An Abuja Area Command Office of the Directorate of Road Traffic Services (DRTS) also known as Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) has been completely razed by suspected commercial tricycle drivers.
Neighbours and officials of the agency say the office was set ablaze midnight Thursday in what can be best described as a retaliatory act.
The two compartment container office that was burnt to the ground is located in Idu, a satellite town of Abuja about 30 minutes drive away from Life Camp junction where almost 50 tricycles were damaged on Thursday during a face-off with a Joint Task Force.
The FCT ministerial Joint TaskFforce and tricycle drivers have been embroiled in skirmishes since Thursday over areas where the latter is supposed to ply their trade.
The task force comprises the police, civil defence, road safety, Nigerian prison services and VIO officers, with the last at the heart of the complaints by motorists.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how protests by the drivers grounded activities in parts of the Federal Capital Territory. The tricycle drivers blocked traffic, pushed down police checkpoints and set tyres ablaze around Jabi in the Nigerian capital.
Smoke was still oozing out of some burnt papers in the ash covered floor of what used to be the area command office of the VIO in Idu Monday afternoon when PREMIUM TIMES visited.
“Our area commander received a call on Thursday afternoon that there was a problem in town between Keke drivers and the government task force. We closed this place as usual in the evening of that day only to come here in the morning to see this,” Ali Amodu, a volunteer official of the VIO said. “They (keke drivers) broke the window and put fire inside our office.”
Mr Amodu said some of his colleagues have fled the area for fear of being harmed.
Generators, official uniforms, tables and chairs, shelves containing important documents and records, and vehicle plate numbers are some items the official listed as razed in the inferno.
“We could not identify any of the keke drivers because they came in the night.”
An eyewitness said the irate tricycle drivers stormed the VIO office around 12:30 a.m. “There was many of them, they threw fire inside the house, they also tore down electric wires powering the house. The fire was so heavy, I can see it from my house, it burned through out the night.”
No official of the association of tricycle drivers could be immediately reached but some members owned up to the attack.
“They (VIO) destroyed many Keke Napep on Thursday, that was why keke drivers burnt their office,” a commercial tricycle driver around Life camp junction said.
“They always extort money from us. we pay N400 everyday for ticket and still they collect money from us whenever they see us. Just yesterday they collected N12,000 from me. This is why we are angry,” another said.
Kalu Emetu, VIO Public Relations Officer (PRO) confirmed the attacks. He said apart from the razed building, vehicles belonging to VIO, FRSC, the Nigerian prisons and even the military were vandalised by the rampaging tricycle drivers.
“Investigation is ongoing, so I would not want to say anything that will mar it. The police is currently on the matter and at the end of the day, the police will prosecute those found culpable,” Mr Emetu told this paper on Monday evening.
Why Joint Task Force vandalised several tricycles – VIO
The spokesperson of the VIO further explained why the task force vandalised several tricycles which resulted in the initial Thursday afternoon face-off.
“Thursday’s operation was carried out by the ministerial joint task force and not just the VIO. There are restricted areas where Keke Napep are not supposed to ply their trade. The FCT transport master plan clearly stated areas certain commercial vehicles are supposed to ply.
“Keke is not supposed to be seen inside the city centres and all major roads, they are free to operate in estates and satellite towns like Lugbe and Gwarimpa estates but instead you see them operating inside city centres such as Jabi areas and that was one of the reasons why we embarked on Thursday routine operation to check their activities.
“Normally, what the law says is that the tricycles operating illegally should be ceased but we encountered some kind of resistance from Keke drivers. They tried to resist us from ceasing their tricycles and that was what brought about the destruction of many tricycles you saw on Thursday.
“They always point fingers on VIO without knowing that the joint task force also include both military and para military outfits.”
Mr Emetu said there has been a ministerial approval for more than 10 years that placed a ban on operation of tricycles and motorcylces in the city centres.
“The FCT administration made this law in 2016 and since then the enforcement has been on; but they (commercial motorists) are coming back to the city center still. It shows that we are in a situation of anarchy.”
On allegations of fraud and extortion by VIO officials, Mr Emetu said, “anybody that has proof should come to me, I will personally handle any of our officers who extort money of any sort from commercial drivers.
“They will only tell you their own side of the story.”
When contacted Tuesday morning, police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, did not take repeated calls to his phone. He also did not respond to text messages.