By Jude Atupulazi
Often people have encountered some touts masquerading as enforcers of union levies for such unions as motor parks, Okada, keke and shuttle buses. These touts have made life difficult for both commercial vehicle operators and their passengers.
In Onitsha, for instance, many passengers have had occasion to experience frustration in the hands of such touts who will collect money from such passengers at every turn in the guise of charging them for their goods. The annoying part is that such actions had variously been prohibited by the government. But because those touts are working for some well placed people with government and police connections, such government orders are often ignored.
But the emergence of Gov Charles Soludo has become bad news to these mafians. He has since banned all motorcycle, keke and shuttle bus unions and made membership of such unions voluntary. This has made those pulling the strings to instigate the protest by those commercial transport operators recently in the guise of protesting government’s high taxation.
But is the new regime of taxation actually higher or lower? In a live television session I had with Soludo last Thursday on the studios of the Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, this question came up and what Soludo said was revealing. According to him, in the last administration, keke and shuttle bus drivers paid up to N30, 000 monthly because of the sundry fees they gave to union enforcers on a daily basis.
For example, each day, the keke drivers could end up paying between one thousand and one thousand five hundred Naira to several groups which would amount to over thirty thousand Naira monthly.
But because it did not occur to them to take time to check what they paid daily, it was as if they paid little.
Now that Soludo came and asked them to be paying N15, 000 monthly, all hell was let loose. But that amount when computed daily is just between 500 and 600 Naira. It is obvious that they are now saving a lot of money.
But because those profiting from unionism are no more going to have a field day, they are kicking. We can now see the politics of unionism.
I invite you to read the story below to get a better grasp of what I’m trying to say.
Tricycle Protests: Soludo’s fight to upstage revenue touts in Anambra
By Ikeugonna Eleke
Recently movement was grounded in the capital city of Awka, Anambra State, as commercial tricycle and shuttle bus operators downed tools.
Workers and traders who prepared to leave for work were unable to arrive at their work and business places as a result of the strike action by the protesters.
Several persons were seen stranded at bus stops, including pupils and students who could not make it to school because of the absence of the operators. Though it was not clear to many what could have gone wrong, until around 10am when tricyclists arrived major junctions, setting bonfire and chanting protest songs.
In Awka, there is a high level of cultism, which many have attributed to tricycle operation and operators, their union leaders and bigwigs who receive returns from many dedicated routes across the city.
Recently, Anambra State governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, announced a new tax regime for the operators, and also gave months of grace, which has expired. Upon the expiration of the grace period, Soludo announced that the tricycle operators in the state would pay tax monthly, as against the daily payment they made.
A press release from the state Internal Revenue Board, signed by the Chairman/Chief Executive, Mr Richard Madiebo, stated in part that: “Tricycle operators will pay a monthly N15,000, shuttle bus operators will pay N20,000 monthly.”
There was mild resistance by the operators as a result of the amount involved, but the state government did well to break down the payment, saying that before then, operators paid close to N1,500 daily, which were made to revenue touts, and which amounted to over N40,000 monthly.
But to remain relevant, the union leaders invited the operators on the hugeness of the N15, 000 payment which led to the protests. In a bid to curb the problem of transport in the state, the state government has adopted measures, by dialoguing with the government and also churning out new orders, which may arrest the situation.
Comrade Osita Obi, a human rights activist and Coordinator of Keke Drivers Association who witnessed a two-day meeting on the preceding Saturday and Sunday, after the Thursday and Friday protest, laid the blame on the doorstep of the union members, who, he said, had invited the operators into a protest.
Obi, in a conversation with our reporter, said the N15, 000 monthly payment was not the grouse of the tricycle operators, but the constant harassment they would face after paying the amount, as they were still being compelled to remit monies to touts who worked with their union leaders, posing as revenue agents, in negation of the governor’s order that after the payment of the N15, 000, no more money would be paid.
Prof Soludo had, on learning of the continuous operation of the touts, placed a ban on them. In a press release signed by the Commissioner for Information, Sir Paul Nwosu, the government made far reaching decisions.
The release stated, ‘In order to forestall a breakdown of law and order, the state government hereby suspends all tricycle and shuttle bus unions in the state with immediate effect for six months. This is pending further investigations and a possible harmonization of the unions which shall have a leadership known to, and recognized by, the State Government. Government has considered their plea and decided to offer them a convenient payment option and other fringe benefits that could add value to their well-being.’
The commissioner, Nwosu, said he had explained to the state government how the operators could meet the amounts: ‘Tricycle operators now have the option of paying N4,000 weekly or N15,000 monthly. However, tricycle operators in the 8 local government areas that are affected by the curfew will pay N3, 000 weekly or N12, 000 monthly. They will revert to the normal rates of N4, 000 weekly or N15, 000 monthly as soon as the curfew is lifted. Shuttle bus operators will pay N5, 000 weekly or N20, 000 monthly.’
Considering the operators around university environment and the current ASUU strike, government said NANS shuttle buses in the area would pay N2, 500 weekly or N10, 000 monthly. This group will also revert to the normal rates of N5, 000 weekly or N20, 000 monthly as soon as the strike is called off. Taxi will pay N4, 375 weekly or N17,500 monthly.
‘Township buses will pay N5, 000 weekly or N20, 000 monthly. Mini trucks and Pick-ups will pay N5, 000 weekly or N20, 000 monthly, respectively. Intra-state will pay N6, 250 weekly or N25, 000 monthly. Loading and offloading in government (public) parks will now be free. Moving forward, every compliant commercial vehicle driver will get a free Health Insurance cover that would enable the insured have access to basic health and emergency services in any Anambra State hospital.
‘Government wishes to reiterate its ban on touts (agbero) and cult groups that are used to enforce illegal collection of tolls and taxes. Only government accredited agents are entitled to collect tolls. Alternatively, the commercial vehicle operators could go and pay at any of the banks or any Anambra State Internal Revenue Service (AIRS) pay-point nearest to him,’ the release read.
Soludo has further proscribed all Keke and shuttle bus unions in the state.
A public affairs commentator, Mr Jude Eze, said: ‘Soludo has taken steps to perfect Anambra and her revenue, but we hope that he would be able to tame the Keke union. That is where all the trouble is. It is not about pronouncing the proscription on the paper, but being able to enforce it. I can assure Soludo that his government will be safe.’