TRANSPORT COMMISSIONER SPEAKS ON TRICYCLISTS’ ALLEGATION OVER EXTORTION
…POLICE, TASK FORCE ANGLE
By Mary Ekere
The Commissioner in charge of Transport Ministry in AkwaIbom State, Mr. Uno Etim Uno has denied any knowledge of extortion from motorists by police and Covid-19 compliance team, saying that no one has brought his attention to the development.
Mr Uno, while speaking with a section of the media last Friday in Uyo said that his attention has just been brought to it for the first time about the alleged extortion and promised to relate with the authorities concerned.
Recall that the KEKE riders last Thursday along Aka Road and Udo Udoma Avenue had protested against the extortion of N3,000 and N5,000 as fines for offence of noncompliance on the use of face masks by passengers and subsequent impoundment of their tricycles if the fine demanded is not paid instantly. The said protest also extended to the following day, Friday.
Uno further said that the indictment against Police may not be true stating that “if there is anything concerning the Ministry of Transport, I can answer that directly.”
The Transport Commissioner stated that the Compliance Team were directed not to impound any vehicle during this first month of partial lockdown as those impounded were made to be released to the owners.
“During this partial lockdown done by the Governor of the State, I had declared to all the union that within this first one month, there should be no impoundment of any vehicle.
“I have personally gone to Itam Park to release vehicles that were impounded by one of the agents of the Ministry. Therefore, if within this one month given to them free that will end on 1st June, 2020, there is any issue of somebody from the Compliance Team impounding their vehicles, they would have reported that to the Ministry. I am just hearing of the case of impoundment for the first time”.
On the issue of buying tickets on only two days of the week being Wednesdays and Fridays, the Commissioner said that “the Governor gave the tricyclists two ticket free days on specific dates of 8th and 13th May, 2020 and not every Wednesday and Friday as they mentioned of which radio announcements were made and their leaders briefed.
“The riders only pay for tickets from Mondays to Fridays except on days of public holidays which is what we are enforcing until now.
On being able to meet up the demand to buy tickets as lamented by the riders, Uno said “passengers are paying N100 now because of this pandemic; without this pandemic, passengers were paying N50 and they were taking three passengers which equated N150 and if they are picking two passengers at N100 each, that makes it N200, so the Riders are gaining” and should be able to pay for their ticket of N200 each day.
Uno also revealed that the State government has supported the tricyclists with 10,000 free customized face masks while two free tickets days were declared for them at the beginning of the partial lockdown.
On the issue of renewal of MOT twice a year as lamented by the operators, the Commissioner said that he is not aware of such and will have to confirm from the consultants expressing the believe that the allegation is not true.
Speaking too, the State Secretary of Keke Operators and Riders Association, KORA, Mr Emmanuel Bassey vehemently decried their oppression by the security agency by forcing them to pay a whopping fine of #5,000 for an offence committed by passengers.
He said that they have obeyed government instruction of carrying only two passengers per ride which has caused a drastic low rate of income turnover at the end of the day making it impossible to meet their daily target to be remitted to owners of the tricycle.
“After making this payment, we are virtually left with nothing to cater for our families. This has made life more difficult for us as most riders are graduates in different fields but lack of employment has caused us to take up riding Keke to make ends meet”.
“Arrested riders are taken to Barracks Road Police Station and “C Division along Aka Etinan Road where they are made to pay the said amount”, he cried out.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bassey has cautioned riders not to use the protest as an avenue to cause havoc nor fight ticket sellers as anyone caught will bear the consequences of his actions. He appreciated government for the palliative of two free ticket days enjoyed during the first two weeks of stipulating guidelines on new carrying arrangements.
Also condemning the act, another rider, Mr. Imoh Christopher Sampson said it is wrong for them to be punished by the Force for passengers offense.
According to him, passengers will make use of their masks when boarding their ride only to take it off along the journey where they no longer notice them, only to be stopped and made to pay for the passengers’ offence.
He pleaded the state government to step in and address the issue by calling the police to order.
During Friday, May 29, 2020, protest along Udo Udoma Avenue, one of the riders who identified himself as Abasi-imahaNton and as the convener of the protest had accused the Union Leaders of not protecting their interests, thus calling for the disbandment of the various Unions; he also decried the extortion made by them by the “Compliance Team and the illegal Police”.
Also identifying himself as the Secretary, Mr. Iboro Sampson Etim also lamented over the imposed fine saying that it makes life more difficult for them as they are extorted of their daily bread on passengers’ offences.
Etim said they were grateful that the Governor had made it possible for them to continue their ride through the partial lockdown stating that he, the Governor had approved three days for buying of tickets but they are made to buy it on daily basis.
To verify this substantiation, the AkwaIbom State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Mr Frederick Nnudam in a telephone conversation with this reporter said “the statement is baseless as the police is no court of law to impose fine on them. It is only the court of law that imposes fine and not the police”.