Until recently, the activities of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Oyo State had always been violent. Insideoyo.com‘s Sikiru Akinola traces how the union became synonymous with violence and how it achieved peace in the past six years.
Ayinde Ewu (pseudonym) couldn’t say precisely when he became a member of the Oyo State chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). But his narrative of the event that preceded the death of the late business mogul and acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, it is obvious that he has been a member of the union for over two decades.
In a bid to prevent his ‘chairman’ from being ousted from one of the motor parks in Iwo Road, which is regarded as one of the richest branches of the union in the state, he escaped death but didn’t go without sustaining injuries.
“I got to the motor parks very early in the morning and had made huge sales until I saw one of our boys running towards me, advising me to take to my heels or get killed. Before I could ask what the matter was, I saw these people in large number, with dangerous objects moving towards our office.
“There was no charm on me. I ran for my dear life but thank God the people were not armed with gun. They continued to run after me and when they caught me, a thought came to my mind and I ran inside one petrol station, hijacked the nuzzle from the attendant, pressed a little petrol and brought out a lighter from my pocket.”
Scratching his head, he continued: “At that point, they stopped and moved backward. I was relieved and encouraged. I threatened that if they dare move nearer, I would press nuzzle and set the place ablaze. We did this for a while before I scaled the fence,” the 37-year-old father of seven told Southwest Report when asked about his experience as an executive member of the union.
The activities of the NURTW in Oyo State were, especially in the years before Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s administration, brutal. Killing, thuggery, maiming and all forms of anti-social behaviours characterised the union. Apart from killing their members, innocent citizens who were unfortunate to be at a wrong place at the wrong time were not spared. Major parts of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, were always seized whenever they strike. You dared not pass through Iwo Road, Ojoo and Olomi area where its state headquarters is located.
Whenever there is about to be a change in leadership, it is not without bloodshed. The event of August of 2011 is still fresh in the memories of those who lost relatives or sustained varying degrees of injuries. Over 10 people, including the President of the Nigerian Medical Students, were killed, after two factions of the union that were embroiled in leadership tussle engaged each other, using dangerous weapons freely.
Many described the week-long incident as a ‘seasonal film’ as major areas were deserted for fear that the factional groups of the union may be involved in reprisal attacks. Before security agents could nip it, many shops have been looted and burnt while many cars were either vandalised or burnt. Many road users had to abandon their cars for fear of being killed.
NURTW, which has its national headquarters in Abuja and chairmen at geo-political and state levels, is believed to be an association of operators of commercial buses and cabs. It also has chairmen at the local government level.
At will, they smoke Indian hemp in public, looking tattered and unkempt. The selling of locally brewed gin (ogogoro) which they mix with other substances, near their parks doesn’t help matter.
Money, catalyst for violence
Members of the union, especially its leadership, are said to be credit worthy due to the enormous income that comes in every day. For example, drivers plying Olodo on the outskirts of Ibadan to Bere in the heart of the city pay more than N700 before they get to their terminus. You’ll pay at Olodo, Iyana Church, Iwo Road, Gate, Oje and Bere.
From this daily dues, certain amount is allocated for some executive members, especially the chairmen for daily upkeep, while there is also a fixed amount which is taken to the state headquarters, depending on the financial strength of the branches and units.
It is not difficult to see some of the executive members displaying their wealth. Automobile dealers are quick to sell cars and buses to the union members and allow them to pay by instalments. In choice areas of the state, especially where only the rich can afford, their mansions are located with the latest sport utility vehicle. Some are into oil business, farming and automobile. Worst is that they get recognition from politicians. During elections, they use them to intimidate perceived enemies.
From violence to peace
Since 1993 when Alhaji Lateef Akinsola (Tokyo, now Oloruntoki) was said to have hijacked power from the then NURTW chairman and boss, Chief James Ojewunmi, who was elected in 1983 to succeed Alhaji Bashiru Adigun, who served for nine years, the union has been enmeshed in leadership crises. Tokyo was chairman of inter-state unit at Agodi Gate, Ibadan and was deputy to Ojewunmi.
•Ife/Iwo Road garage in Ibadan,
Until Tokyo overthrew him, his tenure was said to be peaceful as he approved loans for members.
Violence became more pronounced during Tokyo’s reign in Oyo State and later in the whole of Southwest.
He started his tenure by not allowing commercial vehicles belonging to his former boss and those loyal to him into the park. They roamed the streets looking for loyalists of Ojewunmi, grounding and towing vehicles in sight. He was in power till 2003 when former Governor Rashidi Ladoja was elected.
