IN NURTW, PRESIDENT, VEEPEE ARE ELECTED BY CASTING LOTS

•Why Lagos is paying with bloody crises

Two tightly-squeezed pieces of paper were set before them with “president” written in one and “vice president” written in the other. Right before everyone at the NLC House in Abuja where the exercise took place, one took the piece containing president and the other, vice president.

PENULTIMATE Thursday’s much-discussed presidential election of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Abuja was supposed to be a coronation, despite the involvement of two major contenders from the South West where the position was zoned to. Before the Abuja gathering, there had been two botched attempts at electing one of them, which ended in a stalemate, following serious disagreement between supporters of the two major candidates. Yet, it was still a kind of coronation when the “election” eventually took place, though the one expected to wear the crown ended up a second fiddle. His challenger who had also been a national officer like the man heavily-tipped to win because the outgoing president was seen as supporting him, simply got lucky, because the union had to resort to “lucky dip” to pick its new president for the next four years, starting from August 17 when the president-elect, Alhaji Tajudeen Baruwa, is expected to be inaugurated.

“The outgoing chairman, Alhaji Yasin, almost banned the two candidates at a point when they would not agree among them to bring forward a consensus candidate. He refused to have them stand election because each person would get to know who voted for him and who did not among the delegates. He reasoned the aftermath of such election would bring serious crises because those who didn’t vote for the winner would instantly become his enemies and their state chapters, too. You will agree with me that there is wisdom in what he did. So, when both would not agree on consensus, the union leadership decided to do lucky dip for them. Two tightly-squeezed pieces of paper were set before them with “president” written in one and “vice president” written in the other. Right before everyone at the NLC House in Abuja where the exercise took place, one took the piece containing president and the other, vice president. Nobody could deny the fairness of the exercise except those who want to be mischievous. At that stage, it is about one’s destiny. Nobody was robbed, nobody was favoured,” a close ally of the outgoing president explained to Saturday Tribune.

Corroborating the source’s story, a prominent Lagos council chieftain recounted similar account to Saturday Tribune, adding that, “There is nothing that can be done again because our current chairman in Lagos council, Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede, lost to Alhaji Baruwa. He picked the vice president slot and nothing can change that. But don’t forget, Baruwa had been the national treasurer before becoming the president-elect,” the unionist who belongs to the faction opposed to Agbede’s rule in Lagos disclosed under anonymity.

Lagos feeling Abuja effect          

The outcome of the election is reverberating in state councils, especially the South West where the two Tajudeens have the core of their supporters. Lagos is, however, feeling it differently, considering that Agbede is the incumbent chairman of the state council and Baruwa, though originally from Ogun State, where he once led the state council, had also at a time, briefly superintended Lagos council, in acting capacity. But beyond the president-elect’s and defeated candidate’s affiliation to the Lagos council, arguably the richest of all the state councils, where bloody battles are usually deployed to settle scores, the council itself is perpetually in succession crisis and the coming of Baruwa is already drawing daggers for another round of bloody confrontation for control and influence.

Palpable tension is now brewing in many parts of the state, following the outcome. Though the election was never scheduled to hold in the state, the impact of the election was more visible and  more threatening as a result of the gladiators who were involved in the election and who are members of the  state council of the union. The outcome of the election is now the commonest topic of discussion among transport union members in many of the motor parks across Lagos, based on the findings of Saturday Tribune, as tension continues to build.

 

Why the heir apparent lost out

Saturday Tribune, however, gathered that the Abuja arrangement may soon lead to breakdown of law and order in Lagos State as some members of the union are reportedly hiding under the outcome to take some steps which may lead to crisis.

Some members and non-members of the union who had, in the past, longed to have control of motor parks in some parts of the state have suddenly woken up and are hiding under the victory to forcibly take control of parks, despite the fact that the current leadership of the union still has some months to stay in office.

