Tricycle operators popularly called Keke Riders say they are having harrowing experiences in the hands of tax collectors, men of the Nigerian Police and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in Bayelsa State.
The aggrieved tricyclists had, on Monday, shut down Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital as they barricaded the Melford Okilo Expressway from the Ekeki Motor Park axis to the Government House, obstructing vehicular movement for several hours, to vent their grievances.
The major reason for their protest, among other things, was against an order by the Special Adviser to the governor on Transport, Prince Koroye, compelling each keke rider to pay a fee of N2,600 for the security numbers given to them two years ago, after the initial payment of N3,600.
According to the protesters, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) security number was not renewable in all states of the federation and wondered why their case was different in Bayelsa.
Narrating their ordeal to TNN, the state welfare coordinator of keke riders, Mr. Okafor Jonas said the ministry of transport had devised means to extort them by making the security number renewable.
He recalled that when the security number was introduced two years ago, the keke riders argued that the sticker on which the number was written would fade with time but MOT refused to listen to their complaints.
Okafor recounted that in less than a year, the number faded off, making MOT to force them to pay another N2,600 per tricyclist last year for inscription of the number on the body of the KEKE.
The welfare coordinator said he and his colleagues were shocked to hear an announcement from the SA to the governor on transport, directing each keke man to pay another N2,600 for that same security number.
On their plight in the hands of traffic police and the State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), he lamented that the uniform men had rendered their business miserable as the level of extortion had become unbearable.
"There is anger in the minds of the riders based on the illegalities we are seeing. The traffic police here have become a threat to the riders. If you are passing through Tombia junction, you can bear me witness.
"There is no area around Tombia junction where a keke man will park that is not illegal in the eyes of the traffic police. They will arrest you, take you to their office and force you to pay nothing less than N2,500 and they know that we don't have bus stops in Yenagoa.
"They have formed a habit that even if a traffic police is posted to any position in the state capital, he will first of all branch at Tombia junction and look for two or three keke that he will collect money from, before he will go to his duty post.
"Yet, on that same road, motorists even drive one way hustling for passengers and no police apprehends them.
On SARS, he said, "once you cross the Ekoli Bridge, the anti robbery squad there must collect N100 from you whether you carry only one person or not. If you give them your papers, they will fold it and put it inside their pocket and keep delaying you until you give them the money".
Jonas also complained that the FRSC were also allegedly feasting on keke riders in the state capital.
The tricyclists vowed to embark on an indefinite strike if the ministry of transport refused to reverse the renewal of the security number fee.
Meanwhile, Koroye has told TNN that the security fee has been reduced from N2,600 to 1,200 after a meeting with government and leaders of the tricyclists, adding that the revalidation of security numbers was not peculiar to Bayelsa.
With the security number, Koroye said criminals were being tracked and arrested while commuters who lose their items easily traced and recovered them through the number.