By Festus Adedayo
The fracas in Lagos on January 8, 2019 during the rally of the All Progressives Congress (APC) held at the Skypower Grounds, Ikeja Government Reservation Area has, once again, brought into grim reality how Nigerian politicians have overtime played upon the tripodal factors of illiteracy of members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, (NURTW) their naivety and the huge uncensored daily cash inflow in their hands to cause unmitigated political crises in many parts of the country. At that rally, the Lagos State Treasurer of the union, MC Oluomo, was stabbed while some other persons, including journalists, escaped death by the whiskers. Incidentally, in the Second Republic, that same Lagos birthed the transformation of the road transport union with the name of NURTW, into a deadly anvil in the hands of a sadistic political class, thus heralding its ascendancy as kingpin of politics. At the cusp of that Second Republic deployment of motor park irritants in unholy wedlock with politics, was an Ekiti State-born man called Adebayo Ogundare, ak.a. Bayo Success, a notorious member of the union whose knack for violence was legendary.
The road transport union had been a major contributor to the social harmony that Nigeria enjoyed in the informal sector. Indeed, there are heaps of scholarly works on the immense contributions of road transporters even in pre-colonial Nigeria and how the union impacted on the society and by that very fact, constituting an important segment of the Nigerian economy.
By 1934, Nigeria had begun to feel the union’s importance, especially with its formation that year, prompting it to have offices in many cities in the country. Not only did it defend the collective interests of its members within the colonial setting, in the 1930s, the NURTW was at the vanguard of the fight and resistance against attempts made by the colonial government to impose higher duties on vehicles. The colonial government had intended to use the high taxes to combat the challenge of vehicles competing with the railway.
During this period in Lagos, one leading transporter of renown was W.A. Dawodu. S.O. Ojo and Maiyegun operated from the Abeokuta sector. While transporters like Timothy Odutayo Kuti, known as Abusi Odumare, plied the Ijebu flank, one Dr. Orisadipe Obasa who resided in Ikeja gave the sector noticeable form in Lagos. Obasa, in company with his wife Olajumoke, a renowned and wealthy road transport owner, both owned buses operated in Lagos as early as 1915. The intrusion of John Holt and the Miller Brothers, who earlier operated from the Ijebu lagoon market called Ejinrin around 1917 (remember Ebenezer Obey’s evergreen vinyl and lyrics, b’okokan o r’Ejinrin, egbegberun e a lo? If a vehicle declines to ply the Ejinrin route, thousands others will) also gave transport business a lot of respect. In Ibadan, Salami Agbaje became a major motor transporter and so successful at it was he that the colonial government had to shut its own transport services in Southern Nigeria. During the 1937 general motor strike, Agbaje’s transport company was said to have actively participated in it.
By the Second Republic however, the NURTW had begun to morph into a bastion of violence and disorder. Around the 1970s, municipal buses had been taken over by danfos owned by private owners. As against the practice in the 1950s when local councils handled motor park management, parks were taken over by illiterate and hemp-smoking transporter union members and thus emerged the first manifestation of the albatross of violent and uncontrollable motor park warlords who were amenable to all forms of notoriety. This park politics led to schisms and antagonism and thus the transformation of parks into central hubs of political disorder. What helped to fuel this typecast was the politicization of parks.
With the contest for power by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN)-led federal government of President Shehu Shagari with its seat in Lagos and the Unity Party of Nigeria-led Lagos state government headed by Lateef Jakande, Lagos became a hot testing ground for the might of politics. The ruling NPN secured the gritty brawn of Bayo Success and gave him the task of winning to its side all motor parks in Lagos. This he did by mobilizing a huge clientele of motor park drivers, which was not secured without the multiple shed of human blood in the fracas that ensued at the parks. Bayo Success became a kingmaker and planted his acolytes as chairmen of parks in Lagos, with himself becoming the Oshodi branch chairman. MC Oluomo is also the chairman of the NURTW, Oshodi. So what is in Oshodi that breeds motor park hirelings of politicians who use them for political ends? Abetted by the federal government, so much cash and power resided in the hands of the leadership of NURTW of the time. Bayo Success died in October, 2002 at the age of 61 and was probably in his forties while he held sway. MC Oluomo is said to be 42 years old.