A senior member of the union who spoke with Saturday Tribune on the condition of anonymity said, “What is happening in Lagos State now is all about the next chairman of the state council. The ongoing tension was   triggered by the ambition of some people in Lagos State. There are also people who felt that Agbede was becoming too powerful and therefore, there was the need to check him as chairman of the council in Lagos. Some of the things that happened in Osogbo and Abuja where the election was supposed to take place were attempts to clip his wings.”

The union member also disclosed that “Before now, it was as if Agbede was certain to become the next president of the union but a late gang-up against him and the outgoing president of the union, Alhaji Yasin, led to the outcome of the botched election. The next four years of NURTW activities will be very interesting, full of intrigues, if care is not taken, even in Abuja.

Saturday Tribune gathered that the battle against Agbede’s ambition to become NURTW national president was coordinated by a strong member of the union in Oshodi who has for long been nursing the ambition of becoming the state chairman of the union. The top union member in Oshodi was, however, seen by his godfathers in politics as more of an errand boy who will be more useful in his current position than being given the post of the state chairman of   NURTW.

The Oshodi NURTW top member was reportedly on the verge of unseating a former chairman of the union in the state eight years ago but an outbreak of violence between supporters of the two gladiators in different parts of Lagos, particularly in Oshodi and Lagos Island, led to the emergence of Agbede as the state council chairman.

A member of the union who gave his name simply as Femi said, “The problem between the two of them then was political. The man in Oshodi was being backed by some leaders of the ruling party, while the then state chairman had the support of the then governor. The killings were too much that Alhaji Yasin had to constitute a caretaker committee which was headed by Alhaji Agbede who eventually became the substantive chairman. The same man from Oshodi contested against him when he was seeking re-election but Agbede defeated him.”

Another member of the union, who also pleaded for anonymity while speaking with Saturday Tribune, said, “The battle between the former chairman and the Oshodi man was so serious that they dragged each other to court and they were there for almost two years.

“Things have suddenly changed between the former chairman and the man in Oshodi as they both now want to occupy the top position again. This is like a breach of the agreement between them, when they were fighting with Agbede. They had agreed on who would succeed Agbede and how the other person would take over from him but things have changed now as they both want to occupy the position at the same time. The former chairman is now banking on the support of a former powerful commissioner in the state, who is also a former governor. The Oshodi man, on his own, is hoping to get the nod of a former governor in the state, who is believed to have the final say on everything.”

 

20 contenders, one throne

Meanwhile, apart from the two leading contenders, there are about 20 other people aspiring to become the next chairman of NURTW in Lagos State. They are almost mobilising support in their spheres of influence to emerge as the winner .

A top member of the state council in Alimosho said: “There are almost 30 people in the state council and most of the council members are aspiring to become the chairman. Many of us are close to top politicians but that may not count at the end of the day, like what happened eight years ago.

“Eight years ago, the two leading contenders were the then chairman, Alhaji Rafiu Olorunwa and Musiliu Ayinde Oluomo and they both belonged to the ruling party but an outbreak of violence in many parts of the state changed everything. Agbede was made to head the caretaker committee and that was the end. A similar thing may happen again this year.

“The fact is that there is nothing like the Agbede/Baruwa group in Lagos. Instead, what we had was the Agbede group on one side and Oluomo, Sego and other people who felt cheated by Agbede on the other side. Though Baruwa was once a caretaker committee chairman in Lagos State, he never had any say in the decisions in Lagos.”

Less than four days after the Abuja arrangement, one person was reportedly killed as the two emerging groups in Lagos NURTW clashed in the Ijora area of the state. The deceased person, Yusuf Rilwan and other members were reportedly returning from the state council office in Agege when a clash ensued.

Both groups have been pointing fingers at each other over the clash which created serious panic around Ijora and neigbouring communities. The police have since arrested nine people in connection with the incident.

The chairman of the Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria, Apapa branch, Mr Afolabi Oyetakin, popularly known as School Boy, who escaped to the premises of the New Nigeria during the clash narrated the deadly clash this way; “On Friday, our members who belong to the Baruwa group, led by MC Oluomo and Sulaiman Ikudeleti, organised an open party at the main road, blocked the main road and caused heavy traffic in Ijora Badia while celebrating their winning.

