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How Nigerians cut cost in 2017

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  • Retrenchment
  • One-way school run
  • Salary cut
  • Reduction in overhead
  • Changing of children’s schools
  • Stopping of school feeding allowance

 

 

The economic recession in the country seems far from being ebbed. Companies, like individuals, are still groaning. Despite government’s assurances that Nigeria has technically exited it, many of these establishments such as multinationals, banks, insurance firms, and media houses, have had to downsize their staff strength, while others simply sliced their workers’ salaries to remain in business. ISIOMA MADIKE, who has been tracking this trend, reports

 

 

Nigerians, just like companies are groaning, as recession continues to grip national economy in 2017. The economic crisis has, indeed, forced many businesses to continue to invent different strategies to remain afloat. While some had cut their staff strength, others have had to slash salaries. Banks, insurance firms and the media, are in this category.

Saturday Telegraph gathered that a number of banks including the “big” ones have had to lay off thousands of workers since January even as many firms operating in other sectors of the economy were said to be compiling names of those to be fired. Source at most of these companies told one of our reporters that most of those sacked cut across, especially those that have subsidiaries. First Bank of Nigeria Limited, with its contractor, Whyte Cleon, is believed to have sacked over 1,000 workers via text messages and telephone calls, not too long ago.

It was gathered that the bank has been silently laying off staff across the country. The sacking, which started in August, is yet to abate, according to sources close to the bank, as more are said to be on the verge of being sent home, which might come as their New Year gift. Some of those affected by the purge, said they were engaged by In-Sourcing Limited, located on 18, Keffi Street, Off Awolowo Way, Ikoyi, Lagos State.

Insourcing Limited, formally a subsidiary of the First Bank Group, commenced operations in Nigeria in July 2008. The company was established to provide support staff solutions, first to the bank, subsequently to the group and then to other businesses. First City Monument Bank was also believed to have sacked over 400 of its workers.

There have also been unconfirmed reports that other banks have retrenched employees, though on a small scale. There are those that resorted to cutting salaries and delay payments; sometime well into the next month, while some are still finding it difficult to even pay at all.

Construction firms are not left out as over 65,000 workers were said to have been sacked following the economic recession plaguing the nation. This followed their inability to meet up with their obligations to the workers as the recession hits the sector with over N600 billion debt, which the federal and state governments is believe to owe the sector.

President of Federation of Construction Industry (FOCI), Solomon Ogunbusola, explained that the 135 construction firms registered and operating under the association were being owed, a situation which had compelled some to lay off their staff.

Unlike what happened in First Bank Plc, and First City Monument Bank, however, a source at Heritage Bank confirmed a different strategy. It said: “Our staff have been getting half pay since March as authorised by the management of the bank. All staff across board had their salaries slashed into half; is either you take it or you resign.

The bank took the decision so as not to sack anybody and so as to stay afloat. But that didn’t work because it started sacking almost thereafter. Our problem started since the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA). The bank has been struggling to keep its books in check ever since.” Apart from Heritage, a number of other banks in the country are said to have closed many of what they described as unprofitable branches, as the situation bites harder.

It was similarly gathered that most of these banks had equally laid off hundreds of their workers. According to the information gleaned from the sector, Unity Bank Plc alone has laid off about 300 workers, while Diamond Bank Plc, Ecobank and Skye Bank Plc, had earlier in the year sacked over 3,000 members of their workforce also. It was learnt that the affected banks could no longer justify their existence as cost analysis had shown that they were spending more on salaries and overheads than the income from most of their branches.

Some of the workers of the banks, who confided in Saturday Telegraph under the condition of anonymity, said more banks might be forced to relieve more workers of their duties in the coming year if nothing serious is done to arrest the situation. An executive director in one of the banks said: “We have laid off some of our staff members but that seemed not to be enough. Many branches just exist for the sake of being there. They are not generating enough income. What they are bringing in is far less than what the bank is incurring as costs on them.

We may have to close such branches in the coming year. I know a number of other banks that are planning something similar.” The executive director did not stop there. But added: “It is an ongoing administrative thing in the banking industry. Banks will want to rationalise branches, especially in a difficult economy.

They just have to cut costs. Branch rationalisation is normal but the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has to be notified.” The sector, no doubt, has been battling a number of challenges in recent time. The un-abating financial crisis, which has led to a high rate of non-performing loans in the banking system, made many of them to nosedive in their profit earnings, especially in the preceding year.

For instance, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc,Unity Bank Plc and Diamond Bank Plc, recorded a combined decline of N17 billion in their Profits Before Tax (PBT) for the three months ended March 31, 2016, when compared with the corresponding period of 2015, according to the results of the financial institutions posted on the website of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

When compared with the PBT of N30.52 billion, N32.65 billion, N4.26 billion and N7.94 billion recorded by the banks in the first quarter of 2015, the combined PBT of the four banks dropped by N17 billion from N75.4 billion in the first quarter of last year to N58.4 billion in the same period of this year. While Ecobank’s PBT fell from N30.52 billion in the first quarter of 2015 to N20.63 billion in a similar period of this year, GTBank’s dropped from N32.65 billion to N30.68 billion. That of Unity Bank dropped from N4.26 billion to N1.05 billion, while Diamond Bank’s came down from N7.94 billion to N6.04 billion. In terms of their Profit After Tax (PAT), the four banks recorded a decline of N14 billion.

Before now, banks in the country had been posting sharp increases in profits before tax and profits after tax since 2011 after the establishment of the Asset Management of Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in 2010 following the banking sector crisis in 2009. Aside banks, most of the oil companies operating in the country have also come under serious financial challenges due to the economic crunch, which has continued to impact on their operations and profitability. Some of them, according to investigations, are now slashing staff salaries, in some cases by 50 per cent, while others have reduced their investments in the country. One of the firms, a Lagos-based indigenous oil and gas company, announced that the 50 per cent salary slash would be for six months in the first instance. “We are obviously not happy with the development but we are discussing with the management but we do not know if they will reconsider their stand,” our source said.

The telecommunication sector is also not finding things easy as they are not left out from the gale of sacking sweeping across companies throughout the federation. MTN Nigeria, believed to be the giant in this sector, is said to have laid off some of its contract staff, particularly those that worked at the call centres. According to insider sources, many of the contract staff received their disengagement letters since the last quarter of this year. Most affected are those who worked in their branches. They were said to have had their salaries reduced from N120,000 to N40,000 a month. Recalled that MTN Group shares once slumped after the National Assembly raised allegations, in which the legislators accused the company of illegally moving almost $14 billion out of its largest market.

This, according to information from the company, was aimed at remaining buoyant in meeting its obligations. Also affected by the economic crunch is the automobile industry. Sources close to Coscharis Group said the auto giant has had to reduce its workforce by 208. Already, some of the affected employees had been paid off, in what a source in the company described as a move aimed at pruning down the staff strength to a manageable number.

The source added that those sacked were not limited to the automobile arm of the company but that it cut across virtually all its subsidiaries. “It was part of a general restructuring aimed at putting the firm on a sound financial footing,” our source added. Though, the story could not be confirmed, it is believed that factors such as redundancy, old age and poor health were considered in the exercise, just as some others were redeployed for improved performance.

Airlines have had to equally suspend operations on the heels of the ongoing economic recession sweeping through and crippling various sectors of the economy and bringing down supposedly viable and vibrant organisations in the nation. Aero Contractors was in the group.

As at the time it did the unthinkable, about 1000 of its workforce were thrown into the labour market that is already saturated by graduates and other job seekers. The airline had, before then, downsized its staff strength by 50 per cent. Although it came back to continue operations, Aero Contractors has been struggling since then.

