By Bose Adebayo
It was supposed to be aÂ noble initiative to bring sanity to the state chapter of the Three-wheeler Association (Marwa operators), a branch of the Nigerian Road Transport Workers, NURTW but it ended up in a fracas. And at the end of hostilities property worth thousands of naira had been destroyed and no fewer than 10 persons sustaining varying degrees of injury.
The five days the violent face-off lasted paralysed commercial and vehicular activities at the ever-busyÂ Cele Expressway. But for the timely intervention of some police men, many commuters at this popular bus-stop who were caught in the cross-fire of the factional clash would have suffered serious injuries or even worse.
Problem started on December 30, 2009 when a new set of executive members were elected for the Three-wheeler Association but Vanguard Metro gathered the election was in favour of one Mr. Buhari Moses of Isolo Ejigbo branch who contested against Alhaji Akeem Ahmed of Agege branch.
Not satisfied with the outcome of the election, some members of the state chapter of NURTW decided to take over the affairs of the Three-wheeler Association at their respective branches pending the time the case would be properly looked into by those at the helm of affairs.
Vanguard Metro was informed that having done that for two weeks, an order was issued on Saturday recallingÂ the NURTW membersÂ since the issue at the state level had been amicably settled. But rather than obey this directive, these members mobilised and armed themselves with various weapons and threatened to unleash terror on anyone who daredÂ toÂ stop their activities. They subsequentlyÂ laid siege at different parts of the Cele Expressway.
Their mission was to forcefully compelÂ every three-wheeler operator at this bus-stop to pay a sum of N500 without a receipt before they could operate in the area. Marwa operators who refused to comply were subjected to different kinds of torture after being dispossessed of handsets, wrist watches, jewelleries, cash and any other items.
Street urchins popularly called Area Boys soon joined the fray by alsoÂ extorting money from the Three-wheeler members and traders at Church Bus-stop.
When Vanguard Metro visited the scene on Tuesday, broken bottles and dangerous weapons were seen at specific locations. Meanwhile many Marwa operators have gone into hiding as a result of the terror unleashed on them by the NURTW members.
Property such as television sets, DVD players, standing fans, plastic chairs, refrigerators, wall clocks, a sum of N50, 000 and several other items were allegedly carted away at two different offices of the Three-wheeler Association who preferred not to take the law into their hands but reported the incident at Okota Police Station.Â Area Boys soon took advantage of the situation to extort money from innocent traders who could not close their shops before taking to their heels.
Some of those who spoke with this reporter said most of the union members were from Orile branch who protested that their candidate popularly called â€˜Bolaji Eni Ororoâ€™ did not win the election.
When Vanguard Metro visited the two associations, there was little or noÂ operation going on at the four sections belonging to the three wheelers, namelyÂ Cele-Ago, Oke-afa, Ilasa and Ijesha. Instead jubilant members of the NURTW were seen celebrating wildly with paraga (local gin). Also evident were blood stains at the Oke Afa and Ago offices of the Three-wheeler operators, a clear indication of the brutality visited on the hapless NURTW members.
Divisional Police Officer of Okota police Station was not on seat when Vanguard Metro visited the station, but the Divisional Crime Officer, DSP Ekpata Daniel referred this reporter to the Commissioner of Police.
â€œThe problem came from the state but the union members did not want to leave because they make a lot of money which they donâ€™t remit to the state level,â€ a vendor who pleaded anonymity said.
Isolo Area Chairman of the Three wheelers Association, Mr. Taofeek Azees pleaded for government support to restore sanity to the area. â€œGovernment should come to our aid; it is not that we cannot retaliate but we do not want to take the law into our hands. Our members are law abiding citizens and most of them are graduates who decided to join the association to de congest the labour market,â€ he said.
â€œMembers ofÂ Three wheelers are well behaved. The crisis would have been more than this if they had retaliated but the NURTW members are lovers of violence,â€ a hawker who simply gave her name as Rasidat said.