This trade union has been with us for decades, and its infamy is facilitated by the political class as its members have been very crucial in determining emergence of many political office holders in some parts of the country, especially Lagos and Oyo states. In March this year, someone who just got elected in Lagos publicly acknowledged an NURTW leader for the role the latter played in his electoral victory. And someone who has stayed in Ibadan between 2003 and the middle of 2011 will understand the amount of terror the association is capable of unleashing if given unrestrained liberty or is overtly courted by a government or the political elite.
The immediate past government scored unprecedented mark on this, but not on a platter of gold. The government was welcome with bloodshed and anarchy by the union, as they are so called. It was the only civilian government in the history of the state which boldly claimed to have never engaged the union members, in any manner, to secure victory, and the claim could be believed considering the moves the government made to address the incessant troubles fomented by the union members.
The then factional leaders were kept at bay – one was detained for a criminal case and the other went into hiding, having realized that the government was not ready to negotiate with him. And he knew that he stood to be arrested if he made any step capable of threatening the peace of the state again.
A relative neutral man was made a new leader of the union. Obviously, he must have been given several warnings by the government regarding peace and tranquility in the state. It was unbelievable that the same notorious association can become an agent of peace. Late Fele went from one radio programmes to another enlightening his members and the residents of the state, serving as the image maker for the union. At the height of reported cases of kidnappings, he consistently sensitized the residents about the kind of vehicles to board.
Undoubtedly, he was a man of peace, and NURTW became a better association.
Calm was restored to the major strongholds of the union in Ibadan, and Iwo-Road which used to be a flashpoint, became one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in the state. Things do not stop at that. The government came up with a masterstroke, ‘Operation Burst’. It was a wonderful outfit as it actually entrenched peace in the state. Everyone, not only the union members, tried to behave themselves to avoid being dealt with by the ‘no-non-sense’ security team. In addition to that, the state introduced Oyo State Transport Service, popularly called ‘Ajumose’. The hundreds of long and mini buses introduced under the direct control of the state broke the monopoly that the union might want to impose and consequently reduced its influence.
However, for a couple of years now, some residents of the state have been expressing concern about the romance between Omi-Titun and some of these dreaded guys as well as a faction of the union. Many of these gentlemen of the street are Mr Governor’s usual entourage, even at his office along Iwo-Road, particularly during the last electioneering period. Obviously, his main challenger in the poll, Chief Adelabu also enjoyed the support of quite a good number of the union members and the street lords as many of them followed him on his campaign rallies.
The calm that the state enjoyed for about seven years began to suffer setback from the day Mr Governor was declared the winner of the election as the faction led by Auxiliary felt their ‘time has come’. Ever
since, people have become worried. There had been some skirmishes since then. But with the sudden proscription of the union, the government needs to tread wisely and proactively, so that the decision will not boomerang – not just a ban.
We are talking about political economy and means of livelihood that have survived many decades and sustaining hundreds of people who are union members. We are talking of the parks which had been under the authority of these powerful guys for decades, how do you say ‘leave’ as though the state has officials that will manage them? I doubt the parks surviving the impending the vacuum. What is the assurance of compliance, particularly when a faction might feel that the government is trying to support and impose the other faction? Please, Governor Makinde, we don’t want the repeat of Niger-Delta militancy or Zamfara banditry in Oyo state. They too started like this. There is always a way to go about a situation like this than suddenly proscribing such a powerful association considering its antecedents.
It is unfair to always associate the union members with atrocities; they are also members of the society like any other people and, in a way, play their part in the development of the state. The excesses attributed to some of them are often manifestation of the irresponsibility of the government and mischiefs of the political class. Since the national leadership of the union continues to maintain that the union has a constitution that guides its members and that the next election will hold later this year, it might be better for the state government to leave them to run their affairs but promptly and summarily deal with anyone that foments trouble, irrespective of the faction. The government’s unilateral action to revert the leadership to a faction believed to be loyal to it will be inimical for the peace of the state sooner or later.
Just like his immediate predecessor, Governor Makinde needs to constitute a strong and formidable security team to forestall any form of security breach at any time. So, there is nothing wrong if he takes a cue from the success Ajimobi had in this sector. Instead of disbanding the union, the influence of the association can be limited by significantly increasing the fleets of the Oyo State Transport Service and recruit responsible people to manage them.
Corporate organizations and private individuals can be encouraged to go into the transport business by giving them licenses to operate and to have separate small parks of their own where they will only be accountable to the government instead of NURTW. Also, the government should look into allowing local government to monitor some of the parks.
Governor Makinde cannot afford to just dispense with many of these guys who were with him before, during and after the election, but at the same time it portends a lot of danger to continue to move around with them. He should persuade and, possibly help them, to settle down with certain productive legal activities. Settling them with NURTW leadership is a disaster in the making, and total proscription of the union can lead to the idle union members taking into crimes. Then, the vacuum in the parks will lead to disorderliness both in the parks and on the roads as already being witnessed since the announcement.