Alhaji Wasiu Abubakre (a.k.a Tawa), a loyalist of Ojewumi and one of the few who challenged Tokyo’s high handedness was unanimously elected but his tenure was truncated 30 months after. Tokyo, in his characteristic manner, hijacked power again, this time, through the help of the late strongman of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu.
Tokyo later met his waterloo as he was later fingered in the murder of an Ogbomoso-based leader of the union by the administration of Rashidi Ladoja. He was arrested and remanded at Agodi Prison.
This, and other acts considered antagonistic by the Ladoja’s administration, drew the ire of Adedibu. The battle line was drawn. He enlisted the support of Tokyo’s ‘lieutenants’, especially Lateef Salako (Eleweomo) and Mukaila Lamidi (Auxiliary).
For 11 months, before Ladoja’s re-instatement, the state was thrown into confusion. After Ladoja was illegally impeached, the process for the release of Tokyo from remand was fast-tracked. Relief came his way as he was released during the administration of Ladoja’s estranged deputy, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, who took over from him.
Governor Akala was said to have struck an agreement with Tokyo’s ‘chief of staff’, Eleweomo who was later to be killed during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ward congress at Olunloyo area of Ona-Ara Local Government Area of Ibadan.
The Alao-Akala’s administration later proscribed the activities of the union but Tokyo and his men stayed put at the Olomi secretariat of the union. Attempts by the Alao-Akala’s administration to demolish the secretariat proved abortive as Tokyo’s men repelled the government’s demolition squad. But Alao-Akala, after losing his re-election bid, lifted ban on the activities of the union, an action many described as an attempt to set a booby trap for the incoming government of Senator Abiola Ajimobi.
The Ajimobi administration came on board and the union was still entangled in crisis. This time, it was between Tokyo and Eleweomo’s deputy, Mukaila Lamidi (a.k.a Auxilliary’). Tokyo was hell-bent on returning to his position but Auxilliary was not ready to accept him. They continued until five days after Governor Ajimobi was sworn in. That night, Iwo Road was a theatre of war. Many innocent people, including a final year Medical student of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, were killed.
End of violence in Oyo NURTW
Governor Abiola Ajimobi without waiting proscribed the union. The violence was against his agenda of peace. After the sad event of June 5, 2011, when many people were murdered during a fight between two factional members of the NURTW in Ibadan, Governor Ajimobi banned the activities of the union and he ensured that the two factional leaders were not allowed to operate again.
For over a year, the union had no leadership. Later, influential members of the society prevailed on the government to lift the ban as the members of the union were hungry and ready to have a change of heart.
Later, Ahaji Taofeek Oyerinde (aka Fele) was presented by the stakeholders as the acceptable candidate to fill the vacant chairmanship slot.
Harvest of peace: the Fele years
The activities of the union have been peaceful since Fele was inaugurated over three years ago. The once-war torn Iwo Road is now peaceful. Today, apart from the beautification project by the state government; many firms now have offices located in Iwo Road.
Fele told Southwest Report that he warned them against being hired by politicians to foment trouble during the last election.
“We were able to maintain neutrality through various means. We sensitised our people on the implication of such deadly action. This is the first time election will hold in Oyo State and none of our members was killed. We behaved according to the dictates of the law.”
On how he got rid of paraga sellers from motor parks, he said: “We understand that reckless driving, most times, is due to the influence of hard substances. So, we sent away those selling the substances and warned them about the implications of smoking. Though we have not been able to achieve 100 per cent success, we’ve moved away from the age-long tradition. Now, you will see our members neatly dressed while they are not left out on the social media. We also encouraged them to cultivate the habit of saving money. Some of us are even back in school to further improve ourselves.”
Fele disclosed that as a means of giving back to the society, the union would embark on corporate social responsibility which included sinking of boreholes, patching of potholes and renovation of schools. All these, he said, are in line with the restoration agenda of Governor Ajimobi.
“Governor Ajimobi has always been a good inspiration for us. He would always counsel us and encourage us to improve ourselves. He would tell us the importance of seeing ourselves as one.”
The union recently distributed 40 cars to its branch offices across the 33 local government areas.
Continuing, Fele said: “Before now, guns, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons were procured with the union’s daily income and same were distributed to motor parks to unleash violence on rival union members and hapless citizens. Scores of innocent citizens of the state and visitors have been killed, a development that peaked in 2011 culminating in the killing of a medical student and others at Iwo Road Motor Park.
“We are borrowing a leaf from other organised associations to truly impact positively on the welfare of members. We would continue to pursue peace through prayers, deeds and actions capable of promoting peaceful co-existence among all union members.”
Written by the same author, this story was first published in The Nation of July 22, 2015.