From David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi
As tricycle (keke) operators and shuttle bus drivers protest over toll reform in Awka, Anambra State, Governor Charles Soludo’s administration has explained that the policy was for the interest of the commuters and rightful revenue to government.
In a statement, the State Commissioner for Information, Hon Paul Nwosu said it was to ensure that affordable dues were paid to the government instead of touts who he said were holding the drivers hostage by collecting illegal fees that were not remitted to government’s coffers.
Hon Nwosu insisted that the government’s overhaul of the tolling system was actually meant for the drivers and sundry transport owners to pay reduced fees directly to the government instead of paying exorbitant monies to the underhand middlemen who, according to him, end up cheating transport owners and their drivers.
He said it was tragic that after many months of engagement with the transport unions on how the new payment arrangement would benefit the drivers and commuters, the keke and shuttle bus drivers still allowed themselves to be manipulated to go on strike.
“It is disheartening to note that after the series of meetings and subsequent mutual understanding with the government of Anambra State to pay the reduced monthly tolls; these operators have over the months refused to pay. It was as a result of their non-compliance that prompted the Anambra State Joint Enforcement Team (ANJET) to move in to ensure compliance.
“While a few went to pay at the designated locations and collected their vehicles, others who are under the grips of the influential park dons refused to pay and instead resorted to protests and ruthlessly enforced it among their law abiding colleagues, disrupting commercial activities in Awka and its environs.
“The curious thing about the whole matter is that while this crisis persisted, the so-called leaders of the unions were nowhere in sight and could not be reached. All of these points to the fact that it’s either the leadership is weak or complicit in the riotous actions that virtually crippled transportation for days.
“The situation became clearer when government invited the operators to Dr Alex Ekwueme Square on Saturday for another round of engagement. Following the dissatisfaction they openly expressed against the leaders of their unions, they were given the opportunity to directly nominate representatives who would dialogue with government once again.
“For want of what to say some of those who have been instigated to resist the reform have embarked on all kinds of campaign of falsehood to justify why they will not pay. They lied that government did not provide Point of Sale (POS) for payment as they were promised, but this is not true. Anambra Internal Revenue Service (AIRS) has 234 agents with POSs spread across 74 locations in the State where they can make payments.
“Another insignificant few claimed that they paid for identity cards and stickers but were not given up till this moment. This again is untrue because AIRS had since acquired the equipment to capture every payee and issue cards and stickers on the spot.
“The joint agreement between the government and operators of keke and shuttle bus is that they will pay N600 and N1000 daily which would amount to N18, 000 and 30,000 monthly tolls respectively but government in its humanness granted a Saturday and Sunday discounts that eventually pegged what they will pay at N15, 000 and N25, 000 monthly.
“It is important to note that this is a far cry from the N2,500 and N3,500 they paid daily which adds up to N75,000 and N105,000 monthly. The difference is remarkably incomparable; and it has become necessary for Ndi Anambra to know that it is just a few greedy elements who have exploited and billed the system to line their individual pockets that have continued to misinform and instigate this unwarranted crises, ” the Commissioner said.
He further said that it was key to note at this point that the collected tolls would augment governments revenue with which it could repair roads which transporters whine about and construct new ones where there were none.
He noted that government had, meanwhile, flagged off the construction of twenty new roads and at present carrying out over a dozen interventions to rehabilitate failed sections of existing ones.
He said these were the services those he described as the self-centred middlemen could not provide.
He explained that the Governor had repeatedly said that his government would be transparent in spending every Kobo that comes in as revenue.
He assured that under his watch, Ndi Anambra would see their legitimate taxes, levies and tolls translate into tangible developments that would transform Anambra State into a more liveable, pleasurable and prosperous one.