On June 16, 2021, what had begun as a peaceful day turned bloody when the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, Southwest Nigeria, had a fracas with phone sellers at the popular Iwo-Road.
The clash led to the death of two phone sellers.
NURTW officials are often referred to as Agberos. The word Agbero loosely means “to usher passengers” but it has now become a synonym for thuggery. They are typically at bus stops and motor parks, and sometimes in front of shops and construction sites, demanding money illegally.
Those at bus stops and parking lots are often employees of the NURTW, an association that collects tolls, by a variety of means, from all public transporters. The NURTW leadership makes millions from collecting transport taxes from drivers of commercial buses, tricycles, and motorcycles.
The luxury attached to holding key positions like chairman of a park or executive member at the state level is always the reason for their repeated clashes. They have a strong history in Ibadan, Southwest’s largest city, especially between 2003 and 2011.
The agberos dominated Iwo Road, Ojoo, and Olomi area. Sadly, apart from killing their members, some innocent citizens were not spared. Lives and limbs were lost.
“To change the leadership of the union, there must be bloodshed,” Sikiru Akinola, a resident and journalist in Ibadan, told HumAngle.
He recalled how over 10 people, including President of the Nigerian Medical Students, were killed after two factions of the union embroiled in leadership tussle, wielded dangerous weapons freely in 2011.
The union was then proscribed by late Governor Isiaka Ajimobi as some of the leaders fingered in the crisis served jail terms. One of them is Isiaka Lamidi aka Auxiliary.
Return of Auxiliary
Governor Seyi Makinde shocked many residents of the state in 2019 when he reappointed Auxiliary as leader of Oyo road transport workers under the banner of Park Management System (PMS). After eight years of peace, the Agberos were back with their weapons causing mayhem in Ibadan.
Three people were killed and many others injured in February when the park managers had a leadership crisis. Also, six persons were reportedly killed in a gang war in June, forcing angry youths to march to the Government House, Agodi Gate, and the governor’s office carrying the remains of a victim killed in the violence.
The youths vowed not to leave unless they met with the governor to brief him on what transpired and the involvement of the Auxiliary-led park management in repeated mayhem in the capital city. Unfortunately, Governor Makinde did not attend to them.
The development in Oyo, according to public affairs analysts, shows the government’s tolerance to the activities of the thugs.
“We have known no peace since the return of the road transport workers union in 2019. It is one week, one trouble. Those who live on Ibadan Island are not spared. At one point, it was Auxiliary versus Olopoeyan. At another time, it was him and Sunday Igboho. It seems Makinde needs Auxiliary for something many of us don’t know, and may never know,” Sikiru added.
A food seller who spoke to HumAngle under anonymity at Iwo-road said “security of lives and properties should be the priority of the government. The agebros are making life difficult for everyone. Aside from forcefully demanding money from micra drivers and commercial motorcyclists, they fight without notice. We used to abandon our markets most times and run for safety.”
HumAngle reached out to Makinde’s spokesperson, Taiwo Adisa, on government silence on NURTW activities but he did not respond to calls and text messages.
Terror in Lagos
Commercial bus and cab drivers who spoke to HumAngle argued that the road transport unions are backed by dirty politics and corruption, citing Musiliu Ayinde Akinsanya (MC Oluomo) led NURTW as a case study.
MC Oluomo is a card carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) in Lagos, and has on many occasions, been accused of abetting violence in the state.
HumAngle recalled that hell was let loose at the APC campaign flag-off in 2019 at Skypower Grounds, beside the Archbishop Vining Church on Oba Akinjobi Way in GRA Ikeja, when factional members of the popular road transport union engaged in a fierce battle of supremacy at the campaign ground.
The bloody fracas led to the shooting of several innocent persons, including the deaths of three people and others sustaining varying degrees of injuries from gunshots. Three journalists who were out doing their jobs were also victims.
NURTW chieftain, MC Oluomo, was stabbed during the incident and was flown abroad for treatment. The Lagos government never condemned this let alone punish anyone. The incident was one of many road transport workers crisis in the “centre of excellence.”
Also, violence and unrest were reported in the Obalende area of Lagos, as two rivals of the NURTW clashed on Feb. 11, 2021 with sporadic gunshots rending the air.
In 2015, three people were killed when factions of NURTW clashed in Oshodi. Also, the Ijesha and Aguda areas of Lagos State were thrown into pandemonium when the thugs had a fracas in early 2020. The carnage was so frightening that residents of the area were relocating to safer places in Lagos and beyond.
There was disagreement over levies between commercial motorcyclists and road transport workers in April. The disagreement which took place at Lagos-Badagry Expressway snowballed into violence that led to irate youths attempting to force their way into the Lagos State University, Ojo.
According to Ibrahim Musa, a commercial motorcyclist, about five of his colleagues were stopped by NURTW members and their keys seized because they had not paid the N400 ticketing levy.
HumAngle learnt that these funds are meant to enrich the pockets of the union leaders and their subordinates. An Agbero operating at Ajah axis of Lagos told our reporter that he had been in the business for years and would like to remain in it for much longer.
For many Lagos transporters, a large fraction of their earnings go to these Agberos.
“We can’t enjoy the business if we don’t pay NURTW guys. We have to factor them when charging passengers for trips. This money does not even benefit us by their Oga who takes the money to marry as many wives as possible,” a driver said.
“If drivers don’t pay them, they will pull off the wipers, or rip out the rubber window seals. They go as far as even breaking the windscreen of the vehicle.”
There was pandemonium at the Tin-Can first gate and the Fatgbems Gas Station end of the Apapa-Oshodi expressway, on Oct. 14, 2021, when NURTW members launched an attack on drivers over ticket fee, leaving 15 people injured with gunshot wounds.
As lives continue to be at risk in Lagos, the question then, is how does the government intend to stop this trend? Lagos Commissioner of Information, Gbenga Omotoso, and the Governor’s spokesperson, Gboyega Akosile, did not respond to HumAngle’s enquiries.
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