Tension grips Lagos motor parks as Baruwa, MC Oluomo fight for control

•DPOs will answer for any breakdown of order —CP

OLALEKAN OLABULO goes into the heart of the crisis brewing between two transport union gladiators who were allies before supremacy battle pitted them against each other.

Uneasy calm now pervades hundreds of parks in Lagos following Monday’s bloody free-for-all, as the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the state’s Parks Management Committee jostle for control and supremacy.

Hooded supporters on both sides clashed at the Fagba area of the state, with the crisis spreading to the notorious Agege axis.

It took the coming of the State Rapid Response Squad for the gladiators to retreat after several combatants had been injured in the clash. On its verified social media handle, the police unit described the battlers as hooded miscreants.

Controversial unionist, Mr Musiliu Akinsanya, a.k.a. MC Oluomo, who was appointed the chairman of the Parks Management Committee by the state government, was said to be visiting when the area was thrown into crisis.

His media aide, Jimoh Buhari, claimed that his boss only went to visit a traditional ruler in the Fagba area and was not on a mission to displace members of the NURTW operating in parks and garages in the area.


He also absolved his boss of any complicity in the crisis.

“There is nothing like a forceful takeover of motor parks. No crisis broke out in Fagba when MC Oluomo went to visit a monarch in that area. Besides, Fagba is controlled by our people. Why would we attack our own people?

“There is also nothing like using guns to take over garages; all we need to do is to write letters informing the operators of our intention. Besides, before now, 95 per cent of former NURTW executives in Lagos State were for Oluomo, only a few of them were not.

“However, everybody is welcome in this new process. So, there is no cause for alarm. The area people are anticipating tension is only the Meiran axis. People are just exaggerating.”

The national body of the union, last month, dissolved the Lagos chapter headed by Oluomo and replaced him, with the state secretary, Seyi Bankole, pending the constitution of a caretaker committee.

 

Things fall apart

Following Oluomo’s suspension by the national body of the union and subsequent dissolution of the executive body, the state government, too, suspended the activities of the union in the state and set up the committee, appointing the embattled unionist to lead it.

Since the announcement of the controversial appointment, Saturday Tribune has observed tension and confusion in garages and parks over the collection of daily union dues, which run into millions of naira. Despite the ban announced by the state government, NURTW officials and members are still seen operating, with most of them being part of the Oluomo era. The national body of the union, headed by erstwhile Oluomo’s ally, Alhaji Ibikunle Baruwa, has insisted it had not stopped the Lagos chapter from operating and the members are still with the union.

After the Monday bloody face-off, Saturday Tribune learnt that another major crisis may be in the offing as the Oluomo committee prepares to take over all the garages and parks. Many union leaders in the state, who are holding strategic parks, are reportedly not willing to yield them.

Apart from the Meiran axis, which MC Oluomo’s aide said would be difficult to take away from the current operators, other areas have been identified as flashpoints in the ensuing crisis.

According to information sourced within the system, things had fallen apart between the Lagos council and the national body before the eventual removal of Oluomo.

Saturday Tribune learnt that currently, there are two camps of the union in the state: one loyal to the suspended chairman, Akinsanya and the other pitching its tent with the National President of the union, Baruwa. Surprisingly, the two major gladiators, Oluomo and Baruwa, were allies in the battle that brought the national president to office.

 

Show of force?

Saturday Tribune gathered that the tension around motor parks in the state is more palpable in the tricycle section as the Parks Management Committee and the NURTW battle for control of its affairs. There had been violent clashes between these two groups in Iju, Fagba and Abattoir area of the state.

It was gathered that while the pro-Oluomo group is insisting that the state government had banned the operations of the NURTW, tricycle and motorcycles while the Baruwa group is claiming that the suspension only affects vehicles and not others.

At a press conference in Lagos, those who spoke in favour of the Baruwa group include a former chairman of the NURTW in the state, Alhaji Rafiu Akanni Olorunwa; the newly appointed chairman of Tricycle Owners and Operators Association of Nigeria (TOOAN), Alhaji Azeez Abiola, a.k.a. Istijabah; and ousted chairman of TOOAN, Alhaji Murtala Lawal, popularly known as Epo Muri.

