*In the North, we don’t have issues until you get to Abia — Drivers fume
*‘They use hawkers to collect the bribes’
*We’re investigating the allegations, says Naval authorities
By Ugochukwu Alaribe, UMUAHIA
Naval personnel stationed at Owerri-Nta, a boundary town between Abia and Imo states, have detained a bus conveying vegetables to Aba over alleged refusal of the driver to give N4,000 bribe for access into Abia State.
Driver of the bus, Mr. Okezie Okeke, told Vanguard that the problem started when he got to the checkpoint, where he was stopped by naval personnel who demanded N4,000 before he would be allowed to pass the checkpoint.
He stated that he offered a certain amount, but appeals made to the naval personnel to allow him pass the checkpoint were rebuffed.
Okeke lamented that those who convey perishable goods from the North to Aba are being subjected to intimidation and extortion by naval personnel, especially in Abia State and called on the military authorities to call their men to order.
In his words: “I was coming from the North, and didn’t encounter a problem until I got to the Navy checkpoint at Owerri-Nta.
“A hawker told me that the Navy people asked him to collect N4,000 from me. I told him I don’t have money.
“Within a minute, a Naval personnel asked me to park my bus and bring N4,000. There were four of them at the checkpoint.
“I offered them what I can afford, but all my appeals to them to me allow passage were rebuffed.
“This is what the drivers conveying perishable goods have been suffering on the road especially at every military checkpoints in Abia.
“I want the naval authorities to arrest these hawkers at the checkpoint at Owerri-Nta. They are the ones collecting money for the Navy. They report any driver who refuses to pay money to the Navy people.
“It is either you pay or they will park your vehicle. They have detained my bus since Monday afternoon.
“Three days now and the goods are perishable ones; all of them are now damaged.
“You can see the kind of suffering I have been subjected to. I have 112 bags of Okra in the bus and the loss is above a million Naira.”
Union steps in
Okeke disclosed that he and some members of his union had visited the Naval headquarters at Owerri-Nta , which is located a kilometer from the checkpoint, but were not allowed to see the Commandant.
Contacted, Director of Naval Information, Commodore Suleman Dahun, told Vanguard that the leadership of the Nigerian Navy Finance School , Owerri-Nta, has commenced investigation into the allegation of bribery leveled against its personnel.
Dahun disclosed that initial findings was that the driver of the vegetable vehicle had an argument with the naval personnel at the checkpoint and ran away with his two boys and abandoned the vehicle in the middle of the road.
He explained that there were accusations and counter-accusation, hence the setting up of the investigation committee.
The Commodore stated that the Nigerian Navy High Command has zero tolerance for misconduct, stressing that if the personnel are found wanting, appropriate sanctions will be visited on them.
On the status of the abandoned vehicle, he said the Naval School of Finance, Owerri-Nta, had contacted the transport unions in the area to come remove the vehicle and hand it over to the driver.
15 buses of perishable goods in ‘solidarity parking’
However, when Vanguard visited the area, over 15 buses from members of the National Association of Perishable Goods were parked in the area in solidarity with their member.
They threatened to barricade the road if nothing is done to compensate their members whose goods had damaged due to the detention of his bus by the Navy.
“We are tired of the intimidation and extortion from the naval personnel at Owerri-Nta checkpoint.
“They are never satisfied. From the North, you wont have problem until you get to the Navy checkpoint at Owerri-Nta.
“In other checkpoints they accept whatever amount we give. But the Navy will never allow us until we pay N3,000 or N4,000.
“How much goods are we carrying that we will be paying N4,000 at a checkpoint, maintain our vehicles and feed our families?
“We will block the road with our buses if the Navy fails to compensate our member for losing his goods. Enough is enough,” they told Vanguard.