The crisis rocking tipper drivers union in Anambra state is assuming a worrisome dimension following the death of two persons as OKECHUKWU ONUEGBU reports.
At least two persons have been reportedly killed with several others injured while more went into hiding as two factional groups laying claims to the leadership seat of tipper drivers union battled to control N500 welfare levies in Anambra state.The two victims, Nwa Mazi and Mr Sunday Anaekwe allegedly died somewhere at Ogbaru local government area on February 3 following a feud between Anambra State Tippers Association (ASTA) and the Great Tipper Drivers Association/ANIMO.
Genesis of the problem
ASTA, it was learnt, is recognised by Governor Willie Obiano’s administration as duly mandated to collect revenue from tipper drivers while the Great Tipper Drivers Association/ANIMO Tippers union insisted it would never pay to them.The secretary general, Great Tipper Drivers and ANIMO, Mr Jerry Ifejika, who said his group did not and would never recognise ASTA accused some political aides in the state government employment of instigating the crisis among them.According to him, trouble started when the state commissioner for transport, Mr Afam Mbanefo, inaugurated the ASTA leadership led by Mr Augustine Akaigwe.“We refused to belong to that group. Nigerian constitution has a provision for freedom of association. We refused and told them to operate individually and let us be. “The state government under Obiano said we should be paying N700 per trip for a small moto, N1,400 for double tyres per a trip and N2,000 per a trip to 10 tyres. “The worst is that those the state government charged to be collecting the levies are not tipper drivers. We begged them to reduce the pay or allow us to be collecting the revenue and pay back to the government, but they refused. “We sued them to a Federal High Court and won. They did not appeal and had been using thugs to terrorise us,” he told Blueprint.He recalled that they (the drivers) during the tenure of former Governor Peter Obi used to pay N200 and N100 respectively to the state government daily as revenue for small and big tillers only for Governor Obiano’s administration to skyrocket the levy as well as making it per a trip.The crisis, Blueprint recalled, was why the Great Tipper Drivers Association on several occasions blocked the federal roads including the Bridge Head, Onistha, Awka and others since three years ago, protesting government’s refusal to revert the imposition of levies and leadership on them. However, as if the revenue was not enough, ASTA allegedly insisted that they would be collecting the N500 drivers welfare levy too, an initiative great Tipper Drivers Association kicked against.“The N500 drivers welfare is mainly for our members. It is not what the politicians or anyone can collect on our behalf. We used the money to carter for our colleagues and their families especially when they are sick or needed other kinds of assistance. When we told them to collect welfare of their members only and leave ours they refused. From there on, some of their members started threatening my life and that of my chairman, Ebuka. “That is why I am into hiding outside Anambra state. I was told that the late Sunday and others had been terroring our members based at Onitsha with guns. I was told that he had gone to attack some of our members where they were having meetings at Nanka sometimes ago. It was when he went to attack some of our members for not paying the N500 I learnt he died in the process,” he alleged.He therefore called on Governor Obiano to intervene on the matter with a view to bringing about a lasting peace.But the chairman of Anambra State Tippers Association (ASTA), Mr Prime Augustine Akaigwe, alleged that it was the faction that actually attacked his members. Akaigwe also alleged that the deceased were their (ASTA) members and were killed while performing their legitimate duties.“We have told them to stop collecting the N500 from members. But they refused. What they do is that they entered into agreement with some sand miners and were collecting and sharing the money among themselves. We have gone to court and obtained injunction to stop them. They refused to obey the order. We have reported the matter to the Police CID too so that they can help us investigate and bring the killers of our members to book,” he added.
On his part, a governor’s aide and member of ASTA, Mr Stanley Nkwoka, explained that his association was formed to bring the over 20 tipper drivers union under one body for harmonisation but according to him, only the Great Tipper Drivers and ANIMO refused to join the association and were rather instigating crisis.
The Anambra State police command through the police public relations officer (PPRO), CSP Haruna Muhammed, who confirmed the killings of two people over the crisis, explained that one other person was injured and currently receiving medical attention, while investigation continues to unravel the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
No ulterior motive- Commissioner
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But the state commissioner for transportation, Mr Afam Mbanefo, while reacting to the development through Mr Emeka Ilozor, a public relations officer of the ministry, explained that the government has no interest on the tipper drivers welfare levy.The commissioner added that the ministry upon discovering that there were over 18 associations of tippers in the state decided to invite them for harmonisation so as to bring them under one body for easy management.”Government has no interest in the money meant for welfare of tipper associations. The ministry’s interest is to have all the unions under one umbrella instead of having multplicity of associations. We only recognised ASTA for the purpose of unity and to know who are in charge of the tippers. The welfare of the tipper is their personal issues. It is not the business of government to determine how association’s welfare is managed. However, government is working to make sure things are better and battle stops,” he said.