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Protesting bus drivers, revenue collectors clash in Onitsha over alleged incessant extortion

There was pandemonium in Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra State on Tuesday, as commercial transport operators clashed with touts and other illegal revenue collectors in the state.

The bus drivers, in a bid to register their grievances, protested and blocked the ever-busy Onitsha end of the River Niger bridge, thereby preventing the inflow and outflow of vehicular movements on the road.

Nigerian Tribune gathered that the aggrieved protesters claimed that blocking the highway is the only way to express their dissatisfaction over alleged incessant extortion by touts, illegal revenue agents and lack of motor parks, since the state government has continued to turn deaf ears to their plight.

The situation made commuters and pedestrians to trek long distances to their various destinations while other vehicle owners made use of inner roads. People also ran helter-skelter in a bid to avoid being attacked by the aggrieved protesters some of whom resorted to violence.

The protesters had some confrontations with the revenue agents but the quick intervention of the security operatives prevented it from snowballing into heavy fracas.

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Speaking to journalists, the spokesperson for the group, Ugwoke Onyemaechi, accused the Anambra State Government of not providing motor parks for them which resulted in the illegal revenue collectors forcefully collecting money from them whenever they pull up in any bus-stop to load or off-load passengers.

Onyemaechi said they embarked on the protest to draw the attention of the state governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo for him to feel the impact of what they are going through in the hands of the touts and come to their rescue.

He pointed out that they have been paying the agreed levy, but the government did not create designated parks for those who ply to and from Onitsha, along the Onitsha/Asaba/Enugu expressway.

He said: “How can these touts continue to extort us after paying the agreed levy to the state government? At any bus stop we pull up, they will rush to us and say we are not supposed to park there, and forcefully collect thousands from us.

“Some of us who refuse to pay will be beaten black and blue for daring them, and that is why we protest for the government to provide motor parks for us since we can’t pull up to pick or drop passengers at the bus stop. We will continue the protest if nothing is done today to stop the touts and parks provided for us.”

A driver who pleaded anonymity said that they are being extorted on an hourly basis in the name of checkmating the illegal activities of commercial bus drivers.

“How can touts checkmate our activities? Some of them are there on behalf of some government functionaries and make returns to them daily. There is a problem in this state and I don’t know if Governor Soludo is being properly informed of what is happening in the transport sector in the state. He should not be there giving orders without physically coming out to ask us questions,” he said.

A local vigilante operative who did not identify himself said the vigilante group was sent to stop the protesters, but they could not do anything because of the intimidating number of the protesting bus drivers.

“They are not supposed to block the Niger bridge as they protest because you have travellers from other parts of the country who will ply to and from Onitsha. We, security operatives left them with their protest to avoid a bloody clash,” he said.

The protest which lasted about two hours, resulted in long queues as the gridlock caused was severe such that occupants of some vehicles who could not withstand the situation, came out from their vehicles and started trekking.

The state police spokesman, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, while reacting, said the situation is under control as security operatives deployed in the area have restored normally.

“The situation is under control now. We don’t know the reason they are protesting but our men were quickly deployed in the area to restore normalcy and prevent a breakdown of law and order and patrol is still ongoing in the area, people should go about their normal businesses,” Ikenga added.

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