There are indications that more airlines may close shop in the coming year, due to the biting economic recession, poor business plans, humongous debts and lack of adequate support from banks. The airline trade deficit, a source close to the airline revealed, stood at N20 billion. Also, the suspension was a consequence of series of challenges it faced in the past, a development which has negatively affected its operations, even after coming back.

The implication of the suspension of scheduled services operations, according to the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Fola Akinkuotu, extended to all staff directly and indirectly involved in providing services as they effectively proceeded on indefinite leave of absence during the period of non-services.

Barely 24 hours of Aero Contractors’ suspension of operations, another domestic carrier, First Nation Airlines, suspended its operations. Although, it was said that the airline did that to enable it to carry out the required maintenance of its aircraft, sources close to the airline, however pointed to the biting economic recession. Many saw the development as a bad omen in the industry, but, authorities of National Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA) were forced to refute the claims that the airlines in Nigeria were winding up. Other multi-nationals are still groaning as recession grips national economy.

Saturday Telegraph gathered that the food, beverage and tobacco sector of the Nigeria economy is on the verge of shutting down and that over a million jobs would be lost due to the inability of the companies to source foreign exchange to import raw materials for their operations. Already, leading companies in the sector, such as Nigerian Flour Mills, Nigerian Breweries, Guinness Plc, Nigerian Bottling Company, 7-UP Bottling Company Plc, Friesland Campina, Wamco Plc, among others, have written to labour for discussions on retrenchment of workers.

In the last three months, no fewer than 1,500 workers had been sacked in the sector as employers seek ways of coping with foreign exchange crisis. President of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB), Quadri Olaleye, had called on government to intervene to save the industry.

It was learnt that over three million jobs had already been lost since the beginning of the economic recession. Olaleye was quoted to have said that employers in the sector had devised every opportunity to sack workers, noting that between 2012 and the first half of 2015, over 3,000 workers were sacked in the guise of re-engineering, restructuring, right sizing, downsizing, redundancy and re-organisation.

He said: “The current situation has reached a pathetic level, because it seems all the employers in our sector are in competition with one other on who can lay off the most workers. Every company is now calling for a downsizing of the workforce, and this time under the guise of lack of foreign exchange due to the Federal Government’s recent policy on foreign exchange.” Also, thousands of workers employed by hotels and tourism firms across the country may have also lost their jobs following the worsening foreign exchange crisis caused by the economic downturn in the nation.

With hundreds of thousands of workers in the hotel and tourism business, the hospitality sector is one of the highest employers of labour in Nigeria. But with the situation in the country, most of these jobs now hang in the balance. The scarcity of dollars has impacted negatively on the industry as foreigners continue to shy away from doing businesses in the country. Also, the exchange rate of the dollar to the naira is not favourable to importers anymore, considering the margin between the two currencies.

The body is calling on government to begin to tap solid minerals deposits to earn more revenue. It is anticipated that government can earn additional $20 billion yearly from mining, which will help to improve the nation’s dwindling external reserves. The hoteliers also want government to relax some of its monetary policies on foreign exchange management. Economic experts have pointed out that the full implementation of the Federal Government’s TSA policy as a key reason for the current wave of job losses and economic mess weighing down the nation.

The policy mandates all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to remit revenue into a single account, thereby denying banks a cheap source of funds to transact business with customers. According to available figures, the policy led to MDAs pulling out N1.2 trillion, about $60 billion from commercial banks to the CBN. Also, over 20,000 accounts were said to have been closed as the process was speedily executed. An economic expert, Anayo Nwosu, blamed President Muhammadu Buhari for the pains Nigerians are passing through at the moment. He listed certain actions of the president that added to the speedy recession of the economy. He identified the implementation of the TSA as one significant cause of the recession. Painfully, some banks had to stop funding projects halfway hence making completion impossible and resulting in bad loans.

The media, especially the print category, has also been badly hit lately as the current economic crisis has forced some newspaper houses to cut staff strength in their newsrooms across the country. Sources close to some media giants confirmed that hundreds of journalists had been shown the way out, citing rising cost of operation amidst a general economic downturn.

Nigeria’s economy slipped into recession after contracting for two consecutive quarters due to months of low crude prices. Many businesses have had to close shop or downsized as the economic situation continues. One of the media houses based in Lagos said to be among the largest employers in the industry, reportedly cut between 30 to 40 jobs not too long ago.

A management source, who confirmed the development, said that some of the staff were dismissed following a staff performance appraisal. However, many that are still struggling to survive have had to resort to slashing salaries or owing for an upward of about three months. “It’s true that they were dismissed, but not entirely because of the economic situation,” the official said, adding, “We look at staff productivity like every year and those who didn’t meet up were many this year.” Staff members in Abuja, Lagos and elsewhere were affected by the exercise, which another source said was the broadest for the company since inception. The cut was deeper in others, where about 70 per cent were either converted to freelance or permission to leave for a period of time.

A reporter, who was among those converted to freelance, said the development marked the toughest time in his career. “There are many of my colleagues in other papers who have nothing to be hopeful for,” the reporter said. “So don’t assume I am being timid when I said mine is better than most.”

An editor in one of the affected papers said the changes had taken “a terrible effect on production.” “I am an editor, but the sacking made it difficult for me to make specific and timely demands from reporters. I can’t ask them to go to places and do stories within the deadline,” he added. The strategies to beat off the raging economic recession in the country is not a preserve of companies alone as individuals are also inventing different tactics to survive. This is most noticeable in schools. Before now, many parents would easily not be willing to enrol their children in public schools because of what they see as the dwindling fortunes of government schools.

They would tell a story of how the degeneration had defeated the purpose for which they were established and how many became eyesores. The loss in the public schools became, as it were, gains for private schools that sprang up under different names and standards. But, with the economic meltdown in the country, parents who could no longer cope with the high cost of these institutions are withdrawing their children back to the once rejected government schools.

The harsh economic realities of today, occasioned by the biting recession, seemed to have reconfigured the educational equation across the nation. To beat this challenge, parents are withdrawing their kids from private secondary, primary and nursery schools. They complained that they could no longer cope due to the fact that their take home pays can no longer take them home.

A support staff member of one of the new generation banks with head office along Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island, Anthony Boi, had three of his children at the prestigious Mayflower Private School, Ikenne, Ogun State. The pupils brought back home a letter from the school management as they were coming home for the long holidays.

The content was an upward review of both school and accommodation fees. “We were paying a little above N79, 000, which they now increased to approximately N118, 000 per pupil. For someone like me that have three of my kids in the school, it becomes difficult to cope.

So, I have no option than to move them to the public section, even though that was not what I wanted because of the quality. But, that is what my salary can carry as my wife has been out of job for quite a while now,” Boi said. Boi’s, however, is not an isolated case.

A middle aged woman, who identified herself simply as Chinasa, also told Saturday Telegraph that her husband had to relocate her and the children to their native Imo State when they could no longer survive with his meager income in Lagos State. Many other families have also taken their children back to their grandparents in the villages as a way of cutting back on their expenses. Bola, a JSS 2 student of Barachel Model College, Ifako off Oyemekun Street, Lagos, was also stopped from taking her schools bus to and from school. The school owners were charging each pupil N30, 000 per term for the bus services.

This, many parents said, were becoming a burden they could no longer cope with. “We had to resort to one way school run for her; dropping her off at school only in the morning on our way to work to save cost. She now only returns home with the school bus. With this we are able to save half of the money that would have been paid for such services.

That N15,000 is what we pay for her younger brother who is in Nursery 4 in another school,” said Bola’s mother, who identified herself only as Moyo. Just like Moyo, Ashikwe Chimanugor, a human resource consultant, also told Saturday Telegraph that he had stop his child from being fed at break period in his school to save cost.

