By Jude Chinedu, Enugu
Commercial motorcycle operators in Emene-Nkwubor suburb in Enugu East local government area of Enugu state, last Friday, staged public demonstration over alleged serial extortion, intimidation and harassment by some police officials from Enugu state police command.
The protesting Okada riders numbering over 200, claimed that four different police patrol teams storm their loading spots and operation routes, at different periods, extorting about N1200, from them on daily basis.
They said that the police officers involved in this extortion usually impounds the bikes of any defaulter and it would take the sum of N10,000 to bail the motorcycle, if it is taken to the police station, or N5000 for on-the-road settlement.
The protesting Okada Riders, who marched through major streets in Emene, carried placards which read, “Police don kill us o; police are fraudsters”, “We need a change of DPO and say no to police intimidation.”
They called on the governor of Enugu state, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, and the state’s commissioner of police, Suleiman Balarabe, to come to their rescue.
The secretary of the bike operators, Israel Uche, said that the union had agreed to be making a daily payment of N100 to the Emene police division, sometime 2016. He said their members were making the payments under successive Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) when suddenly, another patrol team emerged, adding that they later increased to four teams, and also raised the daily fee to N300 per team.
He said they had struggled to cope with the order for close to two years but the already bad economic conditions in the country has made it impossible for the payment to continue.
“Our grievance is that four police patrol teams from different divisions, including Emene division, Area Command, State CID (Criminal Investigation Department), and that of Rehab Road Unit, have been harassing us, intimidating and extorting various sums of money from us, amounting to N1200 per person, on daily basis.
“Our pain is that after paying the money, we are left with nothing to maintain our bikes and take care of ourselves and families. The Nkwubor road, where we operate, is in very deplorable state and it takes immense skill to ride through it. More so, over 90 percent of us operate the bike on hire purchase basis of N340,000, with N2,000 minimum daily returns to the bike owner, which is difficult to come by.
“Parting with N1200 daily is suffocating, and if you failed to pay, they would impound your motorcycle, telling you that the state government has banned Okada operation and that they are enforcing the order,” he lamented.
Uche also claimed that they had paid a courtesy visit on the current DPO of Emene Police Station in their bid to reduce the charges, shortly after he asumed duties, to familiarise with him, but that all they did not improve the situation.
“When the new DPO (of Emene Police Station) asumed duties, we contributed money, bought an expensive wine and packaged it with an envelope of N40,000 and gave to him.
“We seized the opportunity to notify him about our challenges. He assured us that only one group would be visiting us and that he would direct them to collect only N100 each day from our members; but nothing improved,” he alleged.
Other operators, including Gabriel Nwite, Sunday Eleka, John Uche and Ndubuisi Osulo, among others, who spoke to our correspondent, corroborated their secretary’s allegations, adding that sometimes, the police personnel would slap, kick and handcuff their members for failing to pay the money, for whatever excuse.
They added that the policemen would accuse ‘defaulters’ of any choice offences and impound their bikes. They added that in such situation, it would take N5,000 to stop the bike from being taken to the station, otherwise, it will rise to N10,000 once it gets to Emene police station; or to the residence of one of the police personnel called Emma, who they alleged, used to divert some impounded bikes to his residence, in Emene.
The protesters later marched to the palace of the traditional ruler of Emene, His Royal highness, Igwe Felix Ugwu, who promised to invite the DPO of Emene Police Station for a discussion with the leadership of the bikers.
Meanwhile, right activist and convener, Office of the Citizen, Enugu state, Igboke Onyebuchi, told Orient Daily that he had witnessed, at different instances, when police personnel were extorting N300 each person, from the bike operators, describing their action as very unfortunate development.
According to Onyebuchi, who is also the project manager, Advocacy Partnership for Good Governance, “these are people that we are encouraging to get something doing in order for them to stay off acts of criminality, rather than subjecting them to this kind of situation, they should be supported and encouraged”.
He noted that the claim by the policemen that they were enforcing Okada ban did not hold water, because, Nkwubor road is in very bad shape, the axis where the bikers operate is not part of Enugu metropolis, “and more so, Okada is the only means of transport to and from Nkwubo the area, which is one of the major food baskets of Enugu state.
“I call on the state commissioner of police to intervene and remove the DPO, as the bikers have requested, and as well, discipline all his men that are involved in this, especially the so-called Emma, who has allegedly, criminally turned his house into police confiscation facility,” he urged.