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Big Money, Big Trouble: The Story Of Nigeria's Multi-Billion Naira Transport Union

Posted by Samuel on Sun 29th Sep, 2019 -

The National Union of Road Transport Workers is a fat cow for all to milk, hence violence and killings.

Transport union

It may seem irrelevant in social cycles, but it is very powerful in so many ways. Its members may also not appear in corporate outfits, with latest technological gadgets to operate with, and use mostly “makeshift” offices, but they are worth billions of naira. The NURTW, believed to have about 4 million members across Nigeria, is reckoned with in so many ways.

They control a large chunk of road transport revenue in Nigeria, spinning huge sums for the officials, power and influence in the society.

A member of the union in Kaduna State said it’s not a limited liability company; hence they are not required to invest. He, however, explained that they used such funds to meet the union’s financial obligations.

Most times, these revenues are unaccounted or budgeted for. In fact, most of the workers and officials don’t even any vehicle plying the routes.

The multi-billion naira union

No doubt, the NURTW is a multi-billion naira union with “unending” revenue sources. A quick check will reveal that they rake in money from park registration for vehicles, registration renewal, daily ticket purchases, courier/goods services, penalties and loading fee, among other miscellaneous charges.

For instance, from Berger Motor Park, Ogba, Ojota, Ikeja, Ojuelegba to Oshodi, CMS/Obalende, Iyana Ipaja, Iyana Iba, down to Ajah, Epe Park in Lagos, daily streams of cash flow into the NURTW coffers.

Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve centre, with an estimated population of over 21million people, is unarguably the most profitable state in Nigeria for transport business, with the commercial transporters conveying millions of passengers daily within and outside the city.

Though there are no official figures on the number of commercial vehicles plying Lagos roads, at least all the parks combined convey millions of passengers daily.

On a busy morning of Wednesday when our correspondent visited Berger Park under Ojodu Local Council Development Area (LCDA), many buses were on the queue conveying passengers to various destinations like Obalende, Oshodi-Gbagada-Iyana Oworo; Bariga, Ketu, Ahmadiyya-Agbado-Ijaiye-Tollgate-Sango Ota, among others. It only took about 20 minutes to have the first bus on the queue filled up with passengers. The situation was not different at Ogba/Ijaiye motor park.

Though many drivers were being cautious in reeling out important facts about their operation, what was glaring is the magnitude of tolling – legitimate and illegitimate – and charges paid to various groups and unions. Also at one of the motor parks in Ikeja, the blue cab plying Ikeja/International Airport road pays N100 on every trip, an equivalent of fare paid by a passenger.

One of the drivers, Mr. Ladipo Adewole, confirmed that the money is different from the daily ticket fee they pay on resumption of duty. “As you can see, we pay N100 from every N400 collected from passengers and we are left with just N300 per trip.

The greatest beneficiary is the NURTW, which sells daily ticket to drivers for N200, apart from other charges. Besides, companies operating inter-state pay higher charges, depending on the mileage they cover by each trip. More than 60 per cent of drivers are members of the NURTW. There are also affiliate unions of motorcycle and tricycle riders.

Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday indicated that the NURTW in Lagos has 180 branches spread across the 20 local governments and 37 local council development areas (LCDAs). Each of the branches has a minimum of 10 units while some have as much as 30, depending on the size of the local government. Also, each unit has an executive of at least 13 members overseeing over a minimum of 1000 members.

A senior member of the union said, “Members of the NURTW are in thousands. Though some transporters belong to other unions, the NURTW has over 60 per cent of drivers in the state.”

With the huge followership commanded by the unions, each of them generates millions of naira daily in tickets alone, apart from other levies on motorists.

It was further observed that apart from the ticket levy, each driver equally pays loading fee, which is usually the fare for one passenger. The tout fee collected at every bus-stop is usually the most chaotic as bus drivers and conductors are always struggling with the area boys, who collect between N100 to N200 from yellow buses at every stop.