Before now, his child’s school charges N15,000 per child and Chimanugor has three of his children in the school, and had been paying N45,000 for their feeding alone. He said: “We had to re-strategies to save money for their other needs. After we had taking stock of our spending on a monthly basis we came to the realisation that we may not be able to continue with such.

We also realised that we could spend far less to feed them adequately even better than what their school could provide them.” The story is virtually the same at most other private schools across the country. But, the owners of these schools are not relenting, as many of them have come up with some incentives to retain their pupils.

For instance, in Normal College, Ifako, Agege, Lagos, parents were promised a five per cent cut in the fees should they pay up before the resumption date. A senior teacher in the school, who does not want to be mentioned, told our correspondent that the strategy worked because many parents, according to him, rushed to pay because they needed to benefit from such lure.

“Quite a sizable number of parents benefited from this. You know that things are hard and many people would want anything that could cushion the effect of this recession. “It’s a motivation the owners of the college are contemplating sustaining in this hard time. We did our survey and discovered that our contemporaries lost many of their pupils to public schools. So, if we did not take such action, we would have suffered this same fate,” the teacher said.

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Investigation

KUJE PRISON INMATE: His operations, connections and lifestyle

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When, on June 30, 2017, Mr Dalhatu Yahaya, a 43-year old, walked into Elizade Motors Nigeria Limited in Abuja, explaining that he came to collect quotation for three Toyota vehicles, everyone around was on ground was happy that fortune was smiling on the company as regards sales that day. Mr Ige Olaleye, one of the members of staff of Elizade Motors who attended to Yahaya, said the man requested for quotation concerning a Toyota Hilux Pick-up, a Toyota Prado as well as a Toyota Land Cruiser, all amounting to a princely N38.9million.

Unknown to 48-year-old Olaleye, Yahaya, allegedly working with Ifeanyi Ezenwa, an inmate in Kuje Maximum Prisons in Abuja, was out to defraud Elizade Motors with fake bank alerts being their weapon. According to Olaleye, the recovery of the cars by his company would have come to nothing if not for the interventions of operatives attached to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Abba Kyari.

“The main guy, Ezenwa, is in Kuje Prison, Yahaya is his collaborator. In fact, it was Yahaya that came to defraud our company, he’s the person the syndicate uses to defraud people. As at the time this crime was committed, I was Acting Branch manager, all my statements are with the IRT operatives. Yahaya came on that fateful day, saying that his boss asked him to come and obtain quotation for the procurement of different cars,” Olaleye said. According to him, when he demanded to know who Yahaya’s boss is, the latter quickly put a call through to someone, clearing the cloud of suspicion and making Olaleye hand over the quotation and the company’s account number to him. “Yahaya’s boss introduced himself as Dr. Sam Attah. He claimed to be in Lagos as at that time and said we should give his boy, Yahaya, quotation of cars, which we gladly did. We didn’t hear anything until some weeks later.

He sent me a text; we were communicating through phone. I still have his number. One day, he called me twice; he said that he had paid thirty nine million, eight hundred thousand into the account number I gave to him. I asked him to forward me a cheque on how the payment was made, which I forwarded to our accounts department and our accountants confirmed that the money was already in our company’s account.

When Yahaya came to pick the cars, only one vehicle, which is the Hilux, was available. “I asked them to come back for the remaining vehicles. As a matter of fact, I reluctantly released that Hilux Jeep, since the receipt had been issued to my department by the account department. We had no reason to hold on and we were not aware of their fraudulent intentions. When it was time to issue the invoice, we asked him the name that should be there, he said Eniola Oladapo Hannah.

That is the name of the lady whose bank account they use to commit fraud. The payment was split into four parts of N9, 950,000 each amounting to N38, 9m, which is the total amount for the three vehicles. On July 13, Dr Sam Attah (Ezenwa) credited our Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) with another N38.9m, asking that we should double the number of the previous vehicles. “It was because of the alert, that the available Toyota Hilux, worth N17.5m was released to Yahaya on behalf of Dr Sam Attah on July 13, 2017. I pleaded with them to give me till the next day to provide the remaining vehicles.

After a while, our accounts officer called that all payment from Eniola Oladapo Hannah had been reversed. All efforts to reach Yahaya and Dr Sam Attah proved abortive. I even rushed to check the address, No. 92. T.Y Danjuma Street, Asokoro Abuja given to us by Dr Attah. When we got there, the address was fake, the street ends at No. 56.”

The company lodged a complaint with Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission (ICPC), IRT, Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Not long after, Eniola Oladapo Hannah was traced to Owo in Ondo State, she’s a mother of two kids. She probably got information that security agents on her trail and absconded. Eniola’s mother was arrested, detained for three days and then allowed to go. “The account officer that the fraudsters were using, was later arrested.

The account officer is with First Bank of Nigeria and our own account officer, GTB was also invited by EFCC. God was on our side. We didn’t stop praying on the matter and fortunately for me, one of the prayer points was for God to cause confusion in the midst of the fraudsters. Police traced the number Ezenwa used to call me to Kuje area.

The police used their GPS, but really couldn’t get the exact location of the caller. The trackers took us to Kuje Market, Winners Chapel Church, Deeper Life Church but nothing panned out. Most of the people arrested were interrogated and later allowed to go. We didn’t know he was in Kuje Prison. Nobody bargained that he was calling and pulling strings from inside Kuje Prison. Along the line, this same Attah started calling me; I had already saved his name as Dr Sam. He asked me how many cars were moved from my office, I said two Hilux vehicles. He said No! No! No! It was like a miracle when he gave me all the information on how to get Yahaya. He kept calling me back every three minutes.” Olaleye would later discover that Ezenwa was miffed because Yahaya, rather than sell and bring the money for them to share, disappeared with the cars. Angry and vengeful, Ezenwa called Olaleye and directed him to the location where he would get Yahaya, urging him to report to the police. “It was then I knew that God answers prayers.

There was confusion in their camp already. I went to EFCC to inform them, but they couldn’t believe it that a criminal actually called to give me information about other criminals’ whereabouts. Eventually, as God would have it, I put a call across to Mr Abba Kyari. He gave me a phone number of his team and the men immediately moved into action and arrested Yahaya. He’s the same guy that came to pick the cars. When police called me, I immediately identified him.

That was how God saved us. It was during interrogation that Yahaya confessed that he sold the car to someone in Kaduna State, their prime location for selling of stolen cars,” Olaleye noted. IRT operatives, the following morning, travelled to Kaduna State and arrested the man that bought the car from Yahaya. They also saw where the car was parked.

“I appreciate Abba Kyari and his men for a good job,” Olaleye said with joy. So powerful is Ezenwa that in June last year, he allegedly connived with some prison warders and sneaked out of his cell. He allegedly went to a store to buy an automatic wheelchair, using a fake bank alert. Mr Ani Okwudili, a 44-yar-old, reportedly told police: “On June 15, one Igwe and four prison officers, which the Igwe used as his body guards, came to my shop, situated opposite National Hospital Abuja requesting to purchase an electric wheelchair, BP apparatus, humidifier and 1 Q142 Omron, which amounted to the sum of N924,000. Igwe was complaining that he didn’t have money right then. After much persuasion, he demanded for our account number and phone number to enable him pay the money.

On June 20, Igwe called with phone number 09068148786, to tell me that his boy had paid the money for the items into my GTB account. He said that his boy made a mistake and paid the sum of N1, 050,000. He said that I should pay back the excess of N121, 000 into an Access Bank account, with account name Alhaji Galuba Shaidu and account number 0032392135. I confirmed from my account officer that N1, 050,000 clearing First Bank cheque with account name Eniola Oladapo Hannah with account number 2031617202 was lodged into my account from Akurem, Ondo State. After that verification, I paid N70, 000 into the Access Bank account given to me by Igwe.

