By Kelvin Obambon
The Cross River Ministry of Transport has reacted to the protest staged by some taxi drivers in Calabar the state Capital, saying the protest was sponsored by political elements who are not comfortable with the ongoing reforms in sector.
Mini bus drivers on Thursday protested against what they described as extortion by officials of the state government for wrong parking.
The commercial drivers who barricaded parts of the Muritala Mohammed Highway with leaves on their vehicles, alleged that they were being extorted by the officials to the tune of N45,000.
But addressing some journalists in his office in Calabar Friday, the Commissioner for Transport, Pastor Ekpenyong Ene Cobham, said there is an ongoing drive to sanitize the transport sector in order to bring it at par with global best practices.
Cobham said that the ministry was working assiduously to address the issues of illegal roadside loading, touting, multiple ticketing and illegal taskforce that exploit motorists within and outside Calabar. This according to him, did not sit well with people who are profiting from the illegalities, hence have decided to fight back by sponsoring protest.
While announcing that from 1st January, 2024, all commercial drivers operating in the state would be required to paint their vehicles and obtain security number for easy tracking, the Commissioner disclosed that the Ministry has been carrying along all transport unions in its bid to reform the sector.
“When I assumed office I met several challenges enough to demoralized any person. Among the myriad of challenges was the paucity of funds. On the road it was a culture of impunity where traffic rules were not obeyed and people packed wherever roads were congested. We had to call the leadership of the Unified Drivers Association for several meetings. We interfaced on the way forward.
“In those interfaces we had with the drivers associations, I made it clear to them that it can’t be business as usual. We need to partner to be able to reach out to the drivers. I even suggested to them that there’s a need for reorientation. I remember telling that we need to have a meeting with the operators of driving schools because I have discovered that there’s a problem of attitude among the drivers, habitual decadence – alcoholic abuse, drug abuse and all of such vices.
“However, we agreed that the year was coming to an end and carnival is by the corner and with all the limitations we had, we needed to do something. We worked out a short term, medium and long term programme. I limited my short term programme to the decongestion of the roads. I had to look at my resource base. I would have rely on one of the agencies under me, which is the Traffic Management and Regulatory Agency (TRAMRA), but I discovered frustratingly that the marshals there were a part of the problem. They encourage drivers to park anywhere and pick passengers. I have had two interface with them and I address them.
“We created two taskforce team. One was Team Alpha for Calabar South and the other was Team Eagle for Municipality, purely to decongest traffic and stop incessant wrong parking. I briefed them on the terms of reference and guided them. Because of their operation I was always on the field. We discovered that there were several challenges on the field.
“There are persons whom I may like to refer to as part of the relics of the old order, who were at one time or the other part of the past administration or who are habitual touts, and have constituted themselves into illegal taskforce. Like for instance, this morning before I came to work somebody came to my house and said that some people accosted him yesterday evening at UNICAL main gate. Collected his vehicle, looted his pockets and took his vehicle to where he doesn’t know. I asked him to come to the office so we can use our ways and means to locate that vehicle, using the police. We have several of such cases.
“I have interface with the state security adviser. We are trying to work out ways to begin to arrest them. These people have caused so much damage, giving government a bad name. In one week of the operation of my taskforce, we had the following results: free traffic flow at the Watt market roundabout axis. Free traffic flow along Marian market. But in the cause of contravening the vehicle that committed one traffic offence or the other, I discovered that there’s a nest of evil, and this nest of evil constitute security agents and politically exposed persons.
“What they do is that they gather 10, 6, 20 buses or taxis as they can and tell you, “I will be covering you. If you have any problem you call me, but you will be paying me between N1,500 or N2,000 weekly.” So whenever such vehicles have any challenge you will see them come out to release the vehicles.
“We need to restore sanity to the roads and the culture of impunity we have to put it away. And you know that’s not an easy feat. In the course of that I stepped up to the third programme which was the dislodgement of illegal loading bays on the major roads. There were illegal loading bays that existed by NEPA office, another one at 11-11. There were two opposite the stadium and another one by Fidelity Bank. I’ve shut all of them down. These loading bays were supported, operated, protected by politically exposed persons, cult-associated personalities and that didn’t sit well with them. When you are trying to bring change, impunity must fight back.”