Governor Ajimobi’s Radical Reformation of Oyo NURTW

by Abiodun Ladepo

Every reasonable observer of politics in Oyo State knew that the former Chairman of the state’s chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Alhaji Lateef Akinsola, a.k.a. Tokyo, was not going to go away quietly. On Christmas Eve, NURTW national President, Alhaji Nojeem Yasin, came down to Ibadan from Abuja to administer the oath of office on a newly-elected 21-member administrative council led by Alhaji Taofeek Ayorinde., a.k.a. Fele. Fele had served, for the past six months, as the chairman of the Caretaker Committee that Governor Abiola Ajimobi, upon the intervention of Yasin and others, instituted when he lifted the ban on the NURTW and allowed them to resume operation as a union.

More than anything else that Ajimobi may have accomplished so far, the mature manner in which he deflated the tires of the rampaging NURTW will rank near the top. This was an organization that the late Lamidi Adedibu employed as a cudgel to literally beat into pulp his political and business adversaries. Strategically perched atop his sprawling villa behind the Molete motor park in Ibadan, Baba Adedibu could be heard at the Molete motor park if he shouted loudly enough. Without a real Army to command, the Obasanjo-proclaimed “Garrison Commander” turned the vehicle owners, drivers, and conductors of the NURTW into his Army and used them to lay siege to Ibadan in particular and Oyo State in general. When he traveled, Adedibu’s entourage, replete with dozens of commandeered mini-buses packed full of intoxicated drivers and marauding touts, was longer than that of the governor. The bus owners and drivers had no say in how, when, and where Adedibu used their vehicles. All Adedibu had to do was call his “Field Commander” – Tokyo – and order him to supply x number of vehicles, drivers and “supporters”.

As chairman, Tokyo had a stranglehold on the union. He decided what vehicle was allowed to register and load passengers from all motor parks in the state, even though, such power was supposed to devolve down to the chairman of each motor park. Tokyo ensured that each motor park’s chairman paid obeisance to him and thus was malleable and susceptible to his control, and by extension, Adedibu’s control as well. In essence, a vehicle at a motor park in Iwo could be summoned (driver and all), to Ibadan to participate in a political rally that Adedibu was holding for, say, Rasidi Ladoja, irrespective of the owner’s and driver’s political affiliations. Tokyo’s power was such that he could decide the order in which intra-state and inter-state vehicles loaded passengers at individual motor parks. This was a weapon that the NURTW chairman used in order to reward cooperative members and punish erring ones. Owners and drivers knew that the earlier their vehicles loaded and left Ibadan for Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, or Maiduguri, the earlier they returned to load again, and the more money they made.

And what did the NURTW, under Tokyo, get in return for this generous support of Adedibu? It is simple: quid pro quo. You scratch my back and I scratch yours. The NURTW helped Adedibu to terrorize polling booths, stuff ballot boxes with forged ballots, transport ballot boxes to unauthorized locations, and in effect, rig elections. It also made thugs available to Adedibu for his use to invade political and business adversaries’ homes to maim or kill them. Adedibu publicly took credit for such electoral “victories”, which allowed the newly-elected governor to stay above the fray, remain clean, untainted, and able to shamelessly extol the virtues of the type of democracy that swept him into office. In return, Adedibu assumed a godfather role for the NURTW, negotiating on their behalf with the new governor for government largesse “for our boys that helped win the election”. Adedibu bought off judges who ensured that Tokyo remained the legal chairman of the NURTW.

This cycle of brigandage, according to Tokyo himself, dates back to the election of the late Lam Adesina, through that of Rasidi Ladoja, Adebayo Alao-Akala, and Ajimobi. We know that Adedibu was, at one time or the other, and to varying degrees, instrumental to the election of all the aforementioned governors except Ajimobi. While Adedibu was still alive, Tokyo seemed like the proverbial cat with nine lives. Each time he was charged with a crime (murder included), he managed to make bail and avoid prosecution altogether. At one time, Adedibu flew to Abuja, where Tokyo was being held on murder charges, and got the man released. With direct access to then President Obasanjo, Adedibu kept in his pocket each police commissioner posted to Oyo State, especially Baba Bolanta. Bolanta turned out to be the most brazenly corrupt and unprofessional police commissioner ever posted to Oyo State. He was also spineless. For the most part, he was an apologist for Tokyo’s and Adedibu’s excesses, providing cover for them each time they flagrantly disturbed the peace in Oyo State.

At most of the motor parks in Ibadan (certainly at Molete, Challenge, Orita-Challenge, and Iwo Road), you would find at least one ogogoro/paraga and one marijuana joint, usually situated slightly out of sight, but in close enough proximity to the drivers so they did not have to walk too far to get their fixes. NURTW members believed that they needed two or three shots of ogogoro and/or paraga, and a few puffs of Indian Hemp before embarking on a trip. The police knew of these joints (which they also patronized while on duty), but they had been paid by the NURTW to look the other way. So, when you found a commercial driver foolishly speeding on a bad road, at night, in the rain, passing other vehicles at blind corners, and you said to yourself that his step-mother was probably behind his loss of the mind, you were wrong; he was driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs!