Also, checks at Gusau Central Motor Park in Zamfara State revealed that at least 300 vehicles pay N100 each for union tickets before they could get access to the park. In the same vein, dozens of vehicles also pay for the N100 ticket to go into motor parks in relatively bigger towns like Kaura Namoda, Talata Mafara, Tsafe and all other 11 local government areas of the state.

Also, the NURTW is engaged into cargo services. Goods are collected from individuals and delivered to the desired destinations on payment.

Bloody way to the top

With the huge money involved, leadership of transport unions, especially in a mega city like Lagos, is seen as a fortune for those in top positions. This explains why the struggle for leadership positions in any of the unions has always left trails of blood and killings, according to most of the drivers who spoke with our correspondent.

Also, the immediate past administration of Akinwunmi Ambode was said to have offended the transport union leadership when he declared he was going to ban yellow buses in the state.

The recent appointment of Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo as the caretaker chairman of the NURTW in the state after the tenure of the immediate past chairman, Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede expired, has been trailed by violence from the opposing parties. Supremacy battle between some chieftains of the union who control zones and branches has led to bloodletting in some parts of the state, with the attendant fears and tension. Recently, one person was allegedly killed at Okokomaiko in Lagos during a violence caused by the fallout of the change of leadership.

It would be recalled that in the buildup to the 2019 elections, MC Oluomo was attacked at the flag-off of the campaign of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos. Sources said the intention of the attackers was to kill him owing to his rising popularity, even as some people swore to ensure he did not succeed Agbede.

But as fate would have it, Oluomo, who rose to fame from his base at Mushin-Oshodi, has emerged the caretaker chairman, with the prospect of emerging the substantive chairman.

The new helmsman is seen as not just an agbero but one with a class, fame and influence.

He is popular not only among his peers in the transportation business but even in the entertainment industry, where he renders support to actors and actresses for movie production.

The social media was abuzz recently following the invitation of Oluomo to a colloquium on “Transport Efficiency: Employing Lagos Terrain Alternatives” organised by the National Association of Geography Students (NAGS) at the University of Lagos. Many Nigerians queried the rationale behind the invitation of an agbero to an academic community like the University of Lagos.

Violence, ties to politicians

Besides, majority of the NURTW members are very close to politicians, who hire them during elections. Oluomo, for instance, is said to be a close ally of the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who is said to be instrumental to his emergence as the chairman.

However, an aide to Oluomo, Jimoh Buhari, said contrary to the impression people have about the NURTW, the union is not synonymous to thuggery, adding that it is this impression that the new chairman has come to correct.

“People say we are being used by Tinubu as thugs, but this is not true. Yes, most members belong to the APC. But MC Oluomo is a member of the APC as Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya, not as NURTW chairman,” he said.

But this cannot be said of Oyo State as its activities revolve around links with campaigns for gubernatorial candidates since the advent of the democratic experience in 1999.

With a relatively war chest, godfathers’ influence, traditional rulers and religious leaders backing, and more importantly, ability to deploy pockets of violence, which most times are provided by the often dreaded members of the NURTW, successive governors had involved transport unions for their electoral victories.

For instance, Alhaji Lateef Akinsola, popularly known as Tokyo, a factional leader, shot into limelight at the inception of the administration of former Governor Lam Adesina, who ruled between 1999 and 2003.

The rise of Tokyo, hitherto a trade union leader, to a politically powerful man in Oyo politics, was rather dramatic. He was arrested along with some pro-democracy activists, including the late Chief Bola Ige, Alhaji Lam Adesina and a host of others, by the late General Sani Abacha government and thrown into prison for organising protests against the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.

Their prison experience and relationship grew in a way that Tokyo contributed in the emergence of Adesina as governor. The former governor did not only back Tokyo for the state chairmanship of the NURTW as payback, he also ensured government’s funding of transport union activities while the government lasted.

By 2003, a new Governor Rashidi Ladoja was backed by some forces in the NURTW, led by Alhaji Wasiu Abubakar (Tawa). On assumption of office, the governor deployed state machinery and installed Abubakar as the new NURTW boss.

