8th February, 2012
Our attitude to the sanctity of human life is becoming quite disturbing and alarming. In the course of the last general elections, some of the youth who were used by the Independent National Election Committee as ad-hoc staff were cut down in their prime. Of course, their various families were duly compensated by the appropriate authorities! That is how awful our outlook to human life has become.
In Nigeria today, almost everything have been monetised, human lives inclusive. So, it no longer pricks our conscience to offer money as reparation to the bereaved. It, is therefore, not surprising that the federal authorities had to wait for more lives to be lost before it brought down the price of fuel from N141 per litre to N97. Hence, some of those that lost their lives in the course of the last protest against fuel subsidy removal died because of a mere N44! We have so much become used to hearing or seeing people die in avoidable circumstances that it doesn’t mean anything to us anymore. But this has to change if we are to properly harness the potentials of the human resources given to us by the Almighty.
It is in the light of this that one will like to examine the subject of the notorious activities of some members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the country. Over the years, the infamous actions of some of the members of the union have become so audacious that one begins to wonder where they derive their powers from. All across the country, it is not uncommon to hear tales of the lawless activities of members of the union which in some cases have become a serious threat to national security. It has become a common sight across major cities in the country to see members of the union beating danfo bus conductors and drivers to the point of stupor while passengers that are bold enough to confront them are given same treatment. Quite often, NURTW members go to the extent of harassing passengers unnecessarily. The reccurring menace of the NUTRW members has stopped a lot of decent people from investing in the commercial transport business in the country, just as many investors have sold off their buses because it was no longer profitable due to undue extortions.
As it has become noticeable in every facet of the society, the struggle for resource control is often behind most of the clashes among the members of the union. Contending attempts by different factions in the union to control the revenue of the various motor parks is a strong factor in some of the most violent crises that have engulfed the union across the country. The easy access to arms and ammunition among members of the union is quite frightening. Often, in a bid to gain leadership control of the union, in their respective domains, various groups, in the union, engage in protracted gunshot battles leaving behind a trail of sorrow, tears and blood across land. They fight with so much recklessness that one wonders if they operate under different laws from the rest of the society. In most cases, they fight for hours, using sophisticated weapons as it happens in real warfare. Some of the union leaders, across the country, have died in a most brutal manner in the course of most of their gang warfare. And, as it is always the case when armed robbers strike, the police will only arrive at the scene when the havoc has already been done. The tragedy of this situation is that innocent individuals, who are going about their lawful activities, usually fall victims of the anti-social actions of members of the union. Gradually, we are getting so used to their dastardly acts that it doesn’t really make headlines again when they choose to engage in unleashing terror on law abiding citizens. Indeed, Governments across the country are not unaware of the activities of some of members of the union. In some instances, some state governments have had to proscribe the union in their respective states while some have even gone as far as prosecuting some prominent notorious leaders of the union.
However, in spite of the various interventions of governments across the country in respect of the disreputable activities of some members of the NURTW, it is baffling to discover that rather than diminish, dishonourable conduct among some members of the union has simply increased. The reasons for this are, of course, not far- fetched. First, there is the issue of complicity of law enforcement agencies. The partisanship of the law enforcement agencies has always been a serious issue in tackling the menace of some of the NURTW members. In fact, it has often been alleged that the various leaderships of the police across the country have their allegiance to some of the leading gladiators in the leadership stratum of the NURTW. It was alleged in Oyo State sometime ago, that a former Commissioner of Police in the State was loyal to one of the feuding NURTW factions that unleashed terror on the state. It got so bad that, prominent Ibadan leaders had to call for the redeployment of the said top cop. In some other cases, many Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) across the country are also alleged to be on the payroll of some of the notorious NURTW kingpins. These are serious allegations that the new Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar must look into through intelligence gathering and other scientific means to ensure that men of ignoble characters don’t have a place in the country’s police service. A policeman that is worth his salt is paid to secure lives. When it has come to a situation where law enforcement agents connive with law breakers, then the whole society is in trouble.
Also, lack of political will on the part of governments across the country is responsible for the relentless reprehensible acts of some NURTW members. It has often been alleged that some of the most dangerous members of the union, in some cases, are well connected to the corridors of power. As a result of this, some of them are so confident that irrespective of the pain that their activities bring to the society at large, they will always go unpunished. If, indeed, it is true that some of them have strong backers in high places, as it is being alleged, such backers should know that a mad dog cannot be tamed for too long. It can always come around to bite its owners. Ask the late Chief MKO Abiola!
Governments at various levels in the country must begin to take firm actions to curb the union’s lawlessness. An atmosphere of continuous strife and mayhem is not conducive to meaningful development. They must ensure that they stick to tough-line policies in order to ensure that no section of the society continues to be a destabilising factor disrupting peaceful co-existence. Similarly, the police and other security agencies should hunt down, arrest and bring to book every member of the union that is involved in criminal activities. To start with, the police and other relevant stakeholders should ensure that the perpetrators of previous violent crisis traceable to the union are fished out and prosecuted, as a deterrent to others. It is important that the various law enforcement agencies bring the weight of the law to bear on the operation of NURTW and other like transport organisations to end the circle of violence that has assumed worrying and deadly dimensions in the country. Nobody, no matter how highly placed or connected should be allowed to go scot free while inflicting pains on other members of the society. It has become a thing of necessity and urgency for relevant agencies to closely monitor the operatives of these transport unions so as to avert the incessant deadly clashes and deal with errant members if they infract on the law and the rights of other citizens to operate freely.
Perhaps more importantly, there is a need to review the operational method of the union by the appropriate authorities. In a sane society and in this age, it is astonishing that the NURTW must adopt violence as its operational style , especially as it affects leadership change and other related issues. This must not continue to be tolerated. Imagine the number of needless deaths, pains and destructions that their violent activities have caused in the country. The transport sector is too important to be left in the hands of thugs, hooligans and lawless men. How can those who have engaged in sustained gun battles, leading to the killings of many and the destruction of valuable property be saddled with the leadership burden of such a vital union as the NURTW? It doesn’t really make any sense. Does it? Why can’t local governments control parks and collect levies from transporters as contained in the residual list in the nation’s constitution? We must stop creating individuals and groups that are too powerful and above the law. Before they become another monster that will consume the rest of the society like the Boko Haram, the time for the appropriate authorities to act against the men that give bad names to the union is now.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.