Gov Obiano takes battle for safer Onitsha to touts’ domains
By Okoro C. Benedict
In a move reminiscent of former Governor Babatunde Fashola’s war against area boys in Oshodi, Lagos, Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Maduburochukwu Obiano, has taken his battle for a safer Onitsha to the abode of touts and miscreants in the commercial city.
Over the years, Onitsha has enjoyed the unenviable reputation as the citadel of ferocious and menacing touts.
So dreadful was the place, especially the devilish exploits of illegal toll and tax collectors that the late Chief Pericoma Mezuo Okoye dedicated a track in his music album, ‘Nwanne ife n’eme na Upper Iweka, to narrate the nightmare of Upper Iweka, one of the menacing axes of Onitsha.
In that particular record, the folklorist Pericoma narrated his ordeal in the hands of illegal toll collectors and how his native psychology helped him out of their evil designs.
However, despite the raw deal the street urchins received at the hands of the Arondizuogu musician, the illegal business exploits of con artists persist at Upper Iweka and its environs.
Various state governments have expressed dismay at how a tiny clique, through their filthy, inordinate and total affront to constituted authorities, has succeeded in transforming one of the world’s most renown commercial cities to their own Sicily.
There is no doubt that crime and criminality have been elevated to the status of a religion in Onitsha, just as raw and brutish physical energy promote socio-economic terrorism in the area.
But, amid that despondent situation, residents and natives of Onitsha have always believed that someday, they would wake up to behold a new Onitsha devoid of the rampaging touts and crime godfathers.
Governor Obiano’s administration has in his second term in office been making real the optimism that Onitsha could be clean, safe and secure with transparency and ease of doing business.
Of course, given the vibrant commercial and entrepreneurial drive of Anambra State, it could be said that while Onitsha serves as a kind of headquarters of touting, other areas such as Ekwulobia, Nnewi and Awka complement it as outstations.
That explains the proper coordination and distribution of fake emblems, tickets and illegal tolls, which rob the state of veritable chunk of internally generated revenue.
Without doubts, the general notion is that Anambra is not just the unofficial capital of Igboland, but also the epicenter of economic activities in the Southeast. That perception is supported by a combination of factors, such as;
1. The geographical advantage of Anambra as the Gateway State into the Southeast from Delta State.
2. The River Niger which aids socio cultural and economic cross pollination between Ndi Anambra and the neighboring States.
3. The presence of notable international markets, like Onitsha Main market, Ochanja, Ose Okwuodu, Ogbo Efere, Ogbo Tools, Ogbo Osisi, Ogbo Ogwu and others. About 90% of these economic activities in Anambra happen within and around the markets.
4. The Igbo most revered traditional and time-tested School System – Igba boi sprang from Main market. Today, it proudly boasts of innumerable billionaires amongst Ndi Anambra, and beyond. Hence, this accounts for why most social activities in Anambra, during Christmas are loosely mistaken as a display of affluence.
However, despite this alluring and scintillating economic profile of Anambra, the State is ravaged by intractable and entrenched network of illegal toll collectors and criminal activities; this has very dire and negative impact on the commercial activities in the State.
It also has enervating effect on the socio psychological make up of commuters who pass through the State for other activities – because these dare devil illegal toll collectors block the roads, day and night, demanding for unauthorized revenues from road users and haulage trucks that bring in goods into the State.
Of all the legacies that the previous administrations can boast of, none has tackled this cesspit headlong.
Interestingly, Governor Obiano may have scored another millennial goal in this sphere. During the concluding part of 2019, His Excellency, Chief Willie Mmaduaburochukwu Obiano lamented on how touts roam streets at will.
Having tackled security issues in Anambra State headlong, Obiano rounded off the 2019 year, by giving Dr. Christian C. Madubuko, the Honourable Commissioner for Transport an order to rid Anambra roads of touts.
After the Governor’s instruction, Madubuko swung into action. In order to succeed, he constituted a team of private security and intelligence experts to come up with a framework on how to clampdown on touts.
At the instance of Madubuko, the security experts discreetly trained 100 men on covert intelligence and armed them with gadgets to report real time activities of touts.
Because of the seriousness that Governor Obiano attached to this, Madubuko didn’t stop there; he sought for partnership with Focus Initiative Against Touts (FIAT) headed by Mr. Okwudili Ohanazoeze, the Nigerian Police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corp (NSCDC), Department Of State Service and the Military Intelligence.
On December 30, 2019, Madubuko led a battalion of Anambra Transport Management Agency (ATMA), a squadron of the OCHA brigade staff and other collaborating agencies to the Urban Terminal at Onitsha and declared a full scale war on touts.
A few arrests were made that day, and those arrested were handed over to the police. Madubuko warned all and sundry that there was no going back on the Governor’s directive.
On January 8, 2020, Madubuko led ‘Operation Jidefa’, the ‘Sting Operation’ was perfectly organized, and about 20 kingpins of illegal tolls were apprehended.
They were immediately taken to the Mobile Court at the Urban Terminal and tried with abounding, but worrisome evidence.
The Magistrate granted them bail in the sum of N50, 000 with a surety who must be recommended by a lawyer and must possess official identity card. She adjourned the next hearing to January 21, 2020.
The money recovered from the touts attest is deeply shocking and revealing. It gives inkling into what the State government loses daily to illegal tolls and tickets.
Some fake tickets recovered from those apprehended include;
a. Office of the Local Government Chairman Ogbaru LGA.
b. About five different tickets read Office of the Honourable Commissioner for Transport (5). Those selling the tickets have no idea who the Commissioner for Transport is. Most of them do not even know that those tickets are illegal.
c. Loading/Offloading tickets for cars, vehicles, trucks and Mini trucks.
d. Anambra State Government – Wheel barrow – Goods Owner Tolls.
e. Government of Anambra State – Daily Ticket – Haulage fee – for all vehicles operating in Anambra State.
f. Unified Anambra State Local Government Daily Tolls Ticket.
From the names of these tickets, it is evident that this tiny clique of illegal tolls collectors is desperate to frustrate the administration of Governor Obiano by flooding Anambra State with fake tickets. Again, they are always quick to drop names of the exalted members of this administration.
The aim is to create rancor, disaffection and suspicion amongst members of the cabinet; and lure unsuspecting public into believing that they are doing the bidding of the government.
Of course, this is the only way that these illegality and falsehood can be sustained.
The Government of Anambra State has shown deep sense of responsibility and commitment to the people’s outcry. Both Obiano and Ndi Anambra should be encouraged to continue this relationship as more fruitful and desirable outcomes lie ahead.
Finally, it is pertinent to advise that all the Ministries should be allowed to handle their revenue generation through a consolidated ticket, totally and completely driven by automated revenue collection system.
Okoro C. Benedict
Personal Assistant to the Honourable Commissioner for Transport,