The deposed Tokyo, backed by Chief Lamidi Adedibu, under whom Ladoja rode to become governor, engaged Abubakar in a fierce battle to control motor parks. Ladoja and Adedibu had fallen apart and the latter beckoned on Tokyo and his army of supporters to make use of a section of his Molete palatial residence as a safe haven, having been chased away from motor parks.

Then came the tenure of Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala. Tokyo and his men festered and prospered under him, while the 11-months interregnum that Ladoja spent in wilderness lasted, when he was impeached in January 2006 till November of the same year.

As Alao-Akala regained power between 2007 and 2011, Tokyo and his men became more fierce, with the NURTW becoming a formidable arm of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The era was marked with violence and brigandage.

The bloodbath and the killing of innocent citizens and residents alike reached its peak on June 6, 2011, with the former Governor Ajimobi, who had barely spent a week in office, proclaiming a ban on the activities of Oyo NURTW.

He said security agencies had been directed to arrest all the perpetrators of the crimes leading directly or indirectly to the recent mayhem in the state and recover all illegal arms and ammunition.  He said the activities of the union posed a great risk, adding that politicisation of the activities of the union, attempting to control revenue, access to arms and ammunition, abuse of court processes were the major causes of the crisis.

Months after, Ajimobi lifted the ban after a lot of investigation and conclusion of a judicial commission of enquiry, which indicted some union officials, including Auxiliary, who was ultimately barred from motor parks by the union’s headquarters in 2012.

Auxiliary was again charged for murder and spent six years in Agodi prisons before he regained freedom last year.

Ajimobi’s subtle reforms in NURTW activities put paid to the ambitions of both Tokyo and Auxiliary from regaining the control of motor parks till date. A relatively unknown union member, Alhaji Taofeek Oyerinde (Fele) became the beneficiary of the factional clashes and public disturbance.

Fele died last year, after spending over six years as the union’s chairman.

Worried over the gruesome murder of members of the union and the election orchestrated by violence, a top official of the union in the last administration in the state blamed the struggle on huge N20million the union makes daily.

The union leader, who does not want his name in print, said a car with six passengers paid at least N1, 500 after loading from park, while buses paid more, depending on the distance of the journey.

According to him, the transportation companies, quarry trucks and other unsuspected members of the union in the state remit money to the office of the NURTW, which he said was usually responsible for the crisis among union members.

He said though the Oyo State Government had proscribed the union, it still uses members to generate revenue in parks but remitted the money to the coffer of the state government through local government administrator.

A secretary of the union, Mr. Leke Alesinloye, told Daily Trust on Sunday that unlike under previous leaderships, Fele’s tenure was peaceful, and with Ejiogbe taking over, respite returned to the union and a number of developmental reforms had been brought to bear by the acting chairman.

Jabi motor park, Abuja

As it were, the Oyo NURTW is on the verge of completing an ultra modern state secretariat valued at N70 million. The union is in partnership with the University of Ibadan, whose lecturers are providing adult education for members, in addition to the training and retraining under the state police and road safety commands.

Although national leadership elections haven’t witnessed the level of violence associated with those of the states, it also comes with their unique tensions.

The immediate past national president of the union, Alhaji Najeem Yasin, took over in 2011 following the dead of Alhaji Gidado Hamman in a motor accident in October 2010.

The election wasn’t with much rancour, perhaps because of the demise of the leader at the time. But sources in the union claimed the relative low violence experienced at national elections from 2010 is based on some reforms the late Alhaji Hamman introduced.

“His style of leadership was unique as he pursued an inclusive governance strategy.

“The biggest challenge of violent activities in the union remained at the state level. Perhaps if Hamman had completed his term he would have achieved some level of sanity at the states because he had a great degree  of influence,”
one of the union members said in Abuja, adding that for now, the level of violence in the states is a challenge that hasn’t been addressed properly.

At the last congress held in June 2019, the new leadership of the union emerged. The elections for the president and vice president were cancelled as the immediate past executive adopted the casting of lots. This, some members claimed, helped douse the tension and averted the violence that might have followed if the election held as planned. This is regardless of the fact that the position was zoned to the South-West.

