By Fred Ezeh
The Ministerial Joint Revenue Task Force took its battle to the streets of Abuja last week. The outcome was unbearable for residents especially motorists . There was total lockdown in most parts of the seat of power for several hours.
It started with a protest staged by motorists who claimed that they were being extorted by the ministerial task force
The drivers were quick to explain to whoever that wanted to know that their action was a revolt to prolonged maltreatment, oppression and molestation, they receive daily in the hands of FCT joint revenue officials who were said to be executing the orders of the FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello.
The task force drawn from all security agencies of the government was inaugurated by the FCT Minister to, first, restore sanity, orderliness and discipline among motorists in Abuja, and also contribute to the revenue drive of the FCT administration.
But some people claim that the officials have gone beyond their operational mandate, particularly as it concerns their relationship with the taxi drivers.
The drivers said they have repeatedly drawn the attention of FCT officials to the activities of the task force team led by Mr. Shehu. But regrettably, they claim , their complaints were not given the required attention, thus forcing them to adopt self-help measure.
They explained that their patience was stretched beyond limit when a solider attached to the task force team allegedly killed a taxi driver in the course of a heated argument that erupted between them. This apparently angered other drivers, forcing them to revolt.
The alleged death of unnamed taxi driver sparked outrage and a massive protest by the taxi drivers, shutting down major streets of Abuja. The chaotic situation resulted in a temporary halt of business and other commercial activities in the Wuse, Utako, Jabi parts of Abuja.
It was a chaotic day that could be likened to war situation . State law and order was relegated to the back seat, paving the way for violence, anarchy and ventilation of anger. Innocent commuters and motorists who were unaware of the situation were subjected to harassment, abuse, and discomfort due to the activities of the angry drivers.
The obviously tensed atmosphere forced traders and their customers in Wuse and Utako markets to scamper for safety. Banks, corporate organisations and other businesses around the location took precautionary measures of closing down their businesses to avoid being looted by hoodlums in the most tensed environment.
The visibly angry drivers set vehicle tyres ablaze on the road, in a seeming show of anger. That further increased the fear and anxiety of the passers-by who were caught up in the unplanned action.
Policemen watched helplessly as the angry taxi drivers blocked major part of Herbert Macaulay Way, forcing other road users to either use alternative routes to the their destinations or consider other options.
Commuters were forced to trek long distances due to the absent of the taxi drivers, who insisted on total disbandment of the joint task team, due to unbearable frustration and molestation being faced by the drivers on daily basis.
Green leaves was attached at the roof or bonnet of their green cabs, an indication that the taxi drivers were unhappy with the state. While some drove recklessly from one point to another, others were in groups either discussing the issue within themselves or explaining their frustrations to whoever that cares to listen. attention.
One of the drivers, Kelechi Anyanwu, told our correspondent that the wickedness and financial extortion from the task team has reached its peak and need urgent attention from the FCT administration.
Their mode of operation, he said, was that they would disguise as passengers and flag down a taxi. “When you stop, they will asked of one irrelevant thing that does not concern them. They might choose to accuse you of wrong packing, and insist on taking you to their office in Wuye district. There they will milk you dry.
“One Mr. Shehu is the arrow head of the operations. He charges arbitrarily, starting from N10, 000, and above on every driver arrested. They neither issue receipt nor any evidence of payment. They will just collect our hard earned money and move to the next person. We will not take it anymore. That was why we are all out to register our anger.”
The National Chairman, drivers’ welfare club of Nigeria, Monday Elemigbe, described the action of the police and the FCT task force as open exhibition of hatred for the taxi drivers.
“If not, why would police and FCT task force continue to extort our people. Because these men don’t appear in uniform, it has made it difficult to differentiate between the genuine and the fake officials thus putting the lives of the taxi drivers at risk. You can run into them at any time, including late in the evening.”
Another taxi driver, Kayode Aina, blamed the weak and inconsequential union that could not fight for their course due to leadership rivalry. He said: “The issue of the union is even a small thing that we could handle. Our primary focus is to achieve the disbandment of the task force team. They are tormenting our lives and we can’t wait for the FCT Minister to disband them. When that is done, we will then turn our attention to the union and strengthen it.”