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Nigeria

Reining In the Motor Park Touts

Ambode and Sanwo-Olu riding together in a motorcade to the rally venue

The transport unions are a menace that must be tamed without delays, writes Olawale Olaleye

In spite of a swift introductory marketing of its candidate, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, which started earlier than the official campaign kick-off by INEC, the formal ‘flag-off’ of the governorship campaign of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos, last Tuesday, was a total disaster, least expected in Lagos, Nigeria’s cosmopolitan city, where the ruling party is presumed to be lord over everything and everyone.

Even more curious is the fact that the lead victim of the violence that erupted midway into the event was the number one ‘official thug’ of the APC in the state, Musiliu Akinsanya, a popular member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) otherwise known as MC Oluomo, who was reportedly stabbed multiple times in the neck region. He is currently recuperating at a Lagos hospital.

The development painted a morbid picture of vulnerability by the ruling party and government in the state, not to say the least, the harmless and innocent people especially, that the national elections are just weeks away.
Some reports had it that hoodlums suspected to be members of the NURTW had invaded the Skypower Ground, Ikeja venue of the rally with dangerous weapons and engaged one another in a bloody factional melee, as if there was an earlier attack on one faction for which a reprisal was inevitable at the rally.

The situation naturally sent jitters across the campaign ground as party members scampered to safety to avoid being hit by the flying bullets. Security operatives though had tough time bringing the situation under control; that the hoodlums could access the venue despite the heavy security presence was itself a puzzle that must be solved.
Outgoing Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who was making a speech at the time, had to leave the stage immediately and was reportedly guarded out of the venue together with his deputy, Idiat Adebule; the APC governorship candidate, Babajide Sanwoolu and other prominent members of the party, who attended the rally.

Many people were reportedly injured in the violence that ensued, including journalists, who were said to have sustained ‘minor bullet wounds’. Some accounts also had it that at least two people were feared dead as a result of the violence.

That the political leadership in Lagos had built an amoral relationship with the leaders of the various transport unions in the state as against providing the kind of leadership that that would put them in check and regulate their activities as a critical sector of the economy, is one of the prices the politics of the state would have to pay for a long time.

Anyone familiar with the excesses of these union leaders and their members would contend that the state is not just sitting on a box of open explosives, but walking the path of a wild bushfire, which is often difficult to put out and could be totally destructive. These are thugs they have encouraged over time and incorporated as part of the political stakeholders in the state in the bid to hold down the levers of power.

The political leadership in Lagos took this so seriously that it once sought to bring every of the thugs under one cover, when some years ago, it formed a group called Team Lagos. The so-called Team Lagos was largely populated by these thugs, mostly members of the various transport unions and cult members in the state – deadly and unsparing.
Alleged armed and heavily funded by the state, this group has remained a major menace to the peace of the state as it each time caused chaos and unrest in different parts of the state. Unfortunately, the impossibility of having many captains in the same ship further widened the cracks in the various factions, thus exacerbating the gang rivalry often witnessed in different parts of the state.

What happened on Tuesday in Lagos was a disturbing pointer to what might come on February 16 and March 2, when the presidential and governorship elections would be held all over the country. It is not news that heavily armed thugs are always at political rallies. But what obtained in the past was that with the presence of the police and other security agencies, they would keep their low till the event is over before they unleash.

Sadly, on Tuesday, they had become so emboldened that right in the middle of speech-making by a sitting governor and with heavy security presence, the boys came down heavy and hard and ended the rally abruptly without even pondering the implications. That was indeed worrisome and should be a cause concern for anyone, who reasons differently but rightly.

There is no debating the fact that the political leadership in the state is culpable in the violence of Tuesday that disrupted the APC rally. Also culpable are the police, who never act in time or envisage crisis and when crisis finally dawns, they also scamper to safety. Otherwise, how does anyone address the fact that the stabbed leader of the thugs, Oluomo, had days before the rally held a meeting with his allies, where he was heard in a video that had gone virile, encouraging violence and pre-empting attacks from their opponents, yet, the police did not act or bring him in for questioning.

But the same police could go and keep vigil at Senator Dino Melaye’s house and insisted it would not go until they arrested him, a man who could be indulged on personal recognition even by the court of law. Yet, the thugs, who constitute both nuisance and menace to the society, are often given security to look after them. That is the Nigeria that the Lagos Darwinian political leadership has created. Sadly, they are unable to see the danger in the choice they have made.

It is a broken window; it festers gradually and with time!

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