Why is Tokyo fighting tooth and nail, almost to the point of death, in order to remain chairman of the Oyo State NURTW? The perks accruable to the chairmen of the NURTW are impressive and could be the envy of an oil company CEO. Commercial operators (inter-state, intra-state, inter-city, or intra-city) pay “taxes” to these chairmen daily. These daily “taxes” can run into hundreds of thousands of naira for chairmen in states with large cities like Lagos, Oyo, and Kano. What is more, these chairmen do not even have to leave home to collect the money. It is usually brought to them at home. The money, technically, is supposed to be dues contributed by members for the welfare of the union, its members (in case of family and personal emergencies), and the maintenance of its secretariat. However, a large chunk of that money goes to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of each area. The DPO, in return, directs his officers to look the other way when the drivers violate traffic laws. The chairmen also appropriate for their personal use a substantial chunk of the money, for which they do not have to account.

Tokyo, in particular, lived large as state chairman. He flew first-class to Abuja on a regular basis and stayed in 4-star hotels. His children attended (and still attend) private schools, including one at a private university. He maintained scores of Islamic clerics whose full-time job was to shield him from the law and from retaliatory attacks for his brutish acts. To hear Tokyo speak about the extent to which he would fight in order to regain the chairmanship, you would think the title was part of his family’s inheritance. Under Alao-Akala, Tokyo became a larger-than-life figure not only in the PDP but also in Alao-Akala’s cabinet. The triumvirate of Adedibu, Alao-Akala, and Tokyo used the NURTW thugs to foment all sorts of crises in the state. Anarchy, confusion, chaos, mayhem…find another word… became the order of the day. At Olomi, Iwo Road, Molete, Academy, and Oj

oo, your heart was in your mouth if you walked or drove past the motor parks at certain hours of the day. Guns, machetes, horsewhips, and charms were openly bandied about and freely used by members of the NURTW.

Upon becoming governor, Ajimobi would not have any of that nonsense and swore to castrate the NURTW and destroy its government-within-a-government reputation. First, he proscribed (a horrific word we got used to during the military era) the NURTW and shut down its secretariat. Then he got the Commissioner of police to put some heat on the leadership of the NURTW, especially Tokyo, declaring them wanted for various crimes allegedly committed years past. People all over Oyo State tried to intervene but Ajimobi did not budge. Erstwhile followers of Tokyo tried to persuade Ajimobi to lift the ban, but Ajimobi would not even meet with them. Faced with the choice of either sticking with the embattled Tokyo or allow the complete decimation of their union, the members contacted their national headquarters and asked their president to intervene. Yasin came down to Ibadan and pleaded with Ajimobi, who then agreed to conditionally lift the ban if the NURTW would accept a caretaker committee for a period of six months. Ajimobi would use the six months to evaluate the NURTW’s conduct. Yasin called that a victory and formed the caretaker committee, taking into consideration another of Ajimobi’s desire – that Tokyo not be a member. The caretaker committee was headed by Fele and had many of Tokyo’s former followers as members; talk of divide and conquer.

Surprisingly, peace returned to Oyo State and to its chapter of the NURTW. No more did we witness gun-totting hoodlums under the Molete fly-over. No more did we witness the ambushing of rival members and the beating the daylight out of them. No more did we witness the killing or rivals’ spouses and their children. Civilization returned to the union, albeit, at a price; a court of law had ruled that Tokyo was the duly elected chairman and should be reinstated (before the union was banned). Ajimobi hinged his refusal to reinstate Tokyo on the technicality that there was no NURTW (which he had banned, of course) over which Tokyo could exercise his chairmanship. In a democracy, such under-handed dictatorship is frowned upon. But because it brought instant peace to the state, the people of Oyo State viewed it as “benevolent dictatorship”.

Had Tokyo been reinstated, his term would have ended last month; a convenient time for Yasin to organize an election during which Fele was elected as the substantive chairman of a new 21-member NURTW executive council in Oyo State. Fele will have three years to turn around that much-maligned union (of which I was a member for five years), sever it completely from politics, remove those ogogoro joints, build respectable toilets, build covered waiting halls and sheds for passengers, re-orientate the drivers about safety checks before embarking on each trip, and reinforce good customer service practice.

Fele’s election capped the systematic annihilation of Tokyo begun by Ajimobi immediately he assumed office. Tokyo, of course, is fuming with rage, going about promising hellfire and brimstone as if this was still the era of Obasanjo, Adedibu, Alao-Akala, and Bolanta. On good advice, he has returned to court, asking to be reinstated as chairman to complete his abbreviated term. It would have been something worth fighting for by all democracy-loving minds if he hadn’t been such a nuisance to the people of Oyo State. There are many things for which followers of government activities in Oyo State can blame Ajimobi (and we are on our way to doing just that), but on Tokyo, he deftly and successfully handled the situation.

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