By Uche Amunike
Having lived in Anambra state for 27 years now, it won't be out of place to say that it wasn't the best of places when you sought for relative peace, comfort and some quiet moments.
Gradually, however, the state started undergoing certain transformations that has now made it a reference point for other states. If there was one thing that scared motorists in the state, it was the torture of driving through the streets of Anambra because of the congestion caused by a lot of factors, particularly that of street traders refusing to sell their wares in market stalls, thereby giving motorists little room for them to drive with ease especially through major roads and also the shabby look that the cluster of shanties and illegal structures gave the state when you drove through it, especially for visitors. Also, this mindset of motorists refusing to obey simple traffic laws was also a serious problem as it ended up causing crazy traffic gridlocks that would have ordinarily been avoided, had simple laws been obeyed. I can confidently say that it is now all in the past all thanks to the fine gentleman I present to you today. He is the Honourable Commissioner of transport, Hon Charles Uche Okafor. I daresay he is the man behind the mirror in the Transport Ministry. Call him the new kid on the block if you will. I never knew him in person until recently, but I remember silently saying short prayers for God to bless him in recent times, each time I drove through the erstwhile congested roads of Onitsha without any more stress. Oye Agu no longer has the usual crazy traffic, all thanks to him. I admire him for his passion for making a great change from what we were used to and also for seeing to the actualization of the mission and vision of the Willie Obiano government where the Ministry of Transport is concerned. Kindly join me as I engage this amazing and refined soft spoken son of Awkuzu soil in a most interesting session as he speaks passionately about his challenges, experiences and also efforts in seeing that he makes Anambra better just as he promised NdiAnambra, when he became the Transport Chief in the state...
Let's meet you, Sir.
I am Hon Charles Uche Okafor, the Honourable Commissioner for Transport, Anambra State.
Ok, let's start with the issue of Revenue generation in the state. There's this lingering problem that has bordered on knowing the right people to collect revenue from commercial transporters. Keke drivers complain bitterly about this, as well as shuttle and bus drivers too.
Recently, tipper drivers embarked on a protest in the state on this same issue. So, for clarification purposes, who are the right people to collect these levies from these commercial drivers?
Actually, it's the responsibility of the state to decide how to collect their revenue, but because Anambra is peculiar, the Union Executives in Anambra state developed the consciousness and developed interest in assisting the government to collect the IGR. Their own reason is that they know their numbers and they are more interested in the welfare of their members so that the mode of collection will be easier through them and also because the government pays some percentage to revenue collectors. So, the union also, are interested in that percentage. So, what we did was that in Keke, we harmonized. But initially, the problem they were having when we kept giving them such revenue to collect was that when they have multiple unions, there's multiple problems because you don't know who to hold responsible because, in any agreement, there must be an Obliger and Obligee. So, it worked with Keke.
We dissolved all their unions and formed them into one common group. That was why they were able to have the interface with the state. Although, the actual fact is that the state cannot give out contracts to a union. Rather, we give to individuals. The union can come into common interest and present a contractor who can now use the union as a sublet to do the collection, while the contractor or consultant pays the state. So, the Tipper drivers also developed the same consciousness and decided that they want to handle the collection by themselves. That was why they started an agitation and so on. At the end of the day, we resolved that problem yesterday. We agreed that they will be a part of the collection. We will inculcate them into the system and the problem was resolved.
Alright, I am resident in Onitsha and it can be crazy driving through certain areas. Recently, however, I noticed that the congestion has reduced considerably in some areas. I can also say the same for other areas, like the Oye Agu intersection which has suddenly stopped being congested. How were you able to achieve that? What measures did you take to record such success?
It was actually a positive step by His Excellency, Dr Willie Obiano. He gave the directives and provided the materials and resources to go round and see to the decongestion of those areas.
We got there and we noticed that all we needed was to get our people to comply to traffic rules and also to demolish some shanties and illegal structures along those areas. Street trading was also a factor that contributed to the congestion of some of those roads, so we chased them out of the streets and put in stringent measures that made sure they didn't come back. This led to the free flow of traffic you see on those major roads.
Now, there's a bad case of crimes being committed by Keke drivers and Shuttle drivers. I don't know if you are aware of it. It's really on the increase right now. Are there any measures you intend to put in place in order to see that it reduces?
You know, that was actually one of the reasons why we banned Okada. But you know, most criminals do not have any other profession apart from crime. So, when we stopped them from using Okada, we noticed that overtime, they started using Keke and shuttle, but at a minimal rate. However, it's a security issue so, I don't have to tell you everything about it. If you visit Upper Iweka, for instance, many arrests were made and we believe that the crime rate has reduced drastically because security agencies came out with full force after much intelligence and clamped down on most of them. So, the scenario now has been drastically reduced.
So, how long have you been here as Commissioner?
I've been Commissioner for one year and three months.
Tell us your major challenges in this job.
Daily compliance from NdiAnambra ; total disobedience to traffic rules; total misunderstanding of government policies; I could go on and on. However, by the special grace of God, we're making progress.
What's Nnewi like, though? Do you think you've made any impact in Nnewi as a town?
Our traffic light is coming up in Nnewi as well as demolition and other things.
What are some of the achievements you have recorded so far apart from decongestion?
We have solved many problems in policy. For example, the rate of illegal revenue collection in Anambra on our roads is no longer as it used to be when we came in. When we came on board, we noticed that what encourages them is that there are genuine Revenue Heads that those guys hide under, to collect those illegal levies. So, what we did was to ban those collections on the streets. Every collection is now done at the point of loading and offloading.
You know that Anambra is the gateway to the South East and also the transit point. So, if you don't control that, it will affect the entire South East. So, presently, the solution is ongoing now to install street lights at the major areas in Anambra state. At Nnewi there, Bank Road and those places you normally pass through without meeting heavy traffic, we are trying to put in measures that will guarantee free flow of traffic.
On a last note, what is your appeal to NdiAnambra on what to do to aid your ministry achieve the objectives for which it was created?
The only thing I will appeal from them is purely compliance to government directives; obedience to traffic laws and nothing more.
Thank you very much for your time