The two contending candidates when the new leadership emerged were Alhaji Tajudeen Baruwa and Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede. After the lucky dip, Alhaji Baruwa picked the presidential position while Agbede picked the vice presidential seat.

But the Kaduna State secretary of the NURTW, Bature Y. Sulaiman, denied any links with politicians. “Well, in Kaduna State, we don’t have thugs that are used by politicians. Our boys here cooperate with us, so they don’t engage in thuggery; maybe it happens in other states. I can only speak of what is happening here in Kaduna State.

He said the union always warned its members not to allow themselves to be used by any  politician for thuggery, warning that they would not take it lightly with any member engaged in such act.

A former Kaduna State chairman of the union, Alhaji Sulaiman Danzaki, explained that motor parks were the responsibilities of local governments for their internally generated revenue. Danzaki seems to justify the amounts being collected by the union.

According to him, like the NUT, TUC and medical associations, the NURTW is affiliated to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). He explained that what is collected from members are dues, not revenue for the union.

“We are not doing so without the approval of the Federal Ministry of Labour, which means that we have to account for all the money according to decree 35, 1973, where every money collected at the end of the year must be accounted for. Currently, our immediate past president is the African Transport Union president, comprising of water, railway and air. Also, we are paying 10 per cent dues to the NLC,” he claimed.

Danzaki pointed out that the NURTW was collecting N100 per member per day and has a check off due like any other industrial union. He noted that collection formula is like that of any industrial union, where there’s five per cent to the branch, 10 per cent to state and ýthe NLC, and 75 per cent to the national headquarters.

On rates, the Kaduna secretary said that previously, local government authorities, daily demanded N100 from them per car at the parks, but has now increased it to N200.

ýA driver at Kawo Motor Park and a member of the NURTW, who identified himself as Alhaji, confirmed the increment. He said few months back, a car was charged N100 each for union and local government, but it was increased to N200.

Alhaji said it meant a driver is expected to pay another N300 separately after loading passengers, which meant N600 is paid before embarking on a journey from that garage.

Although the new national leadership just came in, the key challenge they would have to deal with is how to curtail the violence that has characterised the trade union, especially at the state level.

Another area of concern is the quantum of resources available to the union, with a near zero level of accountability as the parks remain undeveloped while union leaders become very rich and influential.

Jabi motor park, Abuja

Our correspondent sort to get the views of the national president of the NURTW on the activities of the union, its impact on the economy, remittances or taxes to government, it’s membership strength, the violence, welfare to members and other sundry matters, but he was unavailable.

Our correspondent thus reached out to the head, Department of Information, NURTW, Mr. Dogonyaro Kefas to comment on the issues, but he declined.

A visit to the Utako Motor Park, Jabi, Abuja, shows decrepit infrastructure with terribly bad roads. The environment is largely dirty, unorganised and unkempt in spite the huge monies the park generates. Members of the union leadership weren’t willing to speak about their activities.

But our correspondent gathered discreetly from a union member that to register a bus to operate in the park attracts N20, 000, which is a non refundable fee. He also said that depending on the distance, a driver would remit to the union between N2000 and N20, 000 every time he loads passengers at the park.

“For instance, if you are playing Abuja to Ibadan with a bus it is N5, 000 per passenger. At N5, 000 per seat, it would be N70, 000 for a 14 seater vehicle. Yet the union remits only N53, 000 to the driver of a bus and keeps N17, 000. Out of this N53, 000, the driver will buy fuel, fix the car, remit to the owner and have some money for himself too. But the union will take the bulk of the money, yet not much of welfare for members.

“I don’t know exactly how much they make in this park, but it cannot be less than N500,000 across the different routes,”
he said, adding that there are three branches of the union overseeing different categories in the park – taxis, mini-buses and buses.

Worried by its excesses, the NURTW and other transport unions in Ogun State have been suspended by Governor Dapo Abiodun since June this year.

In their place, Abiodun named a 13-man committee to coordinate the activities of road transport trade unions.