A top member of the union who spoke with Saturday Tribune on the condition of anonymity said: “Let me clear something from the beginning: there is no crisis in Lagos NURTW or Tricycle Owners and Operators Association of Nigeria (TOOAN). It is simply a clash between MC Oluomo and his boss, Alhaji Baruwa.

“The two of them used to be friends but things changed the moment MC Oluomo was appointed as the chairman in Lagos State. They both belonged to the same camp when they were fighting against the former NURTW chairman in Lagos State, Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede. Baruwa was about stepping down for Agbede, who had the backing of former president Najeem Yasin, when MC Oluomo and others rose to the occasion.

“They were fighting for a common goal, which was to ensure that Agbede did not emerge as the national president. MC Oluomo was doing so because he felt that Agbede might not allow him to realise his longtime ambition of becoming the Lagos chairman of the union.

“Prior to Agbede emerging as the chairman of the NURTW, MC Oluomo was locked in a battle with then-chairman, Alhaji Olorunwa, resulting in violent clashes between their supporters, especially  on the island of the state. The clashes were so much that the national leadership had to drop the two of them and appoint Agbede as the state chairman, while Oluomo was compensated with the post of the treasurer of the union.”

On the ongoing crisis, the source disclosed that “Shortly after MC Oluomo was appointed as the chairman of the Lagos State council of the NURTW, the relationship between him and his former ally, who had become his boss, turned sour as a result of the composition of the state executive.

“Oluomo had expected his boss to give him the freedom to choose all his loyalists, who were with him during the battle against Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede. Left for Oluomo, his trusted longtime friend, Adekunle Mustapha, popularly known as Tafa Sego, would have been his deputy but that was not to be as the Abuja power broker insisted on Sulaimon Ojora, popularly known as Ikudeleti.

“All this disagreement happened less than two months after Oluomo was inaugurated. He (Oluomo) was bitter because he felt that Baruwa was too overbearing but he had to endure because of public perception. Oluomo was said to have complained to some of the elders in Lagos State, particularly a Mushin-based community leader.

“Oluomo was not happy with all the arrangements but he didn’t want to be seen as an ingrate and he did not want those outside of the union to despise him for supporting Baruwa against Agbede. Then the people in Abuja brought a secretary, who is said to be like a son to Baruwa. Oluomo complained to some elders then and they assured him of their support. One of the elders even suggested that they should write a letter to the state House of Assembly” the source disclosed.

Another member of the union, who is very close to the Agege secretariat of the union, while speaking with Saturday Tribune said “The whole crisis was blown open, when Tafa Sego led some members of the union to protest at the Lagos House in Marina, accusing the national president of  of undue interference in their activities.”

He added: “What actually caused the protest was the rumour then that Alhaji Baruwa was planning to install Alhaji Azeez Abiola, a.k.a. Istijabah, as the chairman of TOOAN in the state. That was what MC Oluomo was trying to avoid. The people in Abuja had made up their mind that they were going to frustrate him with the tricycle issue, since they had been looking for an opportunity to get him.

“Some months before Agbede was to leave office, there was an election in TOOAN, which is an affiliate of NURTW. Alhaji Murtala Lawal was appointed as the chairman but about two weeks after Oluomo was appointed, he dissolved the TOOAN executive and put a caretaker in place. After some months, he divided the operation of tricycles into six zones with six different chairmen, who report directly to him.”

The source further noted: “Actually it was not like that in the past. There was only one state chairman for TOOAN, who was expected to liaise with the NURTW chairman in Lagos. It is also wrong for people outside Lagos, to choose the chairman of TOOAN. That is the major cause of the crisis.”

Saturday Tribune gathered that while the pro-Baruwa group might be willing to surrender the activities of commercial vehicles to the Parks Management Committee, it is determined to cling to tricycle operation. The contention is that the state governor did not suspend commercial tricycle operation and therefore should not be controlled by the government committee.

