By Kelechi Esogwa-Amadi
Commercial vehicle drivers plying Port Harcourt-Aba Road are lamenting over their frequent extortion by some policemen who usually stay near the Rumuola Bus Stop to check vehicles.
According to the commercial drivers, the policemen force them to pay N50 or N100 on each trip depending on the distance of the route they are plying, adding that sometimes when they try to explain to them that they have paid before, they will intimidate them with their guns to force them to pay again.
Complaining bitterly to TPCN today (Wednesday, 9th September 2020), at Rumuola Bus Stop, a taxi driver who said he plies Garrison-Oil Mill route, lamented that the policemen are making it difficult for them to do their business with ease.
“I don’t know why the policemen are worrying us here every day. They will collect N100 for one trip and when you come for the second trip, they want to collect again. I will pay N100 to them and when I get to Oil Mill, I’ll pay again to the task force or NURTW. Then I will buy fuel which they have increased the price now. At the end of the day, I’ll go home with nothing. What type of thing is this? See the holdup these policemen are causing every day because of N100. I don’t know if they want us to abandon this business,” the taxi driver lamented.
A bus driver, who plies Aba Road-Onne route, also lamented over what he called excess extortion by policemen at Rumuola Junction, Port Harcourt.
He said the harassment they get from policemen at the junction was becoming unbearable for them, adding that each time he gets there they would force him to pay N100.
He further complained: “The one that vexes me so much is that if you try to explain to them that you have paid during the last trip, they will get angry with you and raise their gun up as if they want to shoot you; and when they do like that, you will quickly pay out of fear. When they’re stopping cars, they will not even care about the delay they are causing for people. Honestly, I’m not happy about it.”
He said several complaints to the leadership of their union –the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) – have not yielded any result.
“Sometimes our members even connive with the policemen to extort us. In fact, we’re tired. The best thing is for all the drivers to leave work one day and use that day to do protest. That is when the police authorities and the government will know what we’re suffering because only they will stop this extortion,” he said.
TPCN gathered from sources that some commercial drivers suffered last Sunday in the hands of two policemen who were allegedly busy checking papers and in most cases collecting money from the drivers.
The actions of the policemen, according to the sources, slowed down traffic for hours on Sunday afternoon and also resulted in arguments between them and some drivers over issues of documents ranging from driver’s licence to insurance papers.
TPCN, however, learnt that not all policemen in checkpoints engage in the collection of money from drivers and that in most cases, it is the drivers whose papers are not complete that usually offer money to the policemen to allow them to continue their journeys.
Investigations also showed that passengers are culpable in this ‘extortion’ business as they sometimes force the drivers to pay.
For instance, TPCN checks revealed that when some drivers whose papers are complete want to allow the policemen to go through their papers, the passengers, most times, get agitated and start complaining that their times are being wasted. They then mount pressure on the driver to give the policemen money so that they would allow them to move without delay.
Uche, a bus driver who plies Mile One Park –Oyigbo route, confirmed this to TPCN. He added: “If you hesitate in giving the police money, the passengers will start abusing you, saying that you want to eat alone. Some will call you Aka Gum.”
TPCN gathered that the phrase, ‘Aka Gum,’ or Gum fist (in literal English translation) is used in local Nigerian parlance to refer to a miser or stingy person.