He told me that he was sending his boy, with phone number 08022729641 to come and pick up the wheelchair and other items, including the remaining cash of N50, 000 of which he did. I released everything to the man that came from Igwe. I even called Igwe, who confirmed that he has received the items. Later, my account officer called me, saying that the lodged cheque from Igwe is a DUD cheque. He scanned and sent the cheque to me.” A frustrated Okwudili is of the view that police are delaying the case of Ezenwa. He wants him to be charged to court and prosecuted accordingly, rather than remaining in prison custody. “He should be prosecuted first and then, his victims would tell their stories to the media. He should be prosecuted and judgment passed on him.

The most important thing right now is to get judgment against him. Many people have information about him but once judgment is passed on him, people will open up. Moreover, police have all the information about him. Whatever information you need is with police. They cannot lie to you. Our statement is with the police and we cannot retract our statements. Several security agencies are involved in this matter.”

Ezenwa would have got away with the alleged crime against Okwudili but for a Close Circuit Television (CCTV), which captured him posing as a rich man, with the prison warders as his guards. Having allegedly left prison accompanied by prison warders to perpetrate the fraud, police now believe that warders are part of Ezenwa’s fraud syndicate. Speaking on the fraud perpetrated at Elizade Motors, Yahaya said he knew Ezenwa and a judge who is a friend of his were running a syndicate and was determined to get a piece of the action. He asked that a percentage should be given to him after the car had been sold, but Ezenwa and the judge allegedly refused.

This made Yahaya to disappear with the car. He ran to Kano State and sold it for N9m. He used N1.9m to buy another car and used N7m to run his political campaign. A vindictive Ezenwa, upon realising that Yahaya, a father of five children and husband to two wives, had played a fast one on him, he called Elizade Motors and spilled the beans. Already in prison, Ezenwa knew he had nothing to lose. Yahaya, who describes himself as a holder of a Diploma in Sharia and Civil Law which he bagged at the Legal Islamic School in Yola, Adamawa State, used to work at a Sharia Court in Gombe State as a driver. He resigned in 2013 to contest election as a local government chairman. Upon failing win the election, he relocated to Abuja in 2017 and went into property business. “In July 2017, Isah Imam Jega, an ex-convict from Kuje Prison, who is a judge, called me to go and pick up some cars.

I was arrested by the police. It was a man who I then only knew as Igwe that initiated me into fraud. I met Igwe in Kuje Prison when I went to visit one of my friends, the judge. The judge was an inmate in Kuje Maximum Prison, just like Igwe. It was after I was arrested that I learned that Igwe’s real name is Chief Ifeanyi Ezenwa. “The first job I did for him was at the Orthopeadic store, where I collected two wheelchairs, blood pressure machines and N50, 000 for him. After I collected the money, the judge instructed me to take the money to High Court and pay for his bail. It was after the payment, that the judge was released from prison,” he said.

Yahaya said that he was given nothing from the automatic wheelchairs deal because at that point, he was not aware that the items were not paid for. According to him, “I would have collected my share” if he had known. Speaking further, Yahaya said: “Later, my judge friend called me and told me that those items where bought with fake bank alerts. After the judge was bailed, he called and told me that Ezenwa wanted me to do a job for him. He asked me to go to Elizade Motor Company; he made me to speak with them. At the end, he told them that he wanted to buy five vehicles. I don’t know how he did it, but after a while, Geja called me again that the company was ready for me. He said I should go and pick two of the vehicles. When I got there, they gave me just one vehicle; a Toyota Hilux. I called my judge friend and told him that I would not deliver the vehicle to Ezenwa if he didn’t give me 30 per cent of the value of the vehicle.

“They turned down the deal, which made me to take the vehicle to Kano State, where I sold it for N9m. I bought a car of N1.9 million, and spent the rest of the money on my people. I contested for election.” Another victim of circumstance in the ongoing scam of Ezenwa and his cronies is Alhaji Umar Muhammad who spoke about Ezenwa and Yahaya. A 42-year old, Muhammad is into the business of buying and selling cars and has a car stand at Mai Tambari Motors in Kano State. “Dalhatu Yahaya was introduced to me by two of my trusted business associates, Shehu and Matawale. They called me on phone that one of their friends,

Dalhatu’s boss wanted to sell his Toyota Hilux for N9m, but I told them that I didn’t have money. I told them once I make some sales, I would buy the car. In July 2017, I was making transaction at GTB in Kano State, when Shehu and Matawale called me that they were coming, so that I could take a look at the Hilux,” he began.

When he sighted the car, he decided to buy it, especially since the documents and keys were intact. “I was in Saudia Arabia for Hajj, when I got a call saying that there was a problem and that police had come to collect the car.” Nobody knows for sure when Ezenwa took to the life of crime like duck to water but he first came under the radar of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Special Intelligence Response Team operatives (IRT) in 2017. It was exactly March, 2017 that the IRT Unit received a case of criminal conspiracy and Advanced Fee Fraud with Mr Lawson Nwachukwu of Apo Mechanic village, Lagos State Line, Abuja as the complainant against Ezenwa. When detectives eventually commenced investigations, they stumbled on many mind-blowing discoveries, which left them speechless. For long, tracking and locating Ezenwa was like hunting for a ghost. It took months to trace Ezenwa to Kuje Maximum Prisons as he was allegedly running his operations and carrying out his fraudulent activities right from inside the prison.

It was in that prison that Ezenwa, also known as His Royal Majesty, Engineer Jedidiah Ezenwa Attah, allegedly duped several people, using fake bank alerts Determined to ensure more victims didn’t fall into his trap, police authorities went public with his activities and methods of operations. Irked, Ezenwa hired a lawyer, threatening to sue four media houses that covered the story for a sum of N1billion each if the story was not retracted. While his lawyer was waiting and hoping for the retraction, Ezenwa again, allegedly committed another crime. When the media was alerted by police, Ezenwa hired another lawyer, this time a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is also asking for a retraction of the story as well as apology for his client.

In a letter, the lawyer, J K Gadzama, wrote: “Our client, though in custody for about six years now, for reason his lawyers are working relentlessly to unravel, has not been adjudged by any court as criminal.” Ezenwa, who was said to have become a guest at Kuje Prison after he allegedly defrauded someone and later jumped bail following his arrest, appears to be having a ball in the prison. What with prison warders allegedly allowing him leave prison accompanied by warders anytime while they pose as his guards! Little surprise his alleged criminal activities couldn’t be stopped by incarceration.

Modus Operandi Lawson Nwachukwu said a man came to his shop to purchase some spare parts for Mercedes Benz G Wagon Jeep worth N1, 950,000 on March 21, 2017. After confirming the availability of the spare parts, the man called someone he claimed is his boss who then asked Nwachukwu to send his account details so that he would transfer the money for the spare parts to him. Eager to do business, Nwachukwu immediately sent his Diamond Bank account number and received an alert of N1, 800,000 from a First Bank Account few minutes later.

He released the spare parts but a day later, the transaction was reversed and Nwachukwu immediately informed the man about the development through the phone. The man bid him not to worry, that such happened due to the need to credit the complete N1, 950,000. It was to be the last time they would talk and Nwachukwu never got the money for his spare parts.

