By O’star Eze
Tipper drivers numbering over 500 on Friday laid an over-three-hour siege in front of the Anambra state Government House, Awka. Their grouse was the recent hike in the tax imposed on their members by agents of the government; a 144.3% (N800 to N1,500) hike which they described as insensitive, brutal, extortionate and outrageous.
Orient Daily reporter who monitored the incident, reported that commuters plying the Enugu-Onitsha expressway were held up in traffic as the protesters, under the aegis of Tippers Owners and Drivers Association of Anambra, blocked the two-lane side of the road in front of the Government House with their tipper trucks. It took the intervention of the Secretary to the State Government, Professor Solo Chukwulobelu, to get the protesters to free the expressway even as they threatened to block the road again if their request was not met.
Addressing newsmen in front of the Government House, leader of the protesters, Emma Ezeokafor, said to be in charge of Anambra and Imo chapters of the association, decried alleged extortion and harassment by its past chairman, one Ogechukwu Ndulue, who he alleged was in collusion with government agents. He wondered why an association that contributed a lot to the state revenue would be subjected to such acts by those he referred to as enemies of government.
Ezeokafor disclosed that his association had since dissociated itself from the man, demanding that government should deal directly with them so they would stop remitting through work he called “a contractor.”
He queried: “How can we be paying so much for a trip of about N3,000? We were initially paying N100 to N200 per trip until this extortion started. We know the contribution we make to the state IGR. That’s why you can’t talk about the IGR of the state without tipper drivers.
According to him, the essence of the protest was to draw attention of the government to their plight, insisting they would not vacate the road until their demands were met.
Another member of the group who spoke on the basis of anonymity said that, because of the exorbitant tax, their members found it difficult to fend for their families. He added that the roads leading to the sand quarries still remained unbuilt despite contributing over 30 million naira to government coffers.
He said that the group would be more comfortable if one of their own took charge of collecting the toll alleging that two of their members who were manhandled by agents of the government-appointed collector for refusing to pay the new toll were recuperating in the hospital.
The secretary to the Anambra state government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, had, in his intervention, commended the protesters for their peaceful conduct and appealed to them to clear the highway for the free flow of traffic. He said: “You know this is a federal road. We can’t have any meaningful and fruitful discussions on the highway.
“I request you select some persons among your leadership so we can discuss and find lasting solution to the problem.”
Speaking exclusively to Orient Daily later, Chukwulobelu said that the meeting with the executive members of the drivers association provided platform for the government to listen to their grievances and that government had already initiated efforts to solve the problems that led to the protest.
“Such a problem is not solved in one swoop. The government has listened to the group and has assured them that their issues would be attended to. In areas we agree with them, we will make the necessary adjustments and in areas we do not agree with them, we explain to them why,” he said.
By O’star Eze