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Opinion: 2015: Curbing Electoral Violence, By Adewale Kupoluyi

Anti-Gbagbo protester holds a machete near a roadblock and burning tyres in the Abobo area of Abidjan

As the nation earnestly gears up for next year’s general elections next, concerted efforts should be made to ensure that an enabling atmosphere devoid of rancour, tension and lawlessness, is established. The senseless killings that have characterised the activities of members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in many states of the country have culminated into wanton destruction of lives and property. This, certainly should no longer be allowed to continue in any decent and lawfully society. Regrettably, most of the civil disturbances attributed to the union so far were either centred on rivalry in the sharing of posts or due to sheer partisan politics as politicians were accused of sponsoring violence by making weapons and money available to members of the union in terrorising their opponents and invariably innocent people, making the NURTW members to become laws unto themselves and untouchable.

With the formation of the transport union in Nigeria, the NURTW was listed as an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), as a result of the restructuring of the industrial unions by the then military administration through a Trade Union Decree, now Act of 1978 and Trade Unions (Miscellaneous Provisions). The union’s membership strength is said to be over 1.5 million members that are working in various parts of the country. The Act establishing the union further provides that all professional commercial drivers, with the exception of petroleum tanker drivers, should belong to NURTW. No doubt, while a few of their members are easy going and have greatly assisted passengers in tracing missing valuables, performing rescue mission and rendering of other assistance during accidents, unfortunately the violent engagement of many of them seems to be more troubling especially under our political dispensation. For instance, the rivalry in the Oyo State chapter of NURTW reared its ugly head that resulted into a free-for-all fight in the Agbeni area of Ibadan by motorpark touts. A former Deputy Chairman of the Oyo State NURTW, Kamorudeen Beyioku, became a victim when he was killed after being fatally shot by gunmen suspected to his rivals. Another onslaught occurred in the pace-setter state when members of the union again wreaked havoc on different parts of Ibadan where many people, including a 500-level medical student of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Mr. Usman Shanomo, were allegedly killed. Again, members of NURTW were accused of being involved in a renewed hostilities between the people of Offa and Erinle areas of Kwara State in which at least 10 people were feared killed while property worth several hundreds of millions were destroyed. Also, no fewer than 20 persons were feared killed in a rival clash among factional members of NURTW in the control of the Sango motor park in Ogun State. Similarly, an attempt to change the leadership of the Ondo State chapter of the NURTW, once led to a violent clash when a faction of the union invaded the state secretariat and attempted to overthrow the State Executive Committee led by Obayoriade Olajutele (aka Die the Matter).

Such dastardly attempts to take over the control of other parks and garages violently led to the loss precious lives when a faction of the union attempted to forcefully overthrow the Chief Tajudeen Baruwa-led faction of the union. There was serious acrimony on Lagos Island when members NURTW clashed over chairmanship of the union in the state as two persons were reportedly killed and others badly injured while properties worth thousands of naira were destroyed. A popular transporter and a chieftain of the union, Alhaji Ola Shehu Ekeniojuoti was allegedly shot dead by gunmen suspected to be supporters of one of the chairmanship candidates. The supporters of one Rafiu Olohunwa and MC Oluomo were said to have clashed leading to the destruction of over 25 vehicles during the fracas while Olohunwa’s faction allegedly retaliated by killing another supporter of Oluomo while dangerous weapons were said to be freely used. Two factions of Oyo State NURTW, under Alhaji Taofeek Oyerinde (aka Fele), and the former chairman, Alhaji Akinsola (akaTokyo), could also lead to serious crisis ahead of 2015 if not nipped in the bud. Already, Tokyo insists that he remained the authentic chairman of the union based on a court judgment he allegedly got some years ago. This pattern of mayhem resurfaced a few days ago, in the state of the fountain of knowledge, when a former Ekiti State Chairman of NURTW, Omolafe Aderiye, was by gruesomely murdered by unknown gunmen in the Ijigbo area of the state capital, Ado-Ekiti. Aderiye was said to be a staunch supporter of the Governor-elect, Mr. Ayo Fayose, and was said to have taken active part in his electioneering campaign.

It is instructive to note that in unraveling this litany of violence, a five-man panel was set up by the Oyo State Government – to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the such clashes, identify individuals and or groups that had precipitated or participated in the crises either directly or indirectly, and recommend appropriate sanctions to be imposed on the identified culprits – found one basic truth that appears common to all the cases. And the damning revelation: Partisan politics remained the centre of the union’s crisis! Buttressing this point, a factional leader of the proscribed union, Alhaji Akinsola, had claimed that the crisis rocking the union could be attributed to the failed second term bid of former Governor Christopher Alao-Akala. He alleged that trouble started when the ex-governor did not get a favourable response from him on his ambition and that he (Akinsola) was marked for trumped up charges. Akinsola, who made his position known to the panel, through his faction’s Secretary, Alhaji Lekan Aleshinloye, accused the former state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Baba Bolanta, of allegedly aiding Alao-Akala in his bid to achieve his aim. Aleshinloye had told the panel that Akinsola, who has been declared wanted by the state police command alongside another factional leader, Mr. Mukaila Lamidi (aka Auxilliary), was framed up on murder charges, just to pave the way for the emergence of Lamidi’s erstwhile boss, Alhaji Lateef Salako (aka Eleweomo) as the state NURTW chairman.

At another sitting of the panel, a member of the proscribed union, Mr. Kamoru Agboola, opened cans of worms, as he recalled how he and some members of NURTW invaded the state House of Assembly and injured some lawmakers. Agboola, who claimed to be a loyalist of the late Salako alleged that he and some other members of the union were drafted to the scene on the orders of Salako to attack some lawmakers, who were allegedly planning to remove the then Speaker, Mr. Maroof Atilola, to pave the way for the eventual removal of Alao-Akala. Hence, because of its deep involvement in partisan politics, NURTW, was accused of operating as an affiliate of the state government in the last regime in Oyo State by unleashing violence because the Alalo-Akala administration was blamed for not being able to stem the reign of terror so that government would not be seen as ‘biting the fingers that fed it’.

It is for these reasons that the government should no longer take the excesses of some of the union members with levity by putting a stop to the frequent mayhem unleashed on the society. There’s the widely held opinion that the huge monies being generated from the various motor parks and those collected on the roads by chieftains of the union could play a key role in fueling the incessant squabbles among members. It becomes more convincing beyond reasonable doubt that the large amount of money collected daily from the parks and the roads from commuter bus drivers by top officials of NURTW that could be the motivating factor behind the do-or-die battle by every charlatan to wanting to take control of the parks. As a way forward, local governments should be allowed to take over the control of the numerous motor parks in the endemic states as this measure should go a long way in curbing the excesses of NURTW members hoping that as soon as the government takes over the motor parks, the incentive for further violence would have been removed. Afterall, local governments are constitutionally empowered under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), to control motorparks.

Furthermore, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), should hold sensitisation talks with the top officers of NURTW on the imperative of holding a peaceful general elections next year. This should be followed with vigorous enlightenment campaigns across the federation. More importantly, the national president of the union, Alhaji Najeem Yasin, should call his members to order. He should ensure that the primary purpose of the union, to “promote the economic welfare of members and participate in programmes on road safety and the mass transit implementation”, are not jettisoned for partisan politics. This remains a daunting challenge before the leadership of NURTW.

Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, vadewalekupoluyi@yahoo.co.uk, Twitter, @AdewaleKupoluyi


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