By Jonathan Ugbal
Taxi and bus drivers on Tuesday blocked the entrance to the department of public transport (DOPT) office along Leopard Town road in Calabar protesting alleged extortion from them by the government.
The drivers said that they are been harassed by DOPT officials daily in the metropolis who continuously milk them dry under the pretense of fines, levies and penalties.
“You can drive and stop to drop a passenger and the next thing DOPT will start fighting you and ask you to pay money, almost NGN12,000 for wrong parking. In that money, you give them NGN11,500 cash for the wrong parking that there is no signage and an extra five hundred to pump your deflated tire,” Simon, a taxi driver told CrossRiverWatch.
Several others alleged that hoodlums were being recruited by the Special Adviser DOPT, Mr. Emmanuel Mbora to carry out this act.
They also claimed receipts are not being issued after this payments done by hand and not into government revenue accounts which begs the question of legality.
On the issue of the new number coding system, the protesting drivers said they were being made to pay NGN2,500 to DOPT before proceeding to pay another sum to the Unified Drivers Association led by Pastor Thomas Okon which they said is been headed by their lackey to get the number printed on their vehicles.
The new number codes which are inscribed on both sides of commercial vehicles and tricycles plying all streets and roads in the state was introduced in mid July 2018 by the office of the State Security Adviser, Mr. Jude Ngaji as a way of curbing incidents of criminality in the state.
Mr. Ngaji had said that: “It is not an indictment on any of the operators but the introduction of the code is aimed at curbing criminal activities in the state. The codes can be easily remembered by passengers in the event that such a vehicle is used to perpetrate any form of criminal activity.”
He said apart from the security code numbers, each driver or operator in the state is required to fill a form stating his details which include personal particulars, residential address and phone numbers which will be uploaded to a database for easy identification.
The off color taxis, Mr. Ngaji said, will be made to comply with the new directives and will stop operations after 5:00PM while tricycles operational time extended from 6:00PM to 8:00PM upon completion of the exercise.
Revealing that it is a crime for two taxis to have the same security code, Ngaji had disclosed that government will soon set up a taskforce to ensure that all commercial vehicles are coded.
This reporter observed that more than half of the protesting drivers did not have the security code on their vehicles, a situation which Simon, said was to show their frustrations as many had been milked dry already.
But, the placard bearing protesters chanted songs calling on the governor to intervene on the matter and accused those involved of sharp practices.
They claimed that the information been provided to get the security codes was the same one provided for their registration with the Commercial Transport Regulatory Agency (CTRA), popularly referred to as ‘100 Marian’ due to their office address.
“Here is a government that said no tax and yet ticket is increasing daily and the information they are asking for, they have it and why should it cost that much in the first place,” Simon queried.
The protested lasted for less than an hour with a combined team of Police personnel from the Calabar Area Command headquarters, Atakpa division and the state command headquarters swooped in to disperse the protesting drivers and fired two shots in the air.
CrossRiverWatch gathered that the drivers had also blocked the Technical junction to Army junction axis of the Murtala Muhammed highway which is the major entrance into the Calabar metropolis.
The protest comes less than a fortnight after a similar one with drivers expressing anger that Mr. Mbora did not care to address them.
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