NURTW is a union of tough people, not for the faint-hearted —Auxiliary

Alhaji Lamidi Mukaila, popularly known as Auxiliary is waiting in the wings to assume office as the new Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Oyo State, following the proscription of the union by Governor Seyi Makinde on May 29. In this interview by TUNDE OGUNESAN, he speaks on what he describes as the new NURTW in the state and what is expected of its members. Excerpts:

 

Sir, apart from what the world knows about Alhaji Lamidi Mukaila, what would you like us to know about you? Who is Alhaji Lamidi Mukaila?

I am Lamidi Mukaila, also known as Auxiliary, a young man from Ibadan who has been a transporter for over 40 years. I am mostly known in my profession and as an official of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). I learnt the art of transport business from the very bottom as a conductor, at Mokola Roundabout, in Ibadan and rose through the ranks to becoming a professional driver. I got my first driver’s licence on July 14, 1978. By the grace of God, today I am the Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Oyo State.

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How did you come about the alias Auxiliary?

The name Auxiliary came to be in the course of my practice as a thoroughbred transporter. About 30 years ago around Abatakan area of Shasha Ojoo, in Ibadan, one of the brands of buses in use then, Nissan E-20 was stuck in the mud. Several drivers had tried to drive it out without success. I saw their unsuccessful struggle to get the bus out of the mud and I approached and was allowed to make an attempt. I managed to drive the bus out of the mud without much struggle and people hailed the effort and said that I used “auxiliary gear”, although the Nissan E-20 bus had no auxiliary gear. Since then, the appellation “auxiliary” became my nickname.

 

Looking back, how did you rise to power as the chairman in the NURTW in Oyo State?

I rose through the ranks like I said and I was the acting state chairman till 2011 when we were removed from office following the election of Senator Abiola Ajimobi as the governor of the state.

 

How were you removed?

That’s our tradition in the union. When there is a change of government, the executive of the union changes as well. The faction of the union that worked with a particular party that wins an election takes over the reign of the union.

 

Is that why there is always crisis when such happens?

No. Succession doesn’t cause problems among us so long as the factions affected respect that tradition. Crisis occurs only when a faction refuses to cooperate or obey that tradition. But we thank God that everything has been made easy. Governor Seyi Makinde has been able to make this happen without any act of violence and in a way that is unprecedented in the history of the NURTW. Everything happened in an atmosphere of peace; no more room for violence in the union, and today, all of us are okay with the current arrangement. If anyone goes against the arrangement and causes trouble, he will be handed over to law-enforcement agents. I therefore want to assure our people that there are no more crises in the Oyo State chapter of NURTW. We have all agreed to abide by the resolution brokered by our National Chairman, Alhaji Nojeem Yasin and sanctioned by Governor Seyi Makinde. The governor has the final say and he has done this without bias. We pray that God will bless him with more wisdom to govern the state with the fear of God with which he has started. When the governor lifts the ban on the union’s activities in the state, we will call a meeting of the new executive to chart a new way for our operation in the state. And we assure our members and the public that there won’t be any problem in the state.

We thank Governor Makinde for the wisdom and the tact with which he resolved the issues in the union. We have all agreed to abide by the decisions. Alhaji Yasin came and we held meeting at the government secretariat. I was at the meeting with Alhaji Bideen Ola alias Ejiogbe and some other members of the state executive. We agreed to solve the problem among us. At that meeting, it was resolved that I take the number one position, which is the state chairman of our union, and Ejiogbe should take the number two position while other posts were shared between the two factions in the union. We all consented to this decision. And let me add that for all the 18 members of the executive that have been privileged to be picked from the two camps to constitute the state executive, all of them are answerable to the number one, and that is the state chairman. All of us will work together as one unit of Oyo State NURTW.

 

Has the new executive been able to meet to fine-tune your working arrangement in preparation for when the governor will lift the ban?

No. We can’t meet like that because there is no reason for it for now until the governor lifts the ban on the union’s activities. Such a meeting must come up at the union’s secretariat and since the union still stands proscribed, nobody has access to that secretariat yet.

