The bane of trade unions in Nigeria and the fundamental issue with economic growth and development in Nigeria is lack of enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Again, the Spectre of overbearing attitude of a structure of strangulation by both legitimate and illegitimate taxation has continued to stunt these businesses. All these have equally created an atmosphere that breeds lack of accountability, transparency, adherence to procurement procedure and due process.
Summarising this abberration into a practical state of fraud has become prevalent in the Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria (TOAN); the Anambra state branch in particular where an amalgam of these socio- economic abberrations have become the order of the day. To perpetuate this strangulating self imposed, Mafia style regulation calls for an advocacy to redeem and retrieve the TOAN from this gestapo style extortion.
In specific terms, this business platform which has provided the youth of Anambra state over 70% employment opportunity has become a source of frustration to the same young people who are involved in the tricycle business in Anambra state. A particular case is that of Nduka Obiora whose livelihood and life have been threatened by this consistent and sustained extortions from the excos and their thugs. Lamentating his situation, Obiora says over taxation and lack of consideration for TOAN riders have narrowed their source of livelihood and has rendered them to a state of penury.
“I can no longer feed my family and send my children to school because of several several levies imposed on us by the TOAN excos and Government appointed motor park coordinators who have employed the use of thugs to coerce us into payment.”
For record purpose, the Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria is an affiliate of Trade Union Congress ( TUC) with Augustine Apeh as national chairman and Sylvester Obiora as the Anambra State Chairman. The union, from the state level is structured into branches at the Local Governments and Units which are under the branches. Elected executive members are to run the affairs of the union at all levels. This means that the Association is well structured in line with democratic principles which includes having and adhering to a constitution, conducting periodical elections, proper accountability, etc. It is not a department of State but of course , a union to protect the interests of legitimate owners of tricycle business and not for thugs and cult boys.
The following questions and concerns of members therefore, beg for answers and attention.
Does the organization have a written constitution? If it has, the members need to see it.
Were there elections into executive positions of the branches and units anywhere in Anambra state? If there were, when and where were these elections conducted?
Is the union only for Tricycle Owners or riders as well? Note that some State chapters have changed their name to accommodate this issue. For example, what we have in Ogun State is RIDERS AND OWNERS OF TRICYCLE ORGANIZATION ( ROTO).
How much is generated by the various branches monthly and how much goes to the Government as IGR?
What is the official bank details of the organization? Can the transaction details be displayed for accountability purpose?
Who are the true branch and units chairmen in Anambra State? Can we see the list?
These few questions, answered satisfactory will chart a new course for the union.
To worsen the situation, there isn’t any explanation or certainty as to whether or not the multiple taxation by this self- styled mafia exco get to the government of Anambra state accordingly. Again, one can discern this corrupt practice from the decadent and obscene display of affluence and flamboyance by individuals who are supposed to manage the affairs of the union. Glaringly, this is evident in some of the properties and exotic display of cars, houses and other apparels of wealth of the excos at the expense of their members. This sorry State of affairs have left the ordinary members of the union to their fate. It has equally rendered the well meaning citizens of Anambra State who are contributing significantly to the economy of Anambra in a state of absolute helplessness. A tricycle rider from Awka North who prefers to remain anonymous due to obvious reasons bewailed:
” There is too much illegality in this Anambra State Keke union. Now let us look at this. How can a commissioner of transport in a state appoint branch chairmen of TOAN? Awkuzu branch, Dunukofia branch and Onitsha branch knows what I am saying. This person has been moved from Commissioner for transport to commissioner for commerce and industry, yet his boys are still there controlling these branches with impunity. Our State chairman is an educated somebody but he chose to use thugs to molest us. The levy collected from Keke riders in Anambra state daily is up to 3 million. This has been collected for years without account. If you complain they will use cult boys to deal with you; even kill you. The same thing is happening in Awka South. Even Onitsha down to Abagana. Everywhere in Anambra State. Blood shed everywhere. See them…they don’t ride Keke any longer. They now drive Lexus Jeep. They have buildings in the same place with high class people like the House of Assembly Speaker. I won’t mention any name but they know themselves.”
There have been several attempts to draw the attention of anti-graft agencies like EFCC and ICPC to these activities yet, this corruption of monumental scale have continued to have its way, due to the overbearing influence of this gang of extortionists. Obviously, they are using their stolen wealth to buy protection from the long arm of the law. Several attempts also, to draw attention of the Anambra State Government to this unfortunate incident through the media and petitions have largely met with resounding deaf ears and silence. Governor Willy Obiano holds the union in high esteem. He has severally granted tax holidays to the members in recognition of their immense contribution to the economy of Anambra State (even though the excos went ahead to extort in the name of levies.) The Governor, through the ministry of transport gave the Union palliatives during the Covid 19 pandemic. But where did these items end? Your guess is as good as mine.
We therefore call on the Governor of Anambra State, His Excellency Willy Obiano, the Governor elect, Prof. Charles Soludo, Trade Union Congress (TUC), TOAN national and even Dr. Chris Ngige, a one time Governor of Anambra State and now Minister for Labour and employment, relevant agencies of Government and other regulatory agencies to as a matter of urgency beam their searchlight into these corrupt practices before they totally escalate into an economic quagmire for the state and the transport sector in general.
Samuel Achegbulu is a journalist and public analyst