The interim committee was mandated to basically review the operations of the unions and make recommendations on how the unions could be better organised to support the developmental agenda of the state.

However, barely a month after the committee’s inauguration, the 13-man committee was enmeshed in allegations of bribery and corruption.

The Sunday Adeniyi- led team was allegedly collecting illegal fees from certain leaders of the NURTW, the Articulated Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association of Nigeria (AMORAN) and the Amalgamated (ACCOMORAN), favouring them over other members of the unions.

Few weeks back, the state House of Assembly passed a resolution calling on the state government to dissolve the National Road Transport Unions interim committee after the expiration of its tenure.

The allegations followed jostling for the leadership of the unions across the state following expiration of immediate past governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun’s tenure.

Our correspondent gathered that the leaderships of all the unions had relinquished their positions to enable the new governor install some leaders loyal to him.

According to an unwritten law, governors determine headship of the unions to compensate “loyal and supportive” leaders during and after the election.

Insiders told our correspondent that Governor Abiodun used the instrumentality of the interim committee to douse tension and forestall crisis that usually follow selection of new leadership, most especially that the top notch in all the transport unions were divided during the 2019 polls.

During the election, some leaders of the unions publicly endorsed and worked for Amosun’s anointed candidate, Adekunle Akinlade of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), while others backed Abiodun, who contested on the platform of the APC.

Those who backed Abiodun during the election feel it’s their time to rule the unions.

“Politicians use the union leaders during the election, and once the new governor emerges, he would compensate some people who worked for him. The power play you are seeing here and there in Ogun is not different,” a source said.

However, findings by our correspondent revealed that the NURTW and the RTEAN remit funds daily into the state government account.

It was gathered that 50 per cent of the funds generated from daily tickets at parks “served as the taxes paid to the government” by the unions.

“We don’t pay taxes. What we do is that we remit certain percentage of the money we make from the daily tickets into government’s account. That’s our own tax, and we do it daily,” one of the unions’ scribes confided in our correspondent.

When our correspondent visited Kuto, Asero, Ita – Oshin parks in Abeokuta, it was gathered that the amount payable by each vehicle varies, depending on the route.

At least, the driver must part with one and half or two passengers’ fare as his dues, it was gathered.

And in Ogun State, the motor parks tickets are the duty of the NURTW and the RTEAN as each takes turn weekly to collect the parks’ dues.

Speaking with our correspondent, a driver, Muritala Adebiyi said, “We were made to believe that funds are union dues and they are meant to carry out some developmental projects for the union.

“In the past, some of the dues were used to construct secretariats and some other petty projects of the union, but as a member I can tell you categorically that I have not benefited anything from the union since I have been paying dues,”
he said.

In Kano State, our correspondent visited three mega motor parks and observed that the NURTW has a hierarchy of managing each motor park as branches with sub-units, depending on drivers’ destinations.

A visit to the motor parks showed that there was need for good roads and effective security measures by the authorities concerned, as well as the safety of commuters and other business operators as stated by some drivers.

At Yankaba motor park, though the leadership of all the three branches declined to talk to our reporter, claiming that it is only the state secretariat that has the mandate to speak to the media, it was gathered that N100 is collected from commercial vehicles entering the park while heavy duty vehicles pay N1,000.

At each unit of the NURTW in Yankaba motor park, commercial vehicle part with one passenger’s fare, depending on destination. One of the NURTW members who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, stated that over 200 commercial vehicles left the park daily, adding that in some cases, additional charges are also equally incurred before departure.

“The normal practice is that every driver pays the fare of one passenger to the union. In most cases, one is to pay what we call booking charges and other charges before he departs the park,” the source explained.

On how they are being used by politicians, a member at Naí’bawa Park, Malam Umar Wada, said that politicians usually contacted their leaders, and members’ vehicles are selected for political campaigns and rallies. He added that even though the contracts usually attract commission, it is regarded as profitable by members.

