court where we took up the state on their own law, the Anambra State Law No 12, 2005.
The state Law No 6, 2000 prohibited us from the parks, bus stops or operating in open spaces for the purposes of loading or off-loading of passengers or goods. The court nullified this prohibition.
Yet the state government found it hard, apparently because of some primordial interests, to allow us return to our job in the parks. Being law abiding, we kept quiet and maintained the peace. Because having exhausted nearly all relevant peaceful and legal options to no avail, nothing would have stopped us from self help.
But we insisted on toeing the part of honour and peace ever since, nearly 17 years now. We all have families, wives, children, house rents to pay, school fees to take care of, medical bills to settle, yet none has pushed us into any untoward act.
We have also continued to support the state government all these while. More so, on Oct 27, 2016 the court ruled that the state’s prohibition law against NURTW had been repealed and we were asked back to our duty posts in the parks.
The state government was fully involved, yet, we had been going back and forth, processing all the papers for our eventual return to the parks. Since then, we have written series of letters to Governor Obiano seeking a five-minute audience with him, all to no avail.
These letters were forwarded through his Chief Of Staff, Secretary to the State Government (SGF), Commissioner for Transport, etc. None has made any difference as he was yet to see or give us audience till date. What are your plans as a way forward? We are still on our knees pleading to be allowed back into the parks.
We still have membership strength of above 10, 000 direct workers and more indirect ones. So are our depend e n t s are all hungry Even in the area of political exigency, we are very active and willing to support Obiano’s reelection bid fully, if he return us to our duties in the motor parks. But as it is presently, we are not happy at all.
Our families, dependents, wives, children, wards and extended families who depend on us for their welfare and sustenance are not happy at all. Despite these, we are still appealing to the governor to restore us. It is very unfair and unnatural to take away the job of a medical doctor and hand it over to carpenter.
Let all the lawyers who had taken over our jobs go back to the courts to argue cases; let the traditional rulers who had invaded our motor parks go back to their thrones to run their communities, while those traders/business men who took over the parks withdraw and move back to the markets and mind their shops and wares.
We, NURTW should be allowed to take back the motor parks. That is our area of specialisation and calling. We frown at the way our job was taken away from us and given out to even lawyers who operates and reside in far away places as Akure, Ondo State; Jos, Plateau State; Eleme, Rivers State and traders in Onithsa Main Market, Agbor, Wuse Market (FCT), Tejuosho Yaba, Mile 12 Ketu, and some in Balogun, Lagos Island and Gwagwalada (FCT).
Others were our respected Omeloras, Onwas and royal highnesses. They are all now in motor parks all over the state. This may be why it has been seemingly difficult for the state government to obey the orders and verdicts of courts of competent jurisdiction.
We are humbly appealing for peaceful resolution because we are all keen to see our dear state move to the next level of her development. We love the state, her citizens and government. Many often see NURTW members as trouble makers, criminal and hooligans, are you sure this is not the fear of the state government in allowing you to return?
It’s a wrong assumption and misconception, no government would believe such notion. In all our operations there had been no robbery or stealing of any kind. On our own we had always put police officers who often as part of our commitment search every passenger before any vehicle depart on any journey. And anyone found with incrimination object was instantly handed over for further investigation and prosecution. Yes.
We cannot mess up our duty post and office. We are a legally registered union, with very well-known addresses. So what is the name or address of those operating in the motor parks now? We are aware they have no such registered association or any legal backing.
It’s anomalous that a lawyer will abandon going to argue cases in the courts for motor parks, or a traditional rulers disrespecting his high calling to jump into motor parks for the job of loading, off-loading of goods and passengers daily, and so on. But the court directed as provided in the Anambra state Law No 12, that a bureau be jointly set up for the running and supervision of the parks, with representatives from both sides.
Till date, the bureau is yet to be set up. We believe that once the government complies with the court order, the bureau will be set up, under which we would be operating. What are those roles that you have been playing in the conduct of elections in the state? We are usually contracted to move election materials and officers from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices in the states, nationwide, to the various councils and polling centres without incidences.
In the last general election of 2015, the INEC Chairman then, Prof Attahiru Jega, had contracted the movement of the election materials nationwide to NURTW and we performed creditably well. Here in Anambra, we conveyed all the relevant assigned materials to all chosen locations smoothly. No unfortunate report was heard. There was no story of diversion or non delivery of materials or personnel.
We did so well that INEC formally wrote to commend us for helping to see to a free and fair election. We are assuring that we will do better whenever called upon in the future for such national assignments.
There are some observable anomaly that we will tackle and eliminate once we return to duty, like the traffic bottleneck on most roads like the Nkpor New Parts, Afor Igwe, Oye Agu, Oye Olisa, Afor Nkpor, Nkpor Junction, Owerri Road, Awka, Igboukwu, Nnewi, Agulu, etc.
These places have designated motor parks, but because non professionals now run the show, the drivers were often allowed to convert all the roadsides to parks for picking and dropping off passengers and goods thereby causing road blocks and gridlocks.
Once we take over, all these will disappear because we will not allow any commuter bus driver to flout the traffic rules, especially when there were large motor parks, without anyone bothering to use same.
And for parks that were a little bit off the road, conveying potential passengers to and from the park will become a business opportunity for the Keke operators. Our task is to ensure every thing works smoothly and orderliness.
We urge the government to allow us retire sanity to the sector. We are ready to agree to whatever terms that would be worked out. We will generate the desired revenue for the smooth and speedy development of the state