by crossriverwatch admin
When the Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke on the 4th day of October 2011, performed the launching ceremony and passing out parade of a hundred and twenty newly trained operatives of the Department of Public Transportation (D.O.P.T) at the Cultural Center grounds in Calabar, hopes were very high amongst residents that the transport situation in the city centre which was becoming chaotic will be addressed.
The event was to signal the official take off of the State government’s traffic law enforcement plans in a bid to rid the state of reckless road users and introduce a healthy driving culture that will ensure the safety of members of the public.
At the occasion, the governor noted that “the department was set up to provide a service to the people. I urge members of the public to always support their efforts, because a law abiding road user need not fear the D.O.P.T. I advise the new cadets to maintain their current zeal and abstain from unethical behavior in order not to thwart government efforts”.
One year and three months has passed and while it is unarguable that the DOPT has succeeded in considerably ridding the city centre of a reckless driving culture that was becoming entrenched, motorists say this has come at a heavy cost.
Some of the motorists who spoke to crossriverwatch commended the work that the department is doing but complained about the high handed tactics that cadets use to extort money from them. They called on government to intervene and rid the department of bad eggs.
Nsikak Eta, a printer who also uses his vehicle for taxi services told our reporter that “no doubt the DOPT is filling a huge gap in the transport sector. But the challenge is that the men of the department are out also to make money.
“Once you fall into their trap, they use all kinds of strong tactics ranging from threats of physical brutality, detention, arrest and all that to extort money from you. And painfully, these monies only end in their personal pockets because they are usually paid on the scene so no receipts. Government has to find a way of cleaning that mess”.
Mr. Wilson Osim, a hotelier told crossriverwatch that “the fear of DOPT is the beginning of wisdom for Calabar drivers. They are doing a very good work but most of their men are just out to grab money from motorists. They don’t even want the money to get to government coffers. I think they are poorly paid. Once they catch you, they corner you and begin negotiations for bribes so they can free you immediately.
“It is only if you don’t have money to bribe them immediately or you try to prove stubborn that they drag you to their office. That is one painful aspect of the DOPT. Government should please find a way to help us out of the extortion”.
A taxi driver who simply identified himself as Jack Row said “some of the DOPT people, we are their food that they eat. They have turned us to salary. There is a certain amount they must collect from us every day. If we don’t pay, they look for any reason and arrest us. We are calling on Imoke and his people to help us stop them people from collecting our money that we suffer for”.
A crossriverwatch reporter posing as a sympathiser was informed by some of the DOPT cadets that the complaints are true.
One of the cadets said “when they employed one hundred and twenty of us, we were told that our salary will be fifteen thousand Naira. But now we hear that the S.A. said if not for him, the number of cadets would have been reduced. That he helped to see how more of us could be engaged for smaller salary. So he is reducing our money and paying us part of it which is twelve thousand. That if we want our complete money, that means he will reduce our number.
“So we are left with no option than to find how to augment our take home. Twelve thousand Naira cannot do anything for anyone of us but it is better than being idle. So every motor you catch is an opportunity to buy food that day and pay your transport back home”.
Several attempts to speak with the Special Adviser to the governor on Department of Public Transport, Barrister Edem Effiom Ekong, were not successful as his aides repeatedly refused our reporter assess to him.
But the Security Adviser to the governor, Mr. Bassey Rekpene urged motorists who are complaining to come forward and assist the DOPT with evidence that will assist them rid the department of bad eggs.
He told crossriverwatch that “I have heard those complaints too but it has to be authenticated, it has to be empirical. They has to be veracity in the story. If people have this kind of information, why don’t they bring it up and give us good evidence so we deal with it legally. It is not enough for people to make general comments about that. We will frown at anything that is wrong.
“The introduction of DOPT into our transport and traffic system for me is a welcome development but we will not condone excesses. We will not condone anything that is arbitrary. Anyone who knows the governor knows that he doesn’t want any untoward particularly because this is a tourism state. Tourism is the epicentre of the socio economic development here.
“People have a right to complain if they are not happy. But we also will be a lot happier if they can come out with clear evidence to deal with such situations. For example, if we know the individuals that are involved, where, how and when they are doing this, we will get them nabbed! we can get them arrested by the police and prosecuted. So that will be my take on this matter”.