 

Members of the public are scared of your personality; that you’re a trouble maker and that if you’re given the chance to lead the union, it will cause violence in the state?

I have no problem with whoever that said that or have been saying such about me. But such a person should be able to come out and tell the world if I have come to his or her neighbourhood to cause crisis or that while driving round the town, I parked my vehicle and started fighting on the street. I want to clear the minds of the people of such erroneous impression about my personality. All members of the NURTW are tough people.  You can’t succeed in this business if you’re dull; you must be mentally alert and be physically sound to get a space, maintain it and sustain yourself as a transporter in Nigeria. No dullard can thrive in NURTW, and that’s one of the reasons we hardly operate without having factions because we don’t always agree on the same issues. So, the issue that Auxiliary is tough or troublesome is blackmail. All members of our union are tough because of the nature of our job. I know that the last administration of our union in Oyo State had trained blackmailers, even before they ventured into the transport business. The reason is because they don’t want other members of the union to rise. Some of them have never driven to a town as close as Ikire, that’s why they believed the union is their property which is not so, we are a body and not anybody’s estate. When they get there they want it to be their sole property and this happens because they operate under the banner of the party they worked with, which is intolerant of opposition. Their character is same as that of their sponsors.

 

You promised that when you meet with your new executive, you will rebrand the union in the state. What should the public expect in this direction?

The numerous parks created within short distances is against the constitution of our union. If the last administration had trained transporters, they won’t be creating parks carelessly like that; it was done for their selfish interest.

 

You mean the parks or bus stops where NURTW officials give out ticket are too many?

Yes, too many to control. That’s why the drivers become strict in terms of transport fare because they have to service too many joints of the union at short distances. For example, if a driver takes off from here now without travelling more than a half kilometre and had to buy tickets or settle unions like in two or three spots, the driver will somehow have to source for means to get what he needs to cough out in such scenarios. In conjunction with the new executive when we are eventually returned to office by Governor Makinde, we’ll have to address this. Don’t forget that I was once a bus conductor and a driver, I know how this hurts. We’ll work on this with a resolve to allow downward review of transport fares where necessary. At the moment, Agbero now eats more than the bus or car owners; this trend is not good for our business. As a transport business owner, we will see to it.

Secondly, we will also look into our members who cause crisis, whoever that is caught will face the music. We are planning to make them attend seminars like three times in a year against such act. This is aimed at reducing the rate of hooliganism in the union, remodel the characters of members in doing business with members of the public. Anybody who now acts in contrary to our rules and regulations will face the consequences of his disobedience. The government of the day will invoke the instrument of law against such person, and as a union, we will also put in place a disciplinary measure to curb this. And to achieve this, we will provide hotlines for members of the public to also report any member who misbehaves. We are coming to administration to do business and earn our living. Nobody is coming or planning to foment trouble.

 

Is there anything you can do in the way your members threaten commercial drivers, remove some parts of their vehicles in the course of collecting dues from them?

Yes, that’s why I said we will restructure the way we work in the state. Most of those guys collecting fares for the union in that manner on the roadside are not real members of the union. Most of them are either members of local vigilantes, OPC, and people whose businesses are not doing well, like carpenters, bricklayers, butchers, so they can’t do it better. But henceforth whenever we are allowed to go back, we will ensure that real professional transporters do that for us. So, if peradventure, they misbehave, we will be able to discipline them professionally and as staff members.

 

The menace of kidnapping has increased in Nigeria, particularly in the South West region, with fingers being pointed at some commercial drivers. As the head of NURTW in Oyo State, how do you intend to tackle this?

Whenever we resume, we will immediately hold meetings with the police in Oyo State and the other state security agencies to, among other things, help us with patrol vehicles to monitor the affected routes. We will have some of our members work on this because we know ourselves. In areas they will need our expertise or contribution, we will provide details. I promise you if we can do that within six months, such will disappear in our neighbourhoods and routes. It is achievable if we work together.

 

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