“Our leader, Tajudeen Agbede, had earlier called us that our team had lost the president position and as a result, we should remain peaceful in our various branches in the state and that if anybody wants to make an attempt to fight us, we should report such to the police.

“Our members did not intend to attack them based on the instruction given to us by our leader to remain peaceful. On that fateful Friday, our members were at the state NURTW secretariat in Oko-Oba, Agege, where we organised our own programme.”

Lukmon Alabi, popularly known as Luku Mobil, who was accused of spearheading the Ijora attack, however, denied any involvement in the clash, insisting that Oyetakin was just a talebearer and was not even anywhere near the venue of the party  as of the time of the clash.

According to him, “it was all lies. Oyetakin was not even there when the clash started. I don’t have any reason to fight with anybody. The police are in a better position to say the truth. They caught some people with guns and other dangerous weapons.

“I drove past that place on the day of the incident and I did not stay at the venue of the party. I only greeted some of my people there and I drove away. It was later that I heard of the clash.”

The union member also condemned the reports of factions in the Lagos council, saying “there is no group in our union. We are all members of the NURTW. Agbede and Baruwa contested for the election and Baruwa won. We don’t belong to the new president’s group and we are not planning to take over parks.”

Calls to Agbede’s mobile line to seek his response to the rising tension and bloody confrontations between his loyalists and the opposition were not picked.

 

Ijora, Badia, Apapa residents fleeing

A resident of the Ijora area of the state, Ridwan Kareem, who felt concerned about the rising cases of violence among NURTW members in the area, called for an urgent and drastic solution to avert disaster.

Making his worries known to Saturday Tribune, Kareem said, “The situation in Badia, Ijora and Apapa areas of Lagos State has been serious. Crisis looms in Badia Ijora and its environs. Violence is on the increase on a daily basis. Some residents in some streets like Akosile, Kadiri and Akorede are now moving away.

“On 15th of May, 2019, a boy identified simply as Fawas but who was popularly referred to as Olore was standing at Cinema Junction, off Fadaini/Obale Street, when some Akorede street boys sighted him while passing by. They chased him and stabbed him to death. Some people said that the boy was one of their opponents while others said he was a cool-headed and easy going guy.”

 

We won’t tolerate anarchy –Police

The image maker of the state police command, Bala Elkana, while speaking on the incident, confirmed that the police had to disperse some members of the union who were protesting the death of an official of the union during a brief illness but whom they supposed was killed with charm by the opposition.

Elkana disclosed said, “Our men were deployed to disperse some hoodlums who were trying to break down law and order over an ‘unjust’ situation. They are protesting against the death of one of them at the hospital after a brief illness. We arrived at the scene in time and we quickly dispersed them but none of them was arrested. We have stationed our men there to prevent any breakdown of law and order.”

 

Meet the president-elect

The incoming president of the NURTW, Alhaji Tajudeen Ibikunle Baruwa, is not a greenhorn in transport unionism in Nigeria, having served in various capacities, from the lowliest position, now to the top. Apart from being a former caretaker chairman of the union in some states in the south-western part of Nigeria, Alhaji Baruwa has served at the national level of the union for more than 15 years, as the national treasurer.

The incoming president was some years back the zonal chairman of the union in the South-West. That was when he was the Ogun State council chairman. He has been described as a very strict person, whose stance on some issues might be difficult to change.

For example, the tail end of his administration in Ogun State,  Baruwa lost some of his investments, including a petrol station.

A source close to him spoke to Saturday Tribune: “Oga is changing now. He was a very strict person and it was difficult to change his decision. That was why he lost a lot of things during the administration of former Governor Ibikunle Amosun. He was not only a strong member of the Peoples Democratic Party but also sponsored his daughter, who eventually lost to the All Progressives Congress.

“Oga had the chance to quickly move to the APC then. There were even moves by some members of the party to lure him in but he insisted on not leaving his party. That was why his shopping complex and filling station were demolished. Some of his units and branches were also taken from him and handed to some people.”

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