By Ugochukwu Alaribe, Aba
FOR motorists in Aba, Abia State, the fear of revenue touts is the beginning of wisdom. Along major roads of the city, from Flyover to Osisioma Ngwa junctions on the Enugu –Port Harcourt expressway to the Aba-Owerri Road, Factory Road to Bata Junction to Ikot Ekpene Road as well as old Aba-Umuahia Road, no week passes without accidents and loss of lives as the revenue touts chase after drivers and try to seize their vehicles from them.
This is despite the state government banning touting in the state. The revenue touts have continued to unleash terror on motorists under the guise of collecting one revenue or the other. No part of the city, including areas with bad roads, is exempted from the menace of these revenue touts.
Vanguard Metro investigations revealed that the revenue touts hire unmarked buses to chase after trucks, buses, tricycles and cars along major roads of the city, including the Enugu –Port Harcourt expressway. Some of the revenues being collected by the touts include for emblems of various categories of vehicles, daily tolls, infrastructure levies, operating permit, ASPIMS manifest, among others.
Unholy activities of some revenue touts
On March 15, 2017, a 20-year-old girl was crushed to death by a truck as the driver struggled for control with a group of touts at the Factory Road railway crossing in Aba. The road has become notorious for the unholy activities of some revenue touts who are always stationed there. Indeed, several accidents have occurred in the area as a result of the activities of revenue touts.
Eyewitnesses told VM that the touts were trying to impound the truck conveying empty bottles when it rammed into the girl as she alighted from a commercial bus. The articulated truck with registration number: Lagos EKY 724 XC was coming from the Aba -Owerri road end as the touts, some who are usually stationed at the railway crossing, jumped into his vehicle, struggling for control.
As soon as the truck crushed the girl and spilling its content on the road, causing heavy gridlock, the touts fled the area. One of the touts who was later arrested by a mob was almost beaten to death but for the timely intervention of a Police patrol team.
An eyewitness said: “We saw the truck coming towards this side of the road on top speed and when it got closer, we discovered that the driver was struggling with one of the touts. Within seconds, the truck skidded off the road and hit the girl as she alighted from a commercial bus. The truck crushed her legs and hit another lady who was standing some distance away. The girl lost so much blood. It is a pity that she died as a result of the wickedness of other people.” VM observed that despite the tragedy, the touts returned to the area two days after the incident.
On April 21, 2017, revenue touts caused another accident at the Ogbor Hill waterside bridge where a bus they were pursuing rammed into a Mack truck, broke the rails of the bridge and landed in the river bank. One person died, several others were injured while a tricycle and a car were damaged beyond repairs. As usual, the revenue touts fled the area as soon as the accident occurred.
In an interview with VM, proprietor of Transport Company in the city, Chief Tony Ezeibe, blamed the menace of revenue touts on the authorities of various local government areas in the city who constituted taskforce teams to collect revenue for their councils. He stated that some of these revenue touts are always high on drugs and other substance which induce them to behave wildly and urged the state government to enforce the ban on touts. He added that they have continued to cast the state in bad light as they usually extort money and beat up motorists who refuse to pay them.
In a renewed call to draw the attention of the state government to the problem, the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, had urged Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to check the activities of touts who pose as revenue agents at the railway crossing along Factory Road, Aba.
The group insisted that the call had become necessary as the touts have caused the untimely death of several persons in the area, including a student.
Briefing journalists in Aba, Chairman of CLO, Aba Unit, Prof. Charles Chinekezi, said that the group is worried by the nonchalant attitude of the state government towards tackling the menace of touts who pose as revenue agents to molest and defraud people along major roads in Aba.
“As a foremost civil rights group, CLO is worried at the activities of touts who pose as revenue agents to attack unsuspecting motorists at the Factory Road railway crossing and other spots in Aba.
Assorted levies from motorists
“They demand assorted levies from motorists as they claim to be working for the government. The touts have continued to attack motorists on the steering wheel in a bid to extort money leading to multiple accidents in the area.
“From Osisoma Ngwa junction to Bata junction, you can see these touts chasing after motorists. A few weeks ago, a school girl who just alighted from a bus was killed by a truck driver as he struggled for control with the touts. Before then, no week passes without incidents of revenue touts causing one road mishap or the other in the city.”
CLO lamented that the touts escape as soon as they cause accident and resume within few days to continue with their evil trade without any fear of arrest.
“We are using this medium to draw the attention of the Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, to direct security agencies to stop this brazen crime being perpetrated by these outlaws who have continued to cast the state government in bad light.
There is no doubt that the revenue these touts collect from motorists end up in private pockets. The governor needs to investigate the activities of these revenue touts and ascertain if they are truly working for the government.”
Reacting to the conduct of touts engaged by revenue contractors during an assessment visit to the scene of an auto crash allegedly caused by revenue touts at the Ogbor Hill waterside bridge, Gov. Ikpeazu had frowned at the molestation of citizens and motorists by touts and vowed to punish those behind the menace.
To underscore the serious of the government towards addressing the problem, Ikpeazu set up a panel of inquiry headed by the Attorney General of the State, Chief Umeh Kalu; Commissioner of Police, Mr. Leye Oyebade; Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Chief Charles Ogbonnaya; Eze Love Wogu and a representative of Department of State Service ,DSS, to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the incident at Ogbor Hill bridge Aba that claimed a life as a result of activities of revenue touts.
He assured that those responsible would be brought to book, noting that: “The drive for flying revenue in Abia State can’t be equated with the life of any Abian. I will rather do away with flying revenue to ensure the safety of life of Abians and residents.”
The governor urged those responsible for revenue collection in the state to devise better means of carrying out their duties or risk losing their jobs.