By Ufuoma Egbe-DELTA–
The governor Ifeanyi Okowa led administration of Delta State has imposed N109, 500 and N52, 750 ticket levy on each commercial motorcycle and tricycle operator annually in the state under the guise of welfare and government ticket scheme.
The levy which has resulted in massive protests by the operators popularly referred to as Okada and Keke in Ughelli, Sapele, Abraka and other areas where the commercial motorcycle and tricycle operates have been frown at by stakeholders as too exorbitant for the operators.
Commuters in the town who rely on the commercial motorcycles which is the only medium of transportation in Ughelli, were stranded as the protesters refused conveying passengers while those who tried to do so where mobbed with some passengers sustaining various degrees of injuries.
In pressing home their demands, the protesters blocked major junctions in the town including Afiesere junction, NNPC roundabout and the Post Office roundabout.
Describing the ticket increase as the height of insensitivity on the part of the Delta State government, one of the protesters, Samson Diabala said: “Prior to now, we have been paying N50 daily for welfare yet we do not get any welfare package from the government. Now they have added another N100 making it a total of N150.”
At Ughelli the protest took a different twist on Wednesday when security agents made up of the police and vigilante in the area and the Okada riders, clashed at the Post Office roundabout leading to sporadic shooting and use of teargas on the protesters.
However, all hell was let loose as security agents involving the Agbarha-Otor vigilante and some police officers shot live bullets and tear-gas into the air to scare the protesters who went into frenzy over the arrest of several of their colleagues and impounding of their motorcycles.
Commercial activities in the area where grounded as business owners in hurriedly shut down their shops over fear of a full scale riot.
To forestall a further breakdown of law and order, the state commissioner of police, Mr. Usman Alkali, immediately banned all forms of protest in the state in order to stem further clashes between the protesters and security agents which had resulted in the breakdown of law and order in some parts of Ughelli.
In what could be described as a continued showdown with the state government, the Okada riders who had earlier vowed not to buy the ticket, clashed again on Thursday with the taskforce team in charge of ticket sales leading to the arrest of over eight Okada riders while over 50 motorcycles were impounded by the police.
Accusing the protesters of causing a breach of peace in the town, a senior police officer at the Ughelli ‘A’ Division told ADVOCATE that the protesters defied the ban on protests imposed in the state by the commissioner of police hence the arrest of 8 of the protesters.
Debunking the claims of the police, one of the protesters and an Okada operator Mr Emmanuel Osavun, told ADVOCATE that they have long cease protesting and where being attacked by the task force at the Post Office Roundabout when the police in company of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, VGN attacked them and arrested several of their colleagues after impounding their motorcycles.
He added that the Okowa government and the Delta State PDP have vowed to punish Okada and Keke operators in the state for not voting for the PDP and all its candidates in the 2015 elections in the state.
According to him, “this government is heartless, they just introduced this new ticket levy to punish us for not voting for Okowa and for supporting Ogboru in the last election, their ticket boys have been boasting that this new year they will deal with us and that some of will be forced to go back to the village so that, should there be a rerun, we will not be able to vote, where we registered.”
Meanwhile, a journalist with The Urhobo Voice Newspaper, Mr. Choice Grandball was assaulted by the secretary of the Motorcycle Ticket Taskforce in Ughelli as his writing pad was shredded by his assailant at Afiesere junction for making enquires and taking notes on the identity of the taskforce official who was involved in a fisticuff with some Okada riders.
Speaking on the incident, chairman of the taskforce, Austin Ayonuwe while apologizing on behalf of his secretary, accused some Okada riders from Isoko South council area of inciting their colleagues in Ughelli from purchasing the ticket leading to the protest because they are not compelled to buying the ticket.