Tanker drivers blockade: Six days of siege on Niger state roads

Travellers and frequent users of roads in and out of Niger state went through unbearable ordeal last week over blockage of the road by tanker drivers. AIDELOJE OJO reports on the experiences.

In the early hours of Thursday last week, two trailers arrived a spot where Minna road enters Bida road and parked inappropriately.
Much later, other colleagues, including Yusuf Ibrahim who was heading to Lagos from Kano immediately positioned their trucks behind each other. Motorists began to hoot their horns asking for way on the Bida – Mokwa – Illorin road only to realise that the road has been effectively blocked against all vehicles.
Blueprint learnt that the truck drivers spontaneously carried out the same action on the Lambata – Lapai – Bida axis, cutting off the Minna – Suleja road. It was learnt that by 2pm that day, the drivers had successfully blocked all entries in and out of Niger state, an action that caught the state and federal governments unawares. Blueprint gathered that the blockade was in protest against Niger state government closure of Minna – Bida road currently under construction against trailers. By the early days of this week, the protest entered the seventh day without the trailers or government shilfting ground. Government, it was learnt, said it cannot be intimidated into opening the Minna – Bida road to trailers while the trailer drivers are insisting that unless the road is opened, there would be no passage.

The trailer drivers’ grouse

It was learnt that one of the major factors that provoked the occupation of the roads by trailers is the bad condition of Truck A roads in the state which have turned to death traps. Checks revealed that about five trailer accidents occur on the Lambata – Lapai – Bida – Mokwa road every week around the dilapidated and bad portions of the road. Yusuf Ibrahim, a tanker driver and one of the protesters corroborated this in an interview with Blueprint. He said that he has been on the road for six days before the protest began.

“I had stayed on this Lambata – Bida road for six days unable to move a kilometre due to the bad condition of the road. I am going to Lagos and I have to take this route because Mokwa – Tegna – Birni Gwari road is now a haven for bandits due to the dilapidated condition of the road.”

He stressed the need for the federal government to urgently fix the Truck A roads in the state.
Apparently counting the loses on day 4 of the protest, Ibrahim said, “It is unfortunate that three of our colleagues have died since we started this blockade while we have also lost over 1000 cows. Most of us are hooked up in locations where they do not have water and food for days”.

He said that the three people and the animals died of hunger as they could not access food in the forest. Also speaking, another protester Kebiru Mohammed insisted that the trailer drivers would not back down from the forceful blockade of the roads until Niger state government opens the Bida – Minna road for heavy trucks.

Government canot be intimidated- Gov Bello
However, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello in a statement issued at the weekend in Minna argued that opening the Bida – Minna road would amount to wasting huge financial investment used in the ongoing reconstruction of the road as the truck drivers would rubbish the work already done on it.
He insisted that his government would not be intimidated by the trailer drivers into allowing them to ply the Minna – Bida road. He however directed the state Ministry of Works and Infrastructural Development to immediately engage the Federal Controller of Works in the state towards finding urgent ways to rehabilitate some of the failed portions of the Lambata-Agaie-Lapai-Bida road.

He said, “Although the tanker drivers have a right to peaceful protest, their action has greatly infringed on the right of other commuters which is very unfortunate. The decision of the drivers to block access to the roads is unlawful and such action would not intimidate the state government into allowing them to use the Minna-Bida road which is a state-owned road.”

Niger secures loan to upgrade Bida–Minna road

While the blockade of the Truck A roads continued, the state government had a cheering news on the Bida – Minna road which the trailer drivers were fighting to capture. The good news was that an Islamic Bank has granted US$86.64 million loan to the state to upgrade the construction of the road. A statement by the chief press secretary (CPS) to the governor disclosed that the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has approved the disbursement of a US$86.64 million loan to the state government for the construction and upgrading of the 82-kilometre Minna-Bida road being handled by Dantata and Sawoe Company.

He said, “The upgrading of the Minna-Bida road project which is already in progress is expected to contribute to the socio-economic development of the state through the establishment of safe, efficient and cost-effective interconnections not only between local government areas in the state, but also among states of the north, south and western parts of the country.”

Tales of woe

A major tactics employed by the protesters was the prevention of vehicular movement in and out of Minna at both Bida and Lambata access routes. Motorists plying the roads were therefore subjected to sufferings of severe consequences.
A taxi driver, Simon Emma, who was caught in the web told Bleuprint that loading passengers for Abuja on September 24, 2021 was the biggest mistake he has ever made in his 12 years of transport industry.

According to him, “I didn’t expect that the trailer drivers would go to the extent of clamping down on our businesses when they know that many of us have to survive on daily basis by plying the road.”

He said that he was forced to sleep inside his car for two nights before he was able to manoeuvre the way out of the quagmire. Also narrating his ordeal, a resident of Minna, Aminu Ibrahim said he missed important appointment in Abuja when he couldn’t meet up due to the blockade of the Minna – Suleja road. According to him, “I left Minna at about 6.30am on Friday last week hoping to meet up an appointment at 10am in Abuja. However, few kilometres from Lambata, I ran into a grid lock which was unusual in that portion of the road. For over four hours, I was glued to the same spot only for me to realise that the trailer driver’s have blocked the road. I was forced to do a u-turn to Minna.”

Truce brokered finally

By evening of Monday, the trailer drivers began to head towards Paiko from the Lambata axis and tension on the road started to ease signaling a truce. Blueprint learnt that the state governments shifted grounds on its earlier stance to allow trailers access Paiko Lapai Road to beat the Lambata – Lapai road considered the worst portion of the Suleja – Bida – Mokwa – Illorin road.

The interim arrangement, it was gathered, is to enable the contractor handling that portion of the road to mobilise back to site on the directives of the minister of works, Babatunde Raji Fashola. However, this portion of the road is not the only part that is calling for the attention of the federal government. Almost all the truck A roads in the state are no longer motorable. Checks revealed that over 70% of federal roads in the state have totally collapsed forcing trailers into state- owned roads. In the process cause destruction with tonnages beyond capacity of such roads.

The Mokwa – Bokani – Tegina – Birni Gwari – Kaduna road also deserve urgent attention of the federal government. Speaking in an Interview with Blueprint, a Kagara- based businessman, Aliyu Usman lamented that government has abandoned the construction of the road more than five years after awarding its contract. He explained that the bad condition of the road is responsible for the incessant banditry attacks on the highway .
“If government repairs that road, the problem of banditry would be solved because the gunmen always strike around the bad portions of the road.”

However, many residents of Minna and the state in general would not be in haste to forget their experiences during the six day of siege. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the truck drivers would be embarking on this type of action. In 2019, the truck drivers protested the closure of Bida – Minna road when the construction of the road began. However, it was learnt that the trucks quickly destroyed whatever work was done on the road by the firm handling that project. This it was gathered, was responsible for the restrictions on the trailers which has again triggered a second protest within two years.

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