Nwachukwu said he quickly reported the matter to the police when he noticed that the same man was negotiating with another spare parts dealer around and investigations would later uncover the man sending the fake bank alerts as Ezenwa, an inmate in Kuje Prison. Kyari, who, together with his teams of detectives, had been tracking and attempting to unearth all the alleged nefarious activities of Ezenwa, said: “IRT operatives went to prison and confirmed that he is there. The operatives have gone to court for a warrant to move him out from prison, in order to interrogate him. Nobody knows how he generates fake bank alerts, but we shall find out.

We need to know if some bankers are working with him. Ezenwa has masterminded many frauds, leading to the financial ruins of many Nigerians.” A police source said: “The customers would receive a bank alert, indicating that the accounts had truly been credited. However, when the customers go to the bank to confirm, the money wouldn’t be there.” The police source continued: “These fraudsters carry out these fraudulent activities mostly on Friday evenings.

They know banks don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays. There would have been interval of two days before a customer goes to check his bank balance. By the time the discovery is made, the customer had already handed the goods over to them.” On Ezenwa, the police further revealed: “The leader of the gang is in prison and uses a smart phone. The phone is connected to the internet and browses through online retail sites like OLX, JIJI and Jumia, where he connects with people who want to sell their valuables, especially cars.

He communicates with them via WhatsApp. “When he is buying vehicles, which are usually very expensive ones, he would ensure that he deals directly with the real owners. He would send members of his syndicate to verify the condition of the car. When he is sure of what he wants, he would swindle the dealer, using fake bank alerts. His members would disappear with the car.” According to the police, Ezenwa has different fraud cases pending in different courts. Some of these he is not even aware of yet, involve his accomplices. These accomplices were alleged to have fingered Ezenwa in other fraud cases are said to cut across different states in Nigeria.

The case that caused his remand in Kuje Prison is one being handled by another unit of the police, not the IRT which is eagerly waiting for him to be through with pending cases before they re-arrest and re-arraign him for the cases they have been investigating him for. Until IRT operatives recently smashed the syndicate, his wife didn’t know he was in prison. When police stormed his home in Abuja to impound some stolen cars, the woman told them that there must have been a mistake somewhere. So confident was the woman that she told the IRT men her husband was in Italy, from where he sends money to her often calls her with an international number.

The police explained: “One of his brothers, Emma, is the person that used to go and pick whatever Ezenwa had bought via internet. He also used to assist Ezenwa to check out what items to buy. Emma will go to him in prison to tell him about the items and Ezenwa would generate the bank alerts. “This time around, they went and bought car spare parts worth N1.6m. They used the fake alert to dupe the dealer. Again, Ezenwa sent a mechanic to buy another set of spare parts and the IRT team was alerted while the mechanic was arrested.

“The mechanic took IRT team to Ezenwa’s house where some cars were recovered. He used to send money to his wife from prison; his sister and brothers knew he was in prison, but his wife didn’t. We got his pictures from his wife and took them to police station. Some policemen who saw his pictures screamed, saying he is a well-known fraudster currently in prison.” Unveiling Ezenwa along with his location The discovery and smashing of Ezenwa’s syndicate started after IRT got wind of his criminal activities, following series of petitions.

The IRT team was instructed by the Inspector General of Police, Mr Abubakar Idris, to go after Ezenwa and put an end to his alleged criminal activities. Investigations led operatives of IRT to Ezenwa’s house in Abuja, where a G Wagon, Hummer Jeep, Honda Odyssey and a Honda End of Discussion (Honda Accord 2005) were discovered.

A victim, Mohammed Salanke Dahiru, a car dealer in Abuja, said Ezenwa swindled him of a Mercedes G Wagon. Salanke said: “On the day he defrauded me, he made away with my vehicle. It was worth N7million. He sent a man to my car stand; the man priced the car and took copious pictures which were sent to Ezenwa. My sales boy, Obinna, was the person that handled the transaction. When they agreed to our price, they took my account number. They insisted on transferring the money to my Diamond Bank account number. I gave it to them. An hour later, I received an alert. I called them to come and collect the car. “This was on a Friday; on Monday, when I went to the bank to check my account, I discovered the money was not there. On that fateful Friday that I received the alert, it had my previous balance in it.

The total money was balanced. I wondered how he was able to get access to my account. This incident happened in November 2016. I have been looking for the car since then. Earlier in the year, members of his syndicate also attempted to defraud another person and were arrested.” Speaking further with our correspondent, Salanke said that he was shocked that a former commissioner of police, now a practicing lawyer, is taking up the case of Ezenwa.

According to the police, Ezenwa wouldn’t have been able to continue in his fraudulent activities, right from prison; if not that prison warders were aiding him. How criminals generate fake bank alerts Following an increase in the number of cases of Nigerians being duped through fake bank alerts, Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) in the country are stepping up measures to check the activities of fraudsters who engage in this act, findings by Saturday Telegraph revealed.

A top bank official who did not want to be named said the industry had been recording a steady increase in the number of cases of bank customers losing their hard-earned money through the supply of goods to fraudsters who tricked such customers by sending a fake credit alert to their mobile phones. A

ccording to the bank official, as a way of checking the practice, DMBs have finalised plans to change the format of their alerts in such a way that these alerts will contain security features that will be impossible for fraudsters to copy. The official explained that the current format of bank alerts could be easily customized by fraudsters do this using bulk SMS.

“It is very easy these days for anyone who wants to send a fake bank alert to do this by closely studying the format that a particular bank sends its alerts. Once the fraudsters is familiar with the format, he can just do it by using Google to search how to go about sending bank alerts to a victim’s phone. So what we always advise our customers to do is to contact their account officers for confirmation if they receive any credit alert from someone they are not familiar with,” the banker said. Offering further insight into how criminals generate fake bank alerts, an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission noted that there are different cases of cybercrimes. According to him, using fake bank alerts to defraud

 

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NURTW deaths in motor parks

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The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) appears to function as a mixture of transport workers union and street gang. They are the lords of the motor parks, popularly known by many as “agberos”. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, highlights the influence of the union, power tussle, romance with the powers that be and how it became synonymous with violence

 

 

The orgy of violence and needless killings in Lagos State a few months back only brought to the fore what the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) has become in recent times. The killings followed the bloody clash by factions of NURTW at Idumota, Lagos Island. At the end of the “war”, no fewer than 10 persons laid dead with many others sustaining varying degrees of injury. Properties worth millions of naira were also said to have been destroyed.

The clash, Saturday Telegraph gathered, was between the Isale-Eko faction and Onola-Agarawu-Itafaji boys as the struggle for power continued in the district. Streets affected by the clash were Onala, Isale-gangan, Aro Lawyer, Jankara, Dosumu, Adeniji, Princess, Agarawu, Itafaji and other suburbs. About 12 persons were reportedly injured just as five cars were burnt by the warring factions. The fight, which started at 4am, was just one in a series of clashes by the NURTW that has hit the area in recent times with rising casualty figures.

The area had literally sat on a keg of gunpowder, as it explodes regularly, and most times uncontrolled. Trouble started, according to an eyewitness,when one of the warring factions, mostly made up of youths, stormed Isale-Gangan Street and set two cars ablaze. In the ensuing melee, a personal assistant to one of the NURTW chairmen in Idumota area of Lagos Island was reportedly killed.

He was identified simply as ‘Arnold Swagger’, an aide to Kunle Azeez, popularly known as Kunle Poly. Sources said the killers trailed the car belonging to Kunle Poly to Idumota, Lagos, at some minutes past 1am and opened fire on the occupants. While the main target escaped, Arnold Swagger was not that lucky, as he was hit by bullets.

He reportedly died on the spot. Before the Island massacre, Mushin and Oshodi areas of the city had equally recorded heavy casualties, from warring factions as well as even innocent residents of the areas.

