The vehicular and human movement was disrupted on the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway on Monday by tipper drivers under the aegis of the Great Tipper Drivers Association of Nigeria in protest against the establishment and imposition of a new Tippers group by the State.
The protest by the tipper drivers started at about 8:30 am, and by 10 am movement had ceased on the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, with vehicles parked on both sides of the dual carriageway with long lines of tipper vehicles blocking the road.
Commuters had to trek long distances to get their destination, while those who were entering and exiting the State from places like Asaba, Imo, Abia, Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom bemoaned the day for being trapped for hours without any hope of continuing their journey.
Efforts by security authorities to force the tipper drives to open the road failed. As at the time of this report at about 3:49 pm, the road was still blocked by the tipper drivers who had apparently abandoned their vehicles.
Addressing newsmen, the vice-chairman of the association in the State, Mr Boniface Udenwa, said that their protest was against the establishment of the Anambra State Tippers Association (ASTA) and the subsequent inauguration of the group by the Commissioner of Transport, Mr Afam Mbanefo, despite their kicking against the move.
‘We told the Commissioner the implication of such a group when over 100 tipper drivers visited him in Awka in protest against the establishment of the group. Today you have seen what is happening,’ he explained.
‘How can you impose strangers as an umbrella body to control activities of tipper unions? Let them come out and address us if they are accepted, why are they on the run now?
‘ASTA is a group owned by a contractor. They are not tipper owners or drivers, we told the Commissioner for Transport, Mr Afam Mbanefo, we will not accept them because they are neither tipper owners nor drivers.
‘On Friday, ASTA members came with a ticket called Anambra State Tippers Association (ASTA) Welfare Ticket of N500, forcing our members to buy it on every trip of sand they carry. That is if you carry sand twenty times a day, you will pay N500 twenty times when we pay N700 and other levies daily to the State Government,’ he said.
He alleged that the people behind ASTA were strangers to tipper owners and drivers ‘and that informed their violent and inhumane way of collecting N500 per trip of sand from us.
‘Some of our members are now hospitalised as a result of beating they received from those collecting money for the ticket. They even invaded sandpits where we collect sands to beat our members.
‘Even members of Sand Miners Association, who have no business with them, were also beaten in an attempt to collect the money to show how desperate they want us to accept the illegal body.
‘What business do they have coming to harass us at sand beaches or pits, beating the beach or pit owners and harassing them not to talk against their illegal collection?
‘We want the Commissioner to come and address us today because we told him before now that he should come so that we can remind him of what we told him when he was about inaugurating ASTA. If he fails to come, we will not open the road today.’
Speaking with newsmen. the President-General of Sand Miners Association of Anambra State, Sir Chris Mbaezue, expressed shock at the ASTA invasion of their pits.
‘At present, ASTA sealed all our sand beaches or pits to intimidate us. Since last Friday, sand beach owners have not done their business because of ASTA harassment.’
In a recognition letter to the President, signed by the Commissioner for Transport, Mr Mbanefo, dated December 2, ASTA was authorised an as an umbrella body for all tipper drivers operating in Anambra State.
The letter read in part: ‘By this recognition/approval, you are authorised to manage the affairs/welfare of all tippers and drivers operating in the State in a manner that supports State Government transport policies, ensure sanity and orderliness on the road, and to maintain State road traffic laws and regulations.’
No levy was, however, mentioned in the recognition letter by the Commissioner. The letter was copied to the Police, Anambra State Road Traffic Management Agency, NSCDC, Navy, DSS and others.