The last has not been heard about the complaints by cab drivers in Calabar, the Cross River
state capital, about the various levies by agencies of government. On Tuesday the drivers took to the streets to register their grievances over the obnoxious levies. They took the protest to governor's office at Diamond Hill where they hit a brick wall as the governor was out of the state. The drivers were driven back by a detachment of policemen.
According to some of the drivers who spoke to TNN before the police dispersed them, the whole issue has to do with the introduction of levies for security code for cabs in the city to curb crimes, whereas they were told that the codes should be allocated free of charge. The drivers said they are being compelled to pay between N2,300 and N2,500 for the code.
Two government agencies, the Department of Public Transportation (DOPT) and the Commercial Transport Regulatory Agency (CTRA) are at the centre of the controversy, with each accusing the other of causing the crisis. By law, CTRA is the only agency authorized to collect revenue from commercial vehicle operators.
Chairman of a faction of the cab drivers' union, Tawo Ojie, who led the protest, accused another faction of the drivers' union known as Unified Commercial Drivers Association of fleecing cab drivers in the state capital to the tune of over N115 million over a period of time and said members of his union could no longer cope with the new levies that have again been introduced.
In the course of the protest the Special Adviser to the governor on public transportation, Mr. Emmanuel Mbora tried to pacify the drivers and went ahead to accuse CTRA of flouting his directive that it should not levy transport operators.
According to him, “illegal and forceful” levies are being imposed by the Unified Commercial Drivers' Association, and aided by CTRA in a clear violation of a directive he had issued on July 23 this year against the payment of tax by unions and association.
Mbora accused CTRA of impounding vehicles indiscriminately in connivance with the Unified Commercial Drivers' Association and extorting money from drivers in the state.
The allegation was denied by Mr. Mfon Bassey, the Chairman of CTRA, who accused the Special Adviser of “stage-managing” the protest. He said Mbora had “purportedly announced that there should be no tax, yet he printed two different tickets and he is selling them to make money for himself.”
Bassey said the special adviser was not sincere and he did not know that the Department of Public Transportation was not known to any law in the state while CTRA is established by law, saying Law No. 2 of 2010 set up CTRA and that by virtue of that law CTRA was superior to DOPT.
He said the protest was organized by Mbora after he held a meeting at the Calabar Municipality secretariat with some drivers where he allegedly incited them against accepting government policies.
Bassey also said it was unfortunate that Mbora could work against the government at this time when elections were around the corner.
“He was working under me and I don't know how he got to that position because I know his pedigree. He is the one who has stage-managed this protest because I am aware of the meeting he held with some drivers even when he has brought out two different tickets for these drivers to buy.
“As we speak, Mbora, whose real name is Emmanuel Antia, has carved out some places around Watt market for people to pay N200 while those who park to load are paying N300 which goes into his pocket. He is instigating the drivers at this time of election which is not good for the governor,” Bassey said.
He accused him of setting up an illegal taskforce to arrest cab drivers indiscriminately, hiding behind DOPT.
“DOPT has been delisted from revenue collection but it is still collecting revenue from commercial transport operators. Its duty is to decongest traffic and not to usurp the functions of CTRA. Everything Mbora and DOPT are doing is illegal. DOPT should be scrapped,” Bassey stated.
Also speaking, chairman of the Unified Commercial Drivers' Association, Pastor Thomas Effiong Okon, accused Mbora of engaging in illegal activities to generate money for himself instead of thinking about the fortunes of the state.
“My association is the only recognized union to regulate the activities of drivers. The coding was based on advice by the state security council. “We have a robust relationship with over 2,000 cab drivers who are our members.
“The special adviser is the one extorting money from drivers because he is the one who brought out two different tickets and has divided some portions around the Watt market for drivers to pay him money. We have never had problems before now until he became the special adviser,” Okon said.
He said before Mbora was appointed SA to the governor on transport, he had sued the same DOPT he is now heading, saying it had no powers to generate revenue and now he is using DOPT to generate revenue for himself.
The crux of the matter is that since 12 July when the state government introduced security coding for commercial motor vehicles, drivers have been complaining that they have been compelled to pay between N2,300 and N2,500 for the coding, whereas it was supposed to be free.
This is in addition to the N400 ticket each cab driver buys every day before being allowed to operate as well as other levies they claim to be paying daily.