The Oshodi crisis led to the death of one Rasaq Bello. He was, until his death in the bloody clash between factions, one of the leaders of Motorcycle Operators’ Association of Lagos State (MOALS) in Oshodi. The executives of NURTW appear to live above the law.

These top hierarchies of NURTW are so influential they could almost do anything and get away with it. One of such executives who live larger than life style in Lagos State is MC Oluomo. He is so powerful that he was sought after and interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC’s) Louis Theroux, when he visited Nigeria in August, 2016.

Theroux was led around the city by MC Oluomo’s late aide, Mamok, who was gunned down at a barber’s shop later in the year. In the said interview, Theroux was stunned by the influence MC Oluomo and his deputy Kokonsaria, wield and how much money they made already from being leaders of NURTW. Kokonsaria bragged that he controls more boys than MC Oluomo yet his loyalty to his is unalloyed.

The journalist was allowed access to MC Oluomo’s mansion in Oshodi, Lagos, where the former led him around. Kokonsaria, Oluomo’s second-incommand also has a storey building in Oshodi but seldom stays there owing to incessant attacks by touts otherwise known as ‘area boys’.

The BBC journalist was equally amazed by the confession of one of the sectional heads of the area boys, who boasted that he collects money from store and kiosk owners by force and resort to slapping them if they resist payment. The area boy, who did not disclose his identity, said that his boys police the area against any robbery or cult attacks.

He said he was a combatant and had mastery of the use of cutlass, knife and bottles for self-defence when a fight breaks out. He, however, stated that he was tired of fighting and needed real job. Before Mamok died, he had confessed that MC Oluomo was responsible for selling the NURTW tickets to members on contract basis weekly, which he said they issued to both drivers and riders. “What does MC do with the money?” Theroux asked.

He gets the money to ensure they don’t suffer police harassment,” Mamok had responded, arrogantly. However, the killings on the Island elicited so much tension. Following the crisis, the state government ordered the immediate suspension of all union activities in that zone indefinitely.

The state’s Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, who disclosed this shortly after the Security Council Meeting held at the Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja, and chaired by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, said the decision was to forestall any further breakdown of law and order and ensure that the peace in the areas is not hampered.

Edgal, while urging members of the NURTW on Lagos Island in particular to comply with the directive, said that government would not hesitate to totally proscribe all union activities if members continue to disturb the peace in the area. He said: “In view of the crisis rocking the NURTW chapter of the Lagos Island and the insecurity it is creating on the Island, the Security Council meeting today chaired by the state Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has ordered that union activities be suspended on the Island until further notice.

“We are also using the opportunity to call on NURTW leadership in the state that nobody or group of persons, organisations would be allowed to tamper with the peaceful security situation in Lagos State and that the government would not hesitate to proscribe completely all union activities in the state if their members do not obey the laws of the land and ensure that their activities do not amount to breaching the peace.” Also, the internal crisis in the Oyo State council of the NURTW was brought to the front burner when a member identified as Olumide Oyelowo, and his wife, Yetunde, were killed by unidentified gunmen. The couple was reportedly shot dead at their residence at Alalubosa, Molade area at Alakia Brewery in Ibadan, the state capital, about 2am. Sources said Yetunde was shot dead after the armed men killed her husband because she identified one of the assailants and screamed his name.

The reinstated chairman of the union, Alhaji Lateef Akinsola (Tokyo) and the former acting chairman, Alhaji Lateef Salako (Eleweomo), accused each other of masterminding the killings. The deceased was said to be a known member of Salako’s faction but was being suspected by his colleagues to be sympathetic to the Akinsola’s group. Salako was later to be killed in an unclear circumstance. Akinsola, while exonerating himself from the killing, claimed he was not involved in the crisis within the union in the state.

He told newsmen in Ibadan that the speculation that he was behind the clash between members of NURTW and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) was false. “I am the legal chairman of NURTW in the state. How can I instigate a crisis against it? I have court judgements from the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal that affirmed me as the chairman.”

There was, however, a political angle to the seeming uncontrollable crisis, which climaxed with Salako and two others paying with their lives. The trouble in the Peoples Democratic Party in Oyo State had erupted during the local government congress of the party.

Though, the attack that consumed Salako was said to have been initiated by members of the NURTW loyal to him. The allegation was that he led other hoodlums to disrupt the local government congress of the party because they felt the results in that local government might not favour their candidate. Yet, another account, had pointed to the direction of a prominent senator, who was said to have masterminded the mayhem. In another twist, an octogenarian, Chief James Awoniyi, who was the chairman of NURTW in Oyo State, between 1983 and 1993, had reportedly said that the crisis in the union started the day his former deputy, Akinsola, forcefully took power from him in 1993. “Tokyo was too ambitious.

He said I should leave the office. I was fortunate not to be killed on that day. He came to me in the office with thugs and hoodlums,” Awoniyi claimed. The fragile peace within Oyo State didn’t last for long as it ruptured when members of Road Transport Employers of Nigeria and National Union of Road Transport Workers engaged in a bloody clash over daily fees charged by the drivers’ union. According to sources, dangerous weapons were used by the two warring sides.

At Monatan, several gunshots were said to have been fired, which forced traders in the ever busy market to flee for safety. The source said: “I was at the market when fight broke out. We thought it was between two motor park workers but within five minutes, it spread, and dangerous weapons were used in the fight. Where we hid, we heard several gun shots.” Before normalcy returned to the troubled areas, many people had sustained serious injuries on both sides.

Yet, what played out in Lagos and Ibadan, were not isolated cases. It happens often in other parts of the country as NURTW has remained synonymous with crises that often lead to deaths of members and passersby. Meanwhile, it has, somehow, become an accepted norm to see full grown able-bodied men collecting money by force in and around motor parks under the guise of NURTW. This, most times, causes problems.Sometimes, the agberos, as they are fondly called would delay the movement of vehicles.

They call such levies in the South- West owo union (union due), owo load (loading fee), owo olopa (police money), owo task force (task force money), owo aaro (morning, afternoon and evening money), owo agbero (tout fee), owo council (LG council fee) and sometimes traffic officers’ fee) from even operators of individually owned public vehicles (taxis, buses, danfos) and motor bikes (Okada and NAPEP tricycles).

All the fees are collected in most of the major cities in Nigeria, sometimes under different names, especially the police fee is not debatable. Although the police have at different times denied that their members collect any fee, the reality is that the police collect fees at most bus stops, particularly in Lagos.

The OPS Messa, RRS, and other police units visit all motorcycle and motor parks at intervals to collect the fees every morning, afternoon and evening on a daily basis. Any park whose members that refuse to respond quickly would be maltreated and branded as illegal parks, while members would be arrested and sometimes tagged armed robbers. The act usually gives room for increment in transport fare.

Incidentally, the transport workers do not benefit in any form from this revenue. Saturday Telegraph gathered that the top hierarchy uses various fetish means to climb to and sustain themselves in power.

Many a times, the lure of office will cause disaffection among members, who will want the pecks associated with the exalted positions. This often leads to break down in transport and orderliness. The battle for supremacy and control of motor parks had often led to chaos within the ranks of the union leaders. In some instances, the leaders will engage in a gun battle at motor parks over the collection of fees and control of parks.

This frequently leads to heavy casualties. Incidentally, politicians use them while campaigning for elections and other ungodly vices they commit all in the name of leadership. But why would anybody kill or be killed because of leadership of a mere union? Many would do anything possible, according to an official of NURTW, Ketu branch, who does not want his name in print. The benefits of been in the leadership cadre are so many to be ignored, he said.