I went into this short history to be able to explain the twine that connects the current NURTW crisis in Lagos with a cancerous blight which the NPN government sowed into the Lagos and by that very fact, Nigerian political equation, whose metastasis is beginning to society a lot of headaches. You will recall that in Oyo State, egged on by the chaotic mini-government ran by the enfant terrible of Oyo politics, Lamidi Adedibu, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-led government of Adebayo Alao-Akala was advertised to the world as an exemplar of how not to subject politics or government to the machinations of touts in motor parks. Its apogee was the murder of Eleweomo, an NURTW kingpin, in broad daylight, in the undecipherable alliance between government, politicians and motor park touts.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu picked the infamous gauntlet from where the NPN left it in Lagos and promoted it into a political art. A researcher, Laurent Fourchard, of the University of Bordeaux, had written in a journal article entitled Lagos, Koolhaas and partisan politics in Nigeria how, on April 20, 2007, in Ikeja, Lagos, then outgoing Governor Tinubu had assembled what she called “5000 strong militant crowd” of his party, then the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) apparently interspersed with NURTW kingpins and told them, “I am not happy with you. I gave for this electoral campaign five millions (sic) Naira and Lagosians did not come to vote en masse for the party” but the “militants” replied,“five million Naira! But it did not reach the grassroots!”
Even out of government, the NURTW is a potent weapon used by the Generalissimo of Lagos politics to sustain his hegemonic hold on Lagos politics. The motor park touts are very rich, sending their families abroad to live, are powerful, have access to the innermost recess of the political class’ dwelling places and are factored into every of their political scheming. They are the ones who are sent to silence political opponents, cause mayhem in places where law and order seem to be too sophisticated to penetrate and constitute the major weaponry deployed on Election Day. They snatch ballot boxes, scare electorate to their pants off the polling booths in places where opponents have major holds and are generally the brains behind violence that undergirds Nigerian politics. Thus, the violence that attended the stabbing of MC Oluomo is in consonance with the political culture that is the core of the roots of politics in Lagos of the Tinubu era.
The hegemony is further sustained by a vice hold on the other lawful arm of violence, the police. Nigerians were baffled last week when, within the spate of 24 hours, instruction and counter-instruction on postings of commissioner of police in charge of Lagos, emanating from the office of the Inspector General, though one departing and the other assuming office, jammed each other. The outgone IG had ordered Edgal Imohimi to leave Lagos on transfer and for a former police aide of Tinubu, Kayode Egbetokun, to take over. The new IG however ordered a reversal to status quo ante. What devious plan inhabits the mind of this clique? Or was it for love of country that a former police hireling was primed to be in charge of a state as delicate as Lagos, when elections are few weeks hence?
However, some other manifestations have emerged from Lagos which are worthy of examination, with grave implications for governance. From what is being filtered into the news-wave, it is apparent that Akinwunmi Ambode, the governor of Lagos, is once again in the belly of the Lagos political clique’s whale. The news is that the clique wants to use the MC Oluomo fracas to demonize the man whom the clique have incongruously stampeded off a second term in office and who has shown unusual fortitude in this regard. This attitude belies the public estimation of a Nigerian politician who, if he was in the shoes of Ambode, would have employed the Samson model of ensuring that the roof of the house caved in on the collective. Some even alleged that a plan to impeach Ambode is in the offing, using his alleged but obviously concocted romance with the opposition as a potent charge. The fortitude Ambode demonstrated in the iniquitous spiking of his bid for a second term by the Tinubu clique is said to be attributable to the fact that he is not a politician but has over the years cultivated a latent tendency to bow to process, steeped in his years of grooming in the civil service. The service is predicated on the belief that order is inherent in process and process, in order. Apparently unconvinced that Ambode could have given in to their machination without a fight, there are reports that the governor is being parceled to be fish-grilled by the imperial powers of the Tinubu group.
Aside his initial grump at having been that side-stepped for Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Ambode has since then demonstrated political traits alien to politicians. Not only has he openly identified with Sanwo-Olu, he has publicly urged Lagosians to