Mosunmola Elekuru’s husband was killed as he clambered out of his commercial bus. The hoodlums came at five in the morning to the popular Iwo Road Total ® Motor Park, a large garage where travelers embarking on long interstate and short intra-city trips go to, to board traceable taxis in the ancient historic and once peaceful city of Ibadan.
“Wasiu heard loud footsteps approaching the garage,” she explains, sitting close to an ancient fireplace with a tattered handmade woven fan in her hand which she used to keep the glowing flame rekindled in order to get the local delicacy on fire ready before 6:30am when her first set of customers come calling for their hot breakfast. “As he made it out of his 14-seater bus, he was shot dead.”
Before the bloody Sunday in June, Iwo Road Motor Park has been the battlefield for incessant clashes between the two warring factions of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). As a matter of fact, a faction cannot lay claim to the state’s chairmanship seat without winning the Iwo Road battle. People living, working and walking in the area are therefore aware of the notoriety of the NURTW abode hence they go about their duties with utmost alacrity, staying out of harms way which guarantees their safety. “I believe they would not have attacked him,” she said “My husband does not belong to any faction; he doesn’t look threatening nor frightening. He was frightened hence he raised his hands above his head and we all heard him shouting that he’s not armed yet they shot him. It is not fair. It is injustice and Insha Allah, nemesis which catch up with those responsible for the death of my husband.”
Since the times of the late notable Ibadan politician Lamidi Adedibu, Ibadan, the largest West African city, has been a crisis flash point. At the slightest provocation, the peace of the city is disrupted by daggers drawn drunk members of the state chapter of the NURTW. The leaders of the union are forces to reckon with in politics since they control the largest platoon of cheap mercenaries whose duties include fomenting trouble, tormenting political opponents, disrupting peace, frightening citizens, and snatching ballot boxes. Elections have been won by politicians who partnered with the NURTW, and those who loathed the union in times past, have sad tales to tell. In all, the union has become so powerful and their leaders are highly influential.
The success of April General Elections elsewhere was due to the resourcefulness, diligence and inept transparency of the Jega-led INEC, the story in Oyo state is different – PDP lost because it was unable to have all gladiators in the NURTW on its side. Auxiliary was with PDP, Tokyo was said to be with Accord Party and Sunday Igboho allegedly pitched his tent with the broom revolution.
While democracy is defined as the government of the people… the definition in Oyo state removes the people and replaces it by the bus drivers. However, it’s not that the drivers themselves are the ones enjoying the dividends of democracy, no; it’s the leaders that enjoy the largesse and benevolence from government who ensures the ‘army’ is well equipped with the latest sophisticated arsenals and ever battle ready. The various crises associated with the union took a similar attitude to the “Agbekoya/Wild Wild West”, even as an unrestricted influx of automatic weapons transformed the union’s internal politics into a much more violent undertaking.
Every commercial bus driver plying the Olodo/Iwo Road/Gate/Oje/Bere route paid about three thousand naira daily in union dues apart from money paid for compulsory tickets, hackney permits, union calendars, posters, and Ankara materials chosen by the union leaders to celebrate the chairman’s latest hotel opening ceremony. The fees weren't optional and there are unconfirmed reports that those that once voiced their disagreement with the extortion were assassinated. Hence like Fela rightly sang, suffering and smiling became the order of the day. But the union has had its cup of woes full and has been out rightly proscribed by Governor Abiola Ajimobi. Commercial buses are now fun to ride in considering the fact many commuters and drivers are now loquacious.
“Were ni won (they are mad people),” explained Wasiu Ajani one of such drivers who can now talk with commuters freely behind the wheels. He smiled while reminiscing on the NURTW’s tyrannous rule in Oyo state. “I abandoned driving for farming because of the heartless unions after fighting with my conductor of many years when we couldn’t agree over the money we made that night… I can never forget the night I had to go home with just 150 Naira in my pocket for the day’s work. Shame made me sleep in the garage. A union leader took my conductor’s wife – Ramota, yet he couldn’t do anything about it. He almost killed himself. They reigned like Pharaoh in the Bible, lived above the law and literally emasculated the rest of us.”
Today, however, following the proscription has led to a drastic unprecedented quantum reduction in dues paid from a paltry three thousand naira under NURTW to a whooping trouble-free fifty naira local government due.
By far the most dramatic intervention in Ibadan is the dissolution of some of the NURTW criminal confraternities. Before the proscription, Monatan Motor Park was highly notorious and blessed with hemp-smoking blood red eyed thugs who do nothing but sharpen their daggers and hope for crisis to happen – the only active activity they do. But today, things are changing. Due to the paucity of funds at the disposal of park chairman, “boys” are finding other things to do with their time. While some are taking to crime and other social vices, Adio is learning how to ride a motorcycle.
“I’ve lived my entire life as an agbero. We get our daily bread in the park and we never believed that one day, we’ll leave our lives. Some of my colleagues are using the weapons we got during the last elections to rob but I’ve decided to try my hands on something more productive. I got some money from my brother who is a trader in Lagos. He asked me to join him in his business but since I’ve lived my life in the garage, I don’t see myself doing anything outside transport business. It was difficult for me to convince him but it’s my life to live.” He concluded, started the engine and rode like an amateur.
Adio is not the only Agbero striving for change; some are opening shops while more are now selling recharge cards. However, it’s evident that these individual efforts to get re-integrated back into the sane community are not enough. The government needs to get actively involved.
Several skills acquisition training programs are needed to combat with the thousands of unemployed armed able bodied men some of who are already becoming criminals waylaying unsuspecting citizens. For the executive governor, organizing trainings for them shouldn’t be difficult. His vocational training center in Oke Ado area has trained thousands of youths before he got the mandate. Hence with state resources at his disposal, reforming the garage boys should be the least of his worries unless he allows politics to befuddle his rational judgments.
Since the past few weeks, the NURTW offices in the once dangerous and highly notorious Iwo road Motor Park have been shut and the doors secured with strong silver-colored Hacon® security locks. The familiar hemp stench is gone. Traders like Chidi who were beaten by the garage boys for not coming out to vote for the union’s gubernatorial candidate are heaving sighs of relief. And Mosunmola’s fireplace has expanded since NURTW fear and the wooden barrier that demarcated her fireplace went with the battle that led to the union’s long overdue proscription. “I now have more customers, people were once scared of the thugs now come to eat at my place. I now make more money to feed myself and take care of my children who are now fatherless as a result of the NURTW crisis that has become the trademark of Oyo state in recent times. My prayer is that the temporary peace we now have will become permanent.”