By Albert Akpor, Evelyn Usman, Bose Adebayo & Ifeanyi Okolie

LAGOS — The lingering crisis between factions of National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Lagos State, which has caused the death of no fewer than seven persons, is taking a turn for the worse.

This time, the enraged members of the warring parties have continued to terrorise other members of the union. In fact, the fracas has spread to many parts of the state, leading to attacks on innocent people, unsuspecting motorists and passers-by.

So far, many have been injured while property worth millions of naira have been lost and looted.

Principal actors suspended

Following this development, the national body of the union has suspended the principal actors in the ongoing violence in Lagos. They are Rafiu Olohunwa and Musliu Oluomo.

Loyalists to the principal actors have been at loggerheads over ownership of some motor parks in Lagos, a development that threw residents of Iyana-Ipaja and Adeniji Adele areas of Lagos into panic.

Although teams of Mobile and conventional policemen were able to quell the situation on Monday, the warring factions reportedly engaged themselves in a fight, which left two persons dead, yesterday.

Protesting NURTW members in Lagos.

At 3.30pm, yesterday, the lifeless body of a suspected member of one of the factions, identified simply as Tunde, was still lying at Adeniji Adele junction.

Eyewitnesses told Vanguard that one of the deceased, identified as Demola Akintunde, was hit by stray bullets during the feud at about 5 a.m.

The deceased, who resides at Ojuolokun Street, was reportedly coming from the mosque when tragedy struck.

When Vanguard visited the area, many shops were still locked with owners on the alert. Vehicles also avoided the troubled zone. There was also low turn out in both primary and secondary schools around the area, as pupils and students remained indoors.

It was against this backdrop that the union’s national body reportedly summoned the principal actors to Abuja, yesterday, where they were suspended.

A source at the meeting, said to have taken over three hours, told Vanguard that the suspension was aimed at bringing a lasting solution to the ongoing feud.

Warning

It was also gathered that the national body had warned that whoever fought on behalf of either of the suspended factional leaders was on his own as they would be handed over to the police for prosecution.

Genesis of crisis

However, investigations showed that the crisis, which is linked to the forthcoming state chairmanship election of the union, may be far from over. It was gathered that a top notch of the union, who is said to be a candidate contesting for the post and had planned to emerge as the winner unopposed, might have been behind some violent clashes ravaging parts of the state.

The fracas started in major parts of the state after last Thursday’s pronouncement by the National President of the NURTW, Alhaji Nasiru Yasiu, after a closed-door meeting with five contestants at the union’s Abule-Egba office, that the state election would hold since the contestants could not present a consensus candidate.

The pronouncement was soon greeted with controversy, as supporters of the candidate who failed to emerge unopposed, started spoiling for war. It took the intervention of armed policemen, who arrested over six persons, including a candidate for the post of deputy chairman with two double barrel guns, to restore calm in the area.

The controversy also spiraled to Lagos Island, where Alhaji Ola-Shehu Ekeniojuoti, was shot dead in Obalende by gunmen suspected to be supporters of the unfavored chairmanship candidate.

Areas affected

Areas affected during the crisis includes, the union’s secretariat at Super Bus Stop, two other motor parks in Abule-Egba area, Obalende, Orile-Iganmu, Lawanson and Lagos Island.

Unfortunately, the crisis at the Lagos Island has taken a more violent dimension since it broke out Sunday night leading to the destruction of more than 30 vehicles, while several persons sustained injuries as warring hoodlums engaged themselves in a free-for-all.

Banks and commercial activities were grounded completely for the better part of Monday and yesterday. Banks at the Adeniji Adele area in Lagos Island, where the clash started after a group of hoodlums said to be loyal to an embattled contestants who failed to emerge unopposed, attacked a motor park at Olabanji Junction to take over the park from it controller.

The attempt was greeted with stiff resistance from operators of the park, which is a unit under Kakawa Branch of the state union. Dangerous weapons, including guns, matches and broken bottles were used freely by both factions.

Victims’ accounts

Motorists heading into Adeniji-Adele from Third Mainland bridge were not only harassed but many of their vehicles were destroyed. A commercial bus operator, Olajide Ayedun, whose vehicle was badly damaged told Vanguard that it took the intervention of policemen to restore normalcy. He called on the state governor to intervene in the crisis and prevent it from escalating.

Ayedun said: “The situation was terrible. It was like a war. I was forced to flee the scene when they unleashed mayhem in the area and started destroying vehicles. It was as if my vehicle and others along the road offended them. They attacked this park around 6 a.m, when I arrived for work.

“Operators of the park repelled their attack and violence ensued before the police arrived and calmed the situation. But from the look of things, the fight is far from over because all the parties are still ready for war.

Also the state government needs to step into the crisis and prevent further loss of lives and property.”

An official of the Kakawa Branch of the union in Lagos State, Babatunde Alade, alleged that a former state Chairman of the union (names withheld) was behind the crisis raging in the state union.

The official said: “He is the face behind the crisis rocking the state at the moment and if he is not stopped, the crisis will get out of hand. He had plans to emerge as the union chairman unopposed but currently there are many others vying for the same office. In fact, the state is divided into two with supports from different factions. That is why he doesn’t want an election where he could test his popularity with members of the union.

“He has been busy with his supporters going about fomenting trouble everywhere. The election is due in two weeks time but they are obviously impatient. They are practically trying to root out all the people opposed to them.

“After the meeting at Iyana-Ipaja, his supporters in the Island attacked and killed one of our own, Alhaji Ola-Shehu Ekeniojuoti, at Ebute-Ero. When we learnt of it, we took his corpse to the state police command in Ikeja and showed it to the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of operations, Tunde Shobulo. He addressed us and asked us not to take the laws into our hands and that we should take the corpse for burial which we did quietly.”

“But few days later, the leader of the other faction sent his supporters after us again and they came to take over our park. They came at night on Sunday, destroyed several vehicles unchallenged and the equally returned on Monday. That was when the situation went out of hand.”

Responding to yesterday’s bloody clashes, the former state chairman of NURTW, Olohunwa, denied the allegation that his supporters were the masterminds. Speaking through his second personal assistant, Mumuni, Olohunwa claimed that many of his supporters were injured by supporters of his opponents who were hauling stones and missiles at him.

He said: “After the meeting, Alhaji Olohunwa came outside the secretariat. Supporters of the other contestants were shouting Ole, ole, (thief, thief) and they were throwing stones and missiles at him at the Abule-Egba Secretariat. In order to protect him, Olohunwa’s supporters formed a human shield around him to enable him get out of the troubled area in one piece.” Olohunwa’s PA said the police are in a better position to know who fired the shot that killed Ola- Shehu because they were on the ground and they prevented people from moving near the NURTW state secretariat.

Contacted, the union’s Deputy Secretary, Lagos Council, Mr. Paul Ogini, confirmed the invitation of the actors to Abuja, claiming however, to be unaware of a reprisal attack yesterday morning.

Although eyewitnesses put the number of those who lost their lives in the fracas at 10, Lagos State Police Command maintained that only two persons died.

Spokesman for the command, Mr. Joseph Jaiyeoba when contacted, said four persons have so far been arrested, informing that policemen had condoned off the entire area.

Meanwhile, following the spread of violence by the warring factions, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Yakubu Alkali has directed the Deputy Commissioner of Police in-charge of operations in the state, Tunde Sobulo to relocate to Lagos Island and flush out anybody perpetrating violence in the area and restore peace and normalcy. Based on this, battle-ready policemen have been posted to strategic areas in the Island, while armoured personnel carriers, APCs, have been patrolling the zones.

 

 

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