Activities were grounded in parts of the Federal Capital Territory on Thursday as commercial tricycle drivers protested alleged attack by members of a Joint Task Force.
About 50 tricycles were damaged in the melee caused by the so-called ‘Keke Napep’ drivers.
The joint task force comprises the police, civil defence, road safety and the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO), with the last at the heart of the complaints by motorists.
The protest, which started from Life Camp Junction in Abuja spread to Jabi Motor Park, Airport Junction and Karmo. It left many commuters stranded for hours in the affected areas.
The tricycle drivers blocked traffic, pushed down police checkpoints and set tyres ablaze around Jabi in the Nigerian capital.
Several eye-witnesses confirmed that the protest started after officials of the VIO and the task force arrived Life Camp Junction around 12:00 noon and started shooting during which they allegedly damaged several tricycles at the junction.
“They just came with their Hilux vans and started shooting and when we started running they began to damage our Keke Napep,” a protester said.
PREMIUM TIMES observed that windscreens and several parts of almost 50 tricycles were damaged.
A protester who was hit by a stray bullet in the leg was still in pains. According to witnesses, some tricycle drivers were arrested in the heat of the face-off.
Many owners of the damaged tricycles also alleged that officials of the VIO made away with cash inside the ‘pigeon holes’ of their vehicles.
“Just take a look at what they did, they damaged every part of my keke, broke my pigeon hole and took all the money inside”, a protester narrated as he showed our reporter the burgled pigeon hole of his damaged tricycle.
“We did not do anything to them, they just came and started attacking us.”
Uche Umeoha, the secretary of the Keke Napep association, said the riot was a result of accumulated anger.
“We have been cheated overtime. Many times, when a keke driver wants to drop a passenger at a certain checkpoint, he will be crossed by these VIO officials. They will not even come with their official uniform so you will not know it’s them.
“They will take you to their office in Wuye and collect about N8,000 and this happens almost everyday.
“Today, they came to Life Camp where we are authorised to run and started arresting people as usual and also damaged many Keke Napep without any reason or provocation and that was why we started rioting. They should just let us be, we are running our business legitimately in authorised areas. We pay our daily dues.”
By 3:00 p.m. many of the blocked roads had been cleared as armed police officers were seen trying to calm the situation.
Officials of the VIO and other members of the task force could not be immediately reached as they had vacated the scene of the protests. Police officers at the scene refused to comment on the incident.
The Director of VIO in Abuja, Bodinga Wadata, could not be reached on phone. He is yet to respond to text messages sent to him.
The agency’s spokesperson, Kalu Emetu, also did not pick repeated calls or respond to text messages as at press time.
Cosmas Uzodinma, a Public Relations Officer of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), said he was aware of the development but could not immediately give details.
VIO: Nightmare For Commercial Motorists
Apart from Thursday’s incident, several other commercial motorists including taxi drivers have in the past complained about the activities of the VIO and other members of the task force.
The complaints ranged from alleged extortion, illegal arrests, maltreatment and fatalities in some instances.
Despite these complaints, Mr Bodinga absolved the VIO of any wrongdoing.
He told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja last May while acting as the agency’s director that cash payment through its officials had been stopped.
Mr. Bodinga explained that all payments, including vehicle registration, renewal of papers and traffic offences, were now done through the banks.
“The issue of money exchanging hands between our officers and members of the public is what is actually new to me because we have completely eliminated hand payment.”
But last November, activities in many parts of Abuja including Wuse Market, the largest in the Nigerian capital, were grounded as a result of protests by taxi drivers over ‘extortion and ‘maltreatment’ by the task force.
Several protesters and witnesses confirmed then that the protest started after the driver of a painted taxi was shot by a task force in the market.
Drivers alleged that the VIO officials often laid siege at various points in the city in an attempt to arrest vehicles thereby causing accident.
They said some of the officers were in the habit of extorting money from motorists, adding that such conduct negated the ethics of VIO and must be stopped.