Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Owners of luxury buses, as well as their drivers and conductors, have raised serious concerns over conspiracy, sabotage and plots to bring down their transportation business in the country. The group said there are many strategies to push its members out of business by criminal elements. They said the condition of the roads, especially the highways, have been a serious threat to the transporters who use the road daily to earn their livelihood.
They lamented that the condition of the roads inspire bandits to rob passengers at will without any resistance by security agents who they alleged usually mount roadblocks to extort motorists. They insist that besides the aviation sector, the luxury bus business generates substantial revenue and makes immense contribution to the economy.
Recently, the taskforce of the Association of Luxury Bus Owners of Nigeria (ALBON) handed over bags loaded with substances suspected to be Indian hemp impounded at the park in Onitsha to the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). During the event, the ALBON members lamented how they have lost millions of naira over the arrest of their drivers, conductors and vehicles recently over the discovery of bags suspected to be hard drugs or other contraband items in their vehicles.
Chairman, Anambra State Zone of ALBON taskforce, Mr. Uchenna Maduakor, said the incident was a set up to bring their business down.
He said following several of such incidents, the taskforce devised a means of searching passengers’ bags before leaving the park. He explained that it was during a search that two bags containing Indian hemp were carefully packed.
Maduakor noted that before the recent incident, the taskforce had arrested a man with two bags who claimed that the bags were clothes. It was discovered later that the bags contained Indian hemp covered with clothes. He said both the man and his bags were handed over to NDLEA officials in Onitsha.
He spoke further: “When we discovered two other bags loaded with Indian hemp, no passenger claimed the bags, because they knew the implication. That was why we contacted the officer in charge of NDLEA in Onitsha who later sent his men to take the 26 wraps Indian hemp to their office.
“I can say that there is conspiracy against our business by the enemies who wanted to implicate and extort money from us by bringing drugs into our vehicles. They would then give NDLEA officials on the road information, and those officers would go straight to where the bags are kept.
“There was another incident where the parcel was discovered to be tramadol tablets. The NDLEA officials in Jos followed the bus to the park where the phone number written on the parcel was called, and a woman with a baby came to collect it. She was arrested alongside our driver, conductors and our bus was also impounded. Is it fair to arrest our driver and conductor with the vehicle when the owner of the parcel came up to claim her parcel? We had to spend heavily after our bus was parked for eight days, before they were released by the NDLEA.
“So many companies and their vehicles, drivers and conductors have suffered the same fate. Some of them are GU Okeke Transport Companies, FG Onyenwe Motors, Uchenna Motors, Ifesinachi Motors, Chukwudubem Motors, Goodluck Motors, Osinachi Motors, Ezenwata Motors, Merit Motors and others. Some of these buses are still in detention for offences they did not commit. We have spent millions of naira to bail our drivers, conductors and vehicles on drug-related matters that don’t concern us directly.
“We appeal to the Federal Government to call NDLEA officials on the highways to order to stop harassing our drivers and disrupting our business. We are working together to checkmate drug peddlers in our parks and vehicles. When drugs are detected at the airport by the NDLEA, do they confiscate the aircraft? No, the same thing should be applied to luxury buses.”
National President of ALBON, Prince Emeka Mamah also condemned the incessant arrest of drivers, conductors and vehicles over alleged drug recovery in buses without proper investigation.
“It is unfortunate that criminals devise this means to extort money from us in the quest for quick money. We suffered to bring this business where it is today and we cannot afford to lose it. We are asking government to consider us and collaborate with us to checkmate the menace. For them to be arresting our drivers, conductors and impounds our buses at the same time is unfair.
“The security agents should do their job by conducting proper investigation to know where the conspiracy is coming from in a bid to apprehend the suppliers and buyers of the drugs and prosecute them according to the law of the land.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Izuchukwu Transport Nigeria Limited and the Vice President of ALBON, Mr. Nonso Ugbajiaka commended the taskforce for impounding the bags of Indian hemp, saying that it was a way of helping the NDLEA officials to fight hard drug dealers.
“Due to the cases of the drugs in our buses, we have instructed the chairman of the taskforce to ensure that before any vehicle leaves the park, it must be checked properly to ensure that there is no drug in the bus and any luggage found with drugs should be impounded and handed over to the NDLEA for further investigation.
“We see the cases of suspected drugs in our buses as conspiracy against the transport sector in the country. In the real sense of it, nobody will come to the park to say that he wants to take drugs to the Northern part of the country. I want government and the security agencies to help us to fight this because I see it that some people want to undermined our existence in industry.
“Our experience in the whole thing is that they work with people we don’t know. For instance, our bus may leave Onitsha and it would be intercepted at Yola. And when they open the boot of our bus, they will go straight to where these suspected hard drugs were parked. That shows that it is syndicated information by the conspirators and they will force us to pay millions of naira to release our vehicles. So, we are appealing to NDLEA here to work together so that we have efficient and effective way of checkmating this problem of drugs,” Ugbajiaka stated.
Managing Director, Chidozie Motors and member, Board of Trustee of ALBON, Chief Sebastian Udemba said that their businesses had been grounded due to the suffering meted out to the drivers and conductors on highways.
“I want to appeal to the law enforcement agencies to seize any goods suspected to be hard drug or contraband goods and invite the owner and not arrest our drivers or seize our vehicles because drivers or conductors may not know that such things were inside the vehicle. It is not good to seize a bus when the owner of the goods is known. We are appealing to security agents to arrest the owner of the goods and allow the vehicle to go because the owner of the bus is not aware of such things in the vehicle and no bus owner will allow his vehicle to carry contrabands,” Udemba stated.
The Chairman of G.U Okeke Transport Company Limited, Chief Godwin Okeke and the National Taskforce Chairman of ALBON Chief Joseph Ejiofor wondered while the NDLEA still impounds their vehicles even after they had an agreement to work together to fight and checkmate cases of drugs concealed inside bags in the buses.
“We have been arresting the drug peddlers and handing them over to the officials of NDLEA in Anambra State to show that we had no hand in the business. We met with the officer in charge of Anambra State where we agreed to collaborate to check the menace. He agreed to release our vehicle in case of such discovery and arrest the owner or impound the drug but they still impound our vehicles in the North.
“We call on government to assist us in fighting this conspiracy against our business. The bad roads, armed robbery and kidnapping along the highways affect our business to the extent that some companies could not pay salaries or maintain their buses and now we are being faced with drug matters, a plot to bring our business down,” they stated.
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of NDLEA in Anambra State, Mr. Charles Efosa said the agency has been collaborating with ALBON in the state in sensitising them on the best way to checkmate the hard drugs in their parks and buses.
His words: “We have been working cordially with ALBON because we noticed that the drug peddlers now use their vehicle to transport drugs to various destination. We have been sensitizing them on the best way to checkmate it. We met with them last month on the way forward. I’m not aware of arresting their drivers, conductors and seizing their vehicles. If the owner of parcels suspected to be drugs came to claim it and he is arrested, the driver can only make a statement and continue his journey.
“They are not supposed to detain or seize vehicles when the owner of the luggage or parcel is known. If their allegations are true, which I doubt, we are going to look into them. Then, they should know that ignorance is not an excuse in law. If someone came to send any parcel or luggage, no matter how it is wrapped, they should insist on opening them and checking them properly before leaving the park to avoid such incident.”