George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
Owerri the Imo State capital was temporarily shut down on Friday afternoon following the spontaneous protest by members of the Imo State bus/ taxi drivers’ association over the alleged extortion of members of the association by operatives of the state taskforce on illegal parking.
The irate drivers who blocked the Government House round in protest, in the process caused heavy traffic jam on Weathral, Okigwe and Bank roads.
Our correspondent gathered that what triggered off the protest was the attack on one of the bus drivers by a horde of taskforce operatives on Bank Road who alleged impounded his bus accused of road obstruction in a guise to extort money from him.
The state chairman of the Imo Bus/Taxi Drivers Association, Comrade Chukwu Eze said that members of the taskforce have been terrorising commercial drivers in the state over multiple levies, emblems and fines.
“It is the constant harassment of our members by members of the task force that has led to this protest. We have before this time, complained to both the Secretary to the State Government, Chief Uche Onyeagocha and to the Commissioner for Transport, but they did not do anything till today.
“I was not here when the protest started and when arrived here after being alerted, I was told that one of our members was being manhandled by members of the task force.”
Also, Chibuzor Igwebuike said that the irony is that the number of taskforce operators in Owerri is outrageous and most of them do not have any office address.
He said: “The NURTW is in alliance with some of the operators so we do not know who to turn to. We had to forcefully address this today on our own. How can a taxi driver survive if you are forced to pay between N10,000 to N15,000 in a day for an offence you know nothing about? The evil in this is that you may pay the fine today, tomorrow another group will jump into your vehicle and you will pay again. If you run into another group on the third day, you will pay again. So, how can we survive like this in spite of all the government dues and emblems we pay for? The annoying thing is that after paying the fine, no matter how much you pay, they collect another N750 from you for what they call security.
“Most of us are driving these cabs on hire-purchase basis, yet, they are making it increasingly difficult for us to operate in Owerri. This is also why people complain that taxi fares are highest in Owerri.”
He lamented that the taskforce operators impound their vehicles and take them to Owerri Municipal Council, Arugo Park, Aba road, behind Concorde Hotel and some other place around Akachi area.
“We went after them and they fled. We do not know the operators. No name, no face, it is just a criminal syndicate exploiting taxi drivers for gains and not interested in the traffic situation of the state.”
He called on the government to take a stand on the matter and redress the brigandage involved in traffic regulation in the state.”