Presidency, NURTW’s fracas and public order
Leadership fracas in the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) deserves more than a passing interest of President Bola Tinubu, given that the union is one of the largest employers of labour, and is reputed as a hotbed of violence across the country. Already, the union’s president, Tajudeen Baruwa and 21 others, including three other national officers of the union are currently being detained by the police in Abuja, and being charged with alleged criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide, public disturbance, and conduct likely to cause breach of peace.
Before then, violence had been reported in the Garki area of the FCT following fighting between two factions of the NURTW on Sapele Crescent, off Ladoke Akintola Boulevard, Garki II, Abuja. The incident reportedly prompted FCT Commissioner of Police, Haruna Garba to invite Baruwa to a meeting which was also attended by its former Vice President, Tajudeen Agbede and Musiliu Akinsanya aka MC Oluomo, who was formerly leading the disbanded Lagos Park Management Committee whose members now reportedly occupy the NURTW Headquarters in Abuja.
And determined not to sit on the fence, the union’s umbrella body, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, demanded the immediate release of detained leaders of the union and an end to police occupation of its Abuja National Secretariat. President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, was quoted as saying that the Police detention of elected leaders of NURTW while interlopers to the NURTW leadership go about on the streets with police escorts, is tantamount to a coup d’état that must be ended immediately.
The political undercurrent that has allegedly emboldened the Lagos faction of the controversial union, to forcefully push back on the national body and its elected executives, has created a dangerous impression that the presidency cannot be proud of. It is bad enough that members of the transport union have been seemingly overindulged in Lagos commercial nerve centre; it is worse that they have now succeeded in dragging the Presidency into its national fiasco, with a motive that is less than altruistic.
Besides seeking to unravel alleged criminality surrounding the episode, the police have a duty to thoroughly investigate the crisis and assuage public apprehension on it. It is worth recalling that MC Oluomo, who was chairman of the Lagos faction, was last year suspended by the national body of the NURTW for insubordination and misconduct. And in a curious manner, the Lagos State government immediately set up the Lagos State Taxi Park and Garages, and promptly named MC Oluomo as its chairman! With the continued relevance of MC Oluomo and co. in Lagos economic and political space, there has been no love lost with the national body of the NURTW.
It is in that sense that the ongoing face-off between the national body and some leaders from park management committees in Southwest states is best understood. Since the conclusion of the national delegates’ conference, held in Lafia, Nasarawa State, it has been a leadership battle between a caretaker committee, chaired by Tajudeen Agbede, and the Baruwa-led NURTW executive. Between the two factions has been the mobilisation of thugs, violent attacks, injuries and death recorded on the streets of Abuja, which has also led to police clampdown on the national secretariat in Abuja.
However, the NLC has decried the turn of events, citing that members and supporters of the Lagos State Park Management Committee, led by Agbede who allegedly forcefully took over the NURTW national secretariat located at Garki 2 after a violent attack, were neither arrested nor detained by the police. Reports have it that Baruwa had on several occasions raised the alarm and sought the intervention of the Nigeria Police Force and Department of State Services over an alleged plot by the rival group to launch a violent attack on the secretariat, but the security operatives took no action. The NLC in a statement called on police authorities to promptly release the democratically-elected union leaders from detention and conduct a fair investigation into the violence. “Our nation cannot afford to entertain any semblance of impunity or bias, especially at this critical juncture. Let us refrain from exacerbating an already precarious situation with actions that may be construed as partiality towards illegality,” the statement read in part.
The optics in the foregoing, unfortunately, is a suspicion allegedly connecting the Southwest faction of the NURTW and top government officials, which has allegedly warranted the law enforcement agencies to take sides in the matter. It is important that the presidency which has been fingered in this respect, quickly debunks such appearance of impropriety and disassociate itself from the crisis, as well as order the police to be neutral in handling the matter.
Beyond the power tussle, bias, and tacit support of brigandage, the dirty image of the NURTW should have bothered all the stakeholders even more. In Lagos especially, NURTW’s foot soldiers otherwise called agbero, have the primitive persona of street urchins, hemp smokers, thuggery, extortion, cultism, and other criminalities, which both governments, particularly at the state level; and the NLC should be ashamed of. Lest they forget, the road transport unions and whatever nomenclature they have assumed in the Southwest, are an affiliate of the NLC. They are independent Nigerian trade unions that should serve interests of transport workers in the road transport sector, by pushing for social stability for members as defined in its constitution.
Clearly, the body has been hijacked by power brokers and for the pleasure of a happy few that have zero investment in the transport sector. And by their criminal acts and wild hooliganism in street toll collection from supposed members, the union has failed in its primary objective. It is not out of place for the NLC and other well-meaning labour groups to demand far-reaching reforms that will bring sanity to the body nationwide. The leadership should push for an overhaul to weed out the bad eggs that are giving unionism a bad appellate nationwide.
Tellingly, the NURTW is a bull in a China shop that has long outlived its tolerance level. Government, through the minister of labour and other relevant officers, should push for conduct of unionism in accordance with the rule of law and in a manner that does not compromise public peace and safety. Government should leave no one in doubt that it resolutely stands on the side of fairness and justice for all Nigerians.
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