In terms of tax payments, most of the members spoken to in all the three parks revealed that they paid N200 as receipt fare on every trip, and that the amount goes to the local government area in which the park is located, as well as the N100 entrance fees.

Malam Rabi’u Maiwada, a driver at the Mariri Motor Park, said the NURTW had been one of the few unions that assisted greatly, adding that members are like one big family.

“We are one big family at the NURTW, and that is why our worth has never been underestimated. The union has been up and doing to see that our rights as commercial drivers are being protected and our socioeconomic status well managed,” Maiwada said.

Other members are of the view that the union needs to do more, especially in areas of their relationship with vehicle owners.

All efforts by our correspondent to get the state executive of the NURTW to comment on the issues proved abortive as the secretary refused to speak, claiming that he had to get clearance from his chairman.

In Enugu, an 18-passenger bus driver at the Old Motor Park, who identified himself simply as Mr. Anieke, said in spite of the seemingly huge membership in the state, the advent of democratic government has practically killed the motor transport business in the state.

“There’s no other business that pays more levies/taxes than members of the NURTW, yet the powers-that-be won’t allow us to operate freely. The policemen will harass and intimate commercial drivers as if they were armed robbers. The Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) will do same, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) will be chasing commercial drivers as if they were robbers, likewise other agencies of the government,”
Anieke said angrily.

Another driver at Garki Motor Park in Enugu South Local Government, Mr. James Ugwu, said that a situation in which drivers and their vehicles were subjected to pay undue levies and taxes, some of them duplicated, was just a way of ripping off the drivers.

Ugwu said that in Enugu State, commercial drivers and their vehicles are asked to pay not less than 20 different levies, some initiated by the Federal Government while others are introduced by the state and local government authority.

Some of the levies include but not limited to the Enugu State Government Hackney Carriage/ Badge, Ministry of Transport Consolidated  Road Tax Permit, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs  National Coverage 2019, National Stage Carriage Road Users Levy, Vehicle Reformed Mid Year Operational Permit, Vehicle Easy Operational Movement, among others.

Anieke, who said that he joined the NURTW in Enugu State in 1981 soon after he started driving commercial vehicles, bemoaned a situation in which commercial drivers are not allowed to operate without undue hitches from agencies of the government.

He said the state of the Garki park was there for anybody to see, adding that the drivers often contribute money to buy red sand to fill the potholes-ridden park.

On the benefits members derive from belonging to the NURTW, another driver, Mr. Vincent Ugwuegede, said if a registered member died, all the members would attend the burial and make some financial contributions to the family of the deceased.

The NURTW state secretary, Comrade Collins Nebo, said he was billed to attend a meeting of the state Ministry of Transport, and told our correspondent to come back the following day.

When our correspondent returned, he was not around while calls put across to his number were not answered.

Alhaji Najeem Usman Yasin: Ex NURTW president’s rise to fame

Alhaji Najeem Usman Yasin, the erstwhile national president of the NURTW, rose from a humble beginning to become a force in the union for years. He hailed from Offa in Kwara State and was the chairman of the taxi drivers union in Gusau Local Government in the old Sokoto State.

He was also the financial secretary of Gusau and old Sokoto State branches of the union. He later became vice chairman of the state branch of the union, still in the old Sokoto State.

At the creation of Zamfara State, he became the chairman of the union in the state. Later, Alhaji Yasin became national vice president for eight years. He contested for the position of national president and won. Having spent eight years as the national president, Alhaji Yasin built a zonal headquarters of the union in Gusau, serving Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states.

A top official of the union told Daily Trust on Sunday in Gusau that his influence is in his philanthropy as Alhaji Yasin sponsored dozens of people for Hajj and Umrah yearly.

“Every year, not less than 30 people go for Umrah and Hajj exercises. This is apart from Christians he also sponsors for pilgrimage to Israel. I can tell you that most of the NURTW leaders in the state have gone for Hajj more than twice on his sponsorship,”
the official said.

Apart from this, he spent a lot on Sallah and Ramadan gifts to members of the union, traditional rulers, ulamas and other underprivileged people.
Source: Daily Trust

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