18th October, 2011
Thousands of stranded commuters resorted to trekking in Calabar on Monday to work and other places following the withdrawal of taxis and buses from the roads.
The bus and taxi drivers kept their vehicles away from the roads to protest what they called â€œhigh taxesâ€ imposed on them by the Department of Public Transportation (DOPT).
The protesters, who carried placards and marched round the city, said the recent directive by DOPT for them to pay the sum of N1,500 to obtain a sticker which permits them to ply the streets was strange to them.
A spokesman for the protesters who gave his name as Oku Ekuri said they were on the streets because â€œthe sum of N1,500 we were asked to pay by DOPT to get a sticker which permits us to operate is not known to us.â€
They said the taxes on taxis and buses were too many for them to cope with.
â€œWhy is everything and everybody asking for money from taxis: state government, local government, police, area boys and even thieves target taxis, this is too much,â€ Mr Ekuri complained.
According to Ekuri, they took their complaint to the lawmakers in the State House of Assembly to let them know their plight but were told the Assembly members were not in session and they had to go to the State Commissioner of Police who took them to Barrister Edem Ekong, the Special Adviser to Governor Liyel Imoke on Public Transportation who promised to look into their grievances.
When contacted, Barrister Edem Ekong said the taxi and bus drivers were acting out of fear following move by the police and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to embark on â€œOperation Velvetâ€ which requires all vehicles both private and commercial to show their documents before plying the roads in the city.
He said the Operation Velvet was earlier scheduled for 3 October but was shifted to 17 October to give vehicle owners breathing space, having just celebrated Nigeriaâ€™s Independence on 1 October and also paid schools fees fort those who are parents.
â€œWhen the police said they were embarking on their yearly operation velvet, I thought we should optimize the gains and not leave it at business as usual,â€ he said.
The Special Adviser said his agency wanted to use the Operation Velvet period to ascertain the number of vehicles on the road, particularly taxis and buses. That was why he called a meeting with the franchise groups to enable them have an up-to -date number of their members.
â€œIt is common for any taxi to simply adorn the colours of any franchise without the knowledge of the fraichise operator and when the driver of such taxi commits any traffic offence, the franchise operator when contacted would claim ignorance of such a cab, and you know too well that is dangerous,â€ he said.
He said the N1,500 is collected by the franchise operators who are carrying out registration of taxis and not the the DOPT.
â€œOur only gain, if you could call it tha,t is the rise in the number of those who are renewing their licenses and other documents at a fee and I can tell you that in the past three weeks, the number of those who have done so far outstrips the number that did that between January and Juneâ€
â€”Emma Una. Calabar