A tricycle operator, who identified himself as Action, told Saturday Tribune that “there is a serious problem now. Both of them (Parks Management Committee and NURTW) want to be controlling the collection of levies from us. Unless the state government comes out and makes a definite statement on Marwa (tricycle) operation, the violent clash may continue.”

Saturday Tribune investigations revealed that the newly-appointed chairman, Alhaji Azeez Abiola, has a very strong base around Agege, Iyana Ipaja, Ojokoro, Alagbado, old Sango Toll Gate, Ijaiye and Abule Egba and may be very difficult for the MC Oluomo-led committee, to dislodge him.

A member of the union in the Ahmaddiya area of Ijaiye Ojokoro said: “It will be very difficult to dislodge Istijabah here by force. He is very strong and he has thousands of loyalists, who are ready to die for him. He bought over 100 tricycles for people who pay in installments. He also has over one hundred LT buses. If they attempt to dislodge him by force, it may be bloody. Only the state government can order him.”

 

We stand with NURTW –Members

Meanwhile, members of the NURTW who are loyal to the national president have insisted that they remain members of the union, contrary to the claim by Oluomo that the members of the union in Lagos State had pulled out and were no longer members.

At the press conference, which was held at the instance of Alhaji Abiola, a former chairman of the Lagos State NURTW, Alhaji Olorunwa, said “My coming here is simple. There are lots of controversies that Lagos State has pulled out of the national leadership of the  NURTW. This is far from the fact. Some aggrieved members only pulled out. We are still members of the union in Lagos State. There is no issue on the affiliation between NURTW and TOOAN . Nobody can cut off, the ties between the two unions. There is a Memorandum of Understanding.”

Ousted chairman of TOOAN, Alhaji Murtala Lawal, raised the alarm on the pitiable condition of NURTW members, since the pull-out was announced.

Alhaji Lawal said that the Board of Trustees of TOOAN in the state appointed Alhaji Azeez Abiola as the chairman of TOOAN before it was ratified by the NURTW leadership in Abuja.

“If anybody should raise an eyebrow at all, it should be me. I was just appointed as the TOOAN chairman, when the NURTW leadership dissolved my executive with a promise to return us in about two weeks.

“It is almost three years now and they have not returned it, but when the BOT appointed Alhaji Abiola as the new chairman, I supported it wholeheartedly as a peace-loving person.”

The state secretary of NURTW, Seyi Bankole, also claimed that “the majority of the union members are still with NURTW and we have not pulled out of the national body.”

He, however, accused the Oluomo group, which claimed to have pulled out of the NURTW, of not handing over the properties of the union to the appropriate quarters as directed by the national leadership.

The NURTW scribe further accused those who pulled out of the union of “still going about collecting money from motorists without handing over NURTW properties as directed by the leadership in Abuja.”

 

We are handling it –Police

The state police command said there was no cause for alarm. It told Saturday Tribune it had a readymade scapegoat if law and order should break down.

The spokesperson, Mr Benjamin Hundeyin, disclosed that Divisional Police Officers would be held liable if the crisis escalates in any part of the state.

He said: “To start with, I disagree with your assertion that there is rising tension around motor parks in Lagos State.

“Anyway, the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, CP Abiodun Alabi, has met all Area Commanders and has sent out a strong message to all DPOs to ensure that no sort of rancour or clash breaks out within their areas of responsibility.

“Anybody who records such will be severely sanctioned. I can assure you that all hands are on deck. Everybody is working hard towards maintaining the peace that we already have in Lagos.”

Also, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, said: “I am not sure that the crisis was between the NURTW and Park Management Committee. I am not too sure. Please, find out properly those who were fighting then. I am not too sure. I don’t have a record of the fight.

“Any moment from now, they are going to be inaugurated and then be given the terms of reference by the state government. So, everything would be clearer concerning the operations of the committee. Everything would be clear very soon. This will become so at the inauguration of the committee.”

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