Vanguard (Lagos)

17 January 2013

Nigeria: Drivers' Protest Turns Violent in Abuja, Commuters Stranded

Photo: Vanguard
Abuja commercial buses

Abuja — ECONOMIC activities at the Nyanya axis of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, were temporarily brought to a halt on Tuesday morning as commercial bus drivers, under the aegis of Self-Employed Commercial Drivers Association, Abuja, SECDAA, violently protested the recent transportation policy of the FCT administration.

The new policy introduced by the FCT Administration stopped commercial drivers from plying their trade within the city centers.

The FCT administration had weekend directed the drivers coming from Masaka axis to stop at Nyanya bridge, while those coming from Kubwa were told to stop at Berger bridge where SURE-P vehicles will then take passengers to the city centre.

Not comfortable with the policy, the drivers had on Monday announced that they were embarking on a peaceful demonstration to the National Assembly and FCT Minister's office to find out whether the new policy was approved.

The protest, however, assumed a violent dimension as the drivers allegedly smashed windscreen and glasses of SURE-P vehicles as well as setting burn fire in the middle of the road.

For fear of the unknown, many offices and shops in the area remained closed within the period the protest lasted, while there was traffic jam resulting in commuters trekking long distance to get to their destinations.

The drivers had to beat a retreat after discovering that the initial plan to match to the National Assembly and the minister's office had been thwarted as a result of the blockade at the major roads to the capital area occasioned by the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration.

This policy has brought untold hardship to commuters who have to trek a long distance to Berger junction for those coming from Kubwa axis going to Wuse before they board the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Ltd, popularly known as El'Rufai as the mini buses have been prohibited from plying the Wuse road.

Some of the commuters who were dropped at the Highway by Banex on Wednesday cursed the government that introduced the policy without adequate arrangement to cushion the effect, saying that government was only interested in the money the SURE-P buses were going to make for them than the welfare of the people.

To ensure that the new transport policy was not truncated by the drivers' union, heavily armed policemen have been positioned in strategic places, while plain cloth security operatives monitor activities of the Urban Mass Transit buses at the various loading points to avoid any attack by the drivers union.

In an interview with Vanguard, one of the protesting mini-bus drivers who simply gave his name as Musa, vowed that the association would not allow the SURE-P buses to load until they were called back to their duty post.

When Vanguard visited the scene, some workers rushing to go to work were seen stranded.

A staff of NNPC, Jerome Ohiome, described the implementation of the new transport policy as "hasty without adequate provision of alternative buses that could replace the mini-buses."

He said the SURE-P buses were not enough to take care of the population working in FCT but living in Nyanya -Maraba metropolis.

"This policy is not only affecting the mini-bus drivers alone but those of us who don't have car now.

"I am of the opinion that government should introduce many buses that will be able to compete with these buses with less cost of transportation instead of stopping these mini-buses without proper provision," he said.

FCT Commissioner of Police, Adenrele Shinaba, confirmed that the 'Araba' people protested at Nyanya in Abuja and Mararaba in Nasarawa State, adding that the situation was brought under control as he sent his men to the trouble scene.

According to him, no arrest was made.

However, Chairman of SECDA, FCT, Victor Okorie, denied that his members protested.

He rather said that the protest was carried out by the commercial Motor Cycle Operators.

Okorie said: "We did not protest today (Tuesday). The Nyanya protest that turned violent, they are not our members, they are Okada riders.

"These people (the Police) are combining two things together; they are packing peoples' okada, putting them in the VIO (Vehicle Inspection Officer) vehicle.

"These are the people that were having problem with them. We want to protest tomorrow. We are moving from Nyanya to the National Assembly."

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