Members of the Rivers Transport and Investment Cooperative Union Ltd (RTICUL) Thursday took to the streets of Port Harcourt in protest against alleged “harassment, intimidation and extortion” by the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).
The protest saw members of the cooperative union, predominantly self-employed taxi drivers led by their president, Comrade Tubonimi Wokoma, marched from Aggrey Road, through Azikiwe Road to the Government House gate where they were intercepted by policemen around the visitor’s car park.
They displayed several placards with some of them reading; “NURTW is exploiting us. We are not a trade union”; “NURTW bus stop are public places”; “Self employed transporters have a right to use public places”; “NURTW leave the bus stops”; “NURTW public roads are not your own”; “Police save us. Coop societies”; “NURTW leave public bus stop to your garages”.
Addressing the protesters at the government house gate, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) told them that the situation has not got to a level where they had to take to the streets but advised them to send him a copy of the letter they wrote to the Commissioner of Transport promising to promptly look into the matter.
Speaking to the press on the reasons for their protest, president of the Rivers Transport and Investment, Cooperative Union Ltd., Tubonimi Wokoma said the protest was to demand an end to the illegal extortion of N500 from the over 4000 members of the cooperative who he said were mostly self-employed taxi drivers. He queried the rational behind the continued extortion of the helpless drivers without the government asking any questions
He told journalists that they had written several letters to the appropriate ministries and the police to address the matter, to no avail, hence the protest.
He explained that most of the taxi drivers either have the cars given to them by others to whom they make periodic remittances or bought the cars from their pension monies saying “they are not workers and we now ask ourselves why would the National Union or Road Transport Workers (NURTW) take that bold step”.
Wokoma contended that under the Nigeria labour law, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC has 29 affiliate members with the NURTW being the 16th affiliate. “Now we ask ourselves, what about the all the people in NLC are they not employed? They are all employed except for NURTW who are not employed. So we term them brigands, impostors because if they are working they are supposed to be in the premises of their employers.
Not on the road, no trade union that is employed stays on the road and work. Why is national union?”
He continued “NURTW is a bunch of criminals, accepted by the people to extort the people. Now look at the society where you have about 4000 self employed taxi drivers paying N500 (five hundred naira) everyday to national union, you take the statistics and tell me what it is.”
He stated that there was no justification for the N500 to national union since they do not render any services to the society. He asked “how can trade union workers provide service to the society? They are supposed to provide services to their employer. But these people are not gainfully employed. They are touts, they pay check-off dues only to their executives but before you pay check-off as the law provides you must be working. It is your employer that has the obligation to deduct the check-off and pay to the appropriate union”.
“So you don’t come out on the road, extort people and use it to pay check-off dues. That is criminal. That is why we are telling the police that what is happening is not a matter of trade union. We are reporting criminal matter to the police to investigate but the police fails to investigate saying it is a trade union matter. NURTW is not a trade union, they are just criminals protected by the police,” Wokoma stressed.
According to him, Rivers state now needs a decent transport system, well coordinated, not one full of “brigandage and hooliganism”. “It will also boost the state government revenue generation and decency and commuters will have joy and freedom paying their money in any transport system, but what we have today is fraud and criminality. Moreover that has been the law since 1978”.
He also called on the mother union, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to restructure NURTW properly saying that those who are supposed to be members of the NURTW are workers in various transport companies like, Ekene Diri Chukwu, Chidi Ebere, Rivers Transport Company, etc.
Two members of the cooperative union, Blessed Gabriel and Godwin Odimbo, told our reporter that the NURTW action is an infringement on their right and “need to put food on the table for our families. We call on the state government to step into the matter quickly.”