In fact, most union members, according to him, look forward to becoming a leader in any branch. He said: “Once you are the chairman, for instance, you have become untouchable. It confers on you the privilege to dine and wine with the high and mighty in the society, especially among politicians. When the politicians need thugs to help them achieve their political aims, they contact the leaders, who they pay heavily to recruit from their members.

So, they make stupendous money from such ventures. “Again, more than half of all the levies collected from the parks go to their pockets. It’s an insignificant amount that they reserve for the running of the unions. If you happen to operate at the national or even state levels, of course you will be meeting with the likes of governors or President and other important personalities in the country.

“They also own buses and anytime any of their buses arrive at the park, they will pick passengers first and if it happens that more than two come in at the same time, they will be allowed to pick before any other member. In fact, they live larger than life and mingle with the mighty in the society. And of course every member would want to enjoy such privilege at one time or the order. But you know they do this with the help of “African insurance” which they cannot do without.

“Yet, these offices come with high risk. They can be killed easily by others who are also desperate to occupy such seats. But again, it’s normal, because most of them would have done that to their predecessors too. So, it’s a karma kind of a thing. To be an agbero, you must be prepared to live a life that is defined by diabolism.”

The politicians often turn to state’s chapters of the NURTW as a primary source of political thugs. The unions have several thousand members and are meant to represent the collective bargaining interests of drivers of commercial passenger vehicles.

There are considerable evidences that NURTW has long been used as a tool of political violence by some politicians and others. Some longtime members complain also that the unions have been largely captured by violent “touts” who loiter about the motor parks harassing drivers and passengers alike.

This may be the reason violence and insecurity usually becomes the norm in the run-up to elections. The typical commercial driver in the metropolis loathes the union workers and sees them as mere pests who serve no other purpose than to reap where they did sow. But the union officials barely cares less, as they regards the commercial drivers as cheats. On a typical day, the hapless drivers are usually left with no other option than to cede to the whims and caprices of the bottle totting union workers who are known for their combative demeanours. In spite of how bizarre the monetary charges often seem, many of these drivers do have what it takes to challenge the authorities.

They are made to unwillingly accept this unlawful arrangement as a lot which just has to be borne in order to survive. “You would sincerely feel sorry for these drivers going by the arduous nature of their jobs.

They work under the sun, struggling to lure passengers into their vehicles and you end up finding these nuisances drawing scribbles on the car just to obtain N50 in the process. I feel upset because this has been going on since I was a teen,” one angry commuter said. To some people, the NURTW can best be defined as a bunch of illiterate thugs and extortionists. Yet, the NURTW national website stated: “The National Union of Road Transport Worker (NURTW) is an organisation that represents employees’ interests to management on such issues as wages, work hours, and working conditions.” Again, according to it, NURTW was formed to “protect, defend and promote the rights, well-being and the interests of all workers in the union against discrimination and unfair labour practices.”

But, the notorious and demeaning indiscipline and rowdiness in the parks is a direct result of the unruliness and lawlessness of members many people claim to be a bunch of overrated thuggish illiterates parading themselves as “union people”.

They jump into the road, stopping their “members” – taxi drivers and the commercial motorcyclists, Okada” extorting money from them. They often fight for control of the government-built motor parks and taxi-stands, and nobody knows what the forcefully generated money is used for by this organisation. Yet, their members, the real road transport workers seem not to benefit in any form from this massive revenue.

There is also an allegation that successive politicians, especially in most of the southern states are complicit in the use of these thugs while campaigning for elections and other unreasonable vices they commit, all in the “do-ordie” battle to get to power.

The governors use them; the senators and members of the House of Representatives use them; the members of the states’ House of Assembly use them; local government chairmen use them and even ward councillors use these road transport workers as thugs and enforcers to intimidate opponents.

They are equally used, in some instances, to disrupt political rallies, frighten electorate at polling booths on election days, rig elections by outright hijacking of ballot boxes, and generally fomenting trouble during elections. The “agberos” could also aptly be described as the “foot-soldiers” of the top bosses of the union.

The NURTW has, at various times, claimed that it derived its functions and actions from its registration and an Act of Parliament during President Shehu Shagari’s-led government in the Second Republic.

But the question is: does the Act stipulate the gangsterism and brigandage members of the union often manifest in carrying out their business? Governments across the country are not unaware of the infamous activities of agberos. In some instances, some state governments have had to proscribe the various bodies they represent. There are equally those who believe that it may be impossible for any democratic government to proscribe or condemn the unions’ activities, because, according to these opinions, all the political parties enjoy their patronage, as well as seek their support to win elections.

It is a known fact that the partisanship of the law enforcement agencies has always been a serious issue in tackling the menace of agberos in the Nigerian society, and it has, indeed, been alleged that the leadership of the police, as well as the politicians in and out of government, are the leading sponsors of this menace in the country.

There is obviously government’s lack of political will as being responsible for the persistent unacceptable acts of violence by the groups. Activities of the various security agencies in the states have also become a clog in the wheel of progress for commercial transportation in the country.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Emmanuel Nwaghodoh, while reacting to the activities of NURTW, said that it is important that government at various levels take firm steps to curb the lawlessness of this union in the country. “They need to evolve tough policies in order to ensure that no group or individual in the society continues to act above the law.

“The police and other security agencies must stop their unholy relationship with the lawless agberos so as to be able to hunt down, arrest and bring them to face the law if involved in anti-social activities. Nobody, no matter how highly placed or connected, should be allowed to go scot-free after inflicting pains on other members of the society in carrying out their legitimate business,” he further said.

 

Additional report from Lanre Odukoya

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AGRIC-ISAWO ROAD CONSTRUCTION: ANGUISH AS LIVELIHOODS DISAPPEAR IN RUBBLE

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For most Lagos residents, demolition has somewhat become a way of life. If it is not as a result of paving new roads, it is just about tractors knocking down “illegal” shops or markets. However the continuous changing face of the mega city comes with some consequences for the masses. In this report, MOSUNMOLA ADEYINKA and EMMANUELLA LEKWAUWA, highlight the sacrifice of those who bear the brunt of the efforts to lift the “Centre of Excellence”

 

 

Since assumption of office in May 2015, Governor AKinwunmi Ambode, has preoccupied himself with the slogan, ‘Itesiwaju Eko’; that literally translates to moving Lagos forward. But for most residents of the mega city, this forward movement is tortuously linked to the tearing down of the old, and sometimes new, for upward advancement.

However, most of those affected are the ones engaged in small and medium businesses, which ordinarily should galvanise the economic growth of the state. In Nigeria, it is said that this group of people and businesses contribute over 64 per cent of employment and 90 per cent of the industrial sector in terms of the number of firms or enterprises. Not too long ago, the bulldozers were sighted at Isawo and Igbogbo communities in Ikorodu, pulling down offices, shops and residential buildings.

The residents watched helplessly as their houses and belongings were reduced to rubble by heavy-duty machines. The demolition, which was commissioned by the state government, was, as usual meant to give the road a face lift. But every development, they say, comes with a cost.

This may be the reason tears freely rolled down the cheeks of hitherto strong men and women, as caterpillars moved through the community, destroying every structure on their path. Isawo, in particular, became a shadow of itself after the exercise. Yet, the demolition was to give way to a six-lane express road.

Adewale Samson, a trader and father of three, stood on a heap of rubble when Saturday Telegraph visited. He looked at the planks, pallets, remains of pots, bits of cardboard, threads of clothing and chunks of concrete, which were indistinguishable from every other pile in a field of debris stretching far into the distance.

“This is where I called home before this wicked demolition took place,” Samson said, looking down at the pile, as a neighbour searched relentlessly for anything he could salvage from the mess. “I had to withdraw my three kids from school in the meantime due to my present predicament,” he added.

Samson used to sell kitchen utensils in one of his shops along Agric road, Ikorodu, before the destruction. His major challenge is how to get another shop in another good site. Even at that, getting the fund to secure such a shop remained a herculean task. Yet, Samson’s case is not an isolated one.

There are many others who are also lamenting what they described as a calamity that befell them. To some of them it will take a lifetime to recover from the shock that is if they will ever recover from it.One of such victims is Tunde Ojo. He used to reside in a two bedroom flat in Agric-Isawo Road. He shared his pathetic story, describing how his apartment was demolished.

The apartment happens to be the only house that his elder brother, Kunle, built. The house had to be sacrificed for road expansion two years after the construction. “It all started when I returned from my place of work where I served as sales personnel in a company located at Isolo. The company produces pave stones as well as sales bulletproof doors.

My elder brother happened to be the landlord of my apartment. He had traveled to Kaduna State due to the nature of his job and was not aware of any notification from the state government. “But fear gripped me when it was been rumored at the market square around Agric Bus-Stop where I went to get some food items that some buildings were going to be demolished owing to the fact that the initial measured lane wasn’t sufficient. My fear was confirmed when I got home that same day and was informed by one of my neighbours that some government of-expand the road.

“Confused and depressed, I ran straight to the office the next day earlier than expected to see if I could talk to one of the managers in my place of work concerning the issue and to seek advice. But luck did not smile on me as I was informed by the sales manager that all the rooms within the company’s premises had been leased.

“Returning from office I discovered that my apartment had been reduced to rubble. Right now I sleep from one house to another in search of refuge. And as I speak to you now, I’m still looking for where to squat in the meantime. I can say that I was caught unawares,” he narrated with tears rolling down his cheeks. Some of the affected victims said that they were given just a short notice ahead of the demolition, without any promise of compensation.

Despite the development the road will bring to the area, the people of Isawo are not happy with the demolition. Some even claimed that they were not informed about the demolitions and they were surprised to see bulldozers moving in on their property.

A young man, who refused to be identified, told one of our reporters that his only shop was destroyed, which has now rendered him almost useless. “I was not aware that such was going to take place. I just came in that morning and could not find my shop. What pained me is the fact that all my goods were destroyed. I wasn’t able to retrieve anything.”

However, there are those, who admitted being in the know of the planned demolition, but that they did not know that there buildings would be affected. “Many of us didn’t know it will affect our houses and shops,” said a woman who lost her only house to the fury of the state bulldozer. Another, a tenant in one of the broken house, said that it was the timing of the demolition that did not go down well with him.

“Yes, we were told, but at least they should have given us an exact date. We were expecting them to come at a more convenient time, after we would have moved our belongings to a safe place. Most of us were not ready at the time they came. You can see, pointing to plane rubble. That used to be my shop,” he said.

Nasirudeen Kasali, whose Mosque was among the demolished buildings, said though he was informed that his worship centre would give way for the road expansion prior to the demolition but that he still found it painful because it was not an easy task building it.

“The Mosque came to be through voluntary donations by those who believed in the project.” The Agric-Isawo Road before the current expansion had become a nightmare for residents, especially during the rainy season, when the only available means of transport was commercial motorcycle known mainly as Okada. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had noted that the road, aside opening up the area for residential and commercial activities.

This, according to him, will, on the long run, improve public safety through reduction in travel time, vehicle maintenance and transportation cost leading finally to an overall better standard of living.

The Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Co-operatives, Rotimi Ogunleye, also said that the road will serve as a link to Ijede, Gberigbe and Imota where the state government has established a rice mill turning out 32 million metric tons daily and an industrial park.

The road, he also noted, was commissioned far back in 1973 by the Federal Government as an expressway, leading to the Lagos-Ibadan express road. Unfortunately for some people, their houses, worship places and business centres are on the pathway of the new road.

In spite of the flood of criticisms, many who spoke to our correspondents were happy about the road project. To them, it will not ease movement but would eventually open up the area for development. “I salute the governor’s courage on this; he is, indeed, touching the lives of the masses.

There is no way, however, that developments of this magnitude would occur without some people paying the great price; that is the prize of development. “But in the end many would benefit from it. So, I commend his efforts thus far. Lagos landscape is truly changing for the better.

We have suffered too much on this road. Every night, I get home very late. Is that how a human being should live? I am sure by the time they finish the road, the holdup will reduce.” Meanwhile, the state government has acknowledged that some buildings were removed without compensation but that it has asked all those affected to reach the appropriate authorities.

The Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Abiola Anifowoshe, said: “I urged all affected property owners to submit the following documents for the ease of processing the payment of compensation by the state government. The documents include: Certified registered title documents of properties within the said right of way, approved planning permit for the affected buildings, and other relevant documents.” Anifowoshe, said government had in recent time held stakeholders’ meetings with owners of properties that had to give way for the construction of the affected areas and had given assurance of adequate compensation.

He said: “Before we remove any structure in Lagos State, the state government would first hold stakeholders’ meeting with the affected property owners within their domain to obtain their buy-in and commitment towards the projects. “Government has held meetings in all these locations and during these meetings, it allayed stakeholders’ fears and assured them that the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode would not remove any structure without following due process.”

Anifowoshe said that officials of the ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development had marked all identified structures within the proposed right of way in these locations and had served all affected structures with necessary notices.

He added: “I urge all affected property owners to submit the following documents for the ease of processing the payment of compensation by the state government. The documents in clude and I repeat: Certified Registered Title Documents of Properties within the said right of way, Approved Planning Permit for the affected buildings, and other relevant documents.” The commissioner said the infrastructural upgrade and expansion of the major and adjoining roads was in fulfilment of the promise by the governor to transform the state into a safe, functional and efficient commercial hub in Africa.

“We use this opportunity to appeal to all affected property owners to cooperate with the Lagos State government for the socio- economic development of their areas and Lagos State as a whole,” he said. Amid complaints trailing the state’s urban development agenda, the government said it has paid about N8 billion compensation to individuals and groups whose properties were affected by key projects and development in the state in the last oneyear through its Land Bureau Unit.

Special Adviser to the governor on Urban Development, Mrs. Yetunde Onabule, had, in a recent seminar on, “Urban Tinkers Campus-The City We Need” denied that government forcefully evict people without taking into consideration their welfare. According to her, compensation were paid promptly by the government on any land acquired by the government for public interest with presentation of all necessary documents by affected persons, group or organisation.

Onabule said that the government would consistently advocate for the titling of all lands in the state and urged the people to obtain governor’s consent on subsequent transactions, regularise and register their titles with appropriate authority.

In his reaction to the liveable index number, which the state was ranked, Secretary to the State Government, Tunji Bello, who represented the governor, said the state government is delighted to be one of the 74 Urban Thinkers Campuses worldwide.

He said the development confers on the state the privilege of being one of the global centres providing a platform for stakeholders in sustainable urbanisation to exchange ideas, forge partnerships and develop solution to the challenges of urbanisation in contemporary modern cities “As a mega and fast development city, Lagos State is strategically positioned to play a leading role in propelling development on the continent. Not only is Lagos the economic capital of Nigeria, it is the fifth largest economy and fastest growing city in Africa with population of over 22 million people.

The huge economic opportunity available in Lagos State makes it a major destination for prosperity seekers which translates into thousands of people migrating into the state on daily basis,” he said. Anifowoshe, however, lamented that the major challenge facing Lagos is the massive influx of people into the state.

“This trend combined with the fact that one-third of the world’s population reside in slums, emphasizes the urgent need for high quality urban design and planning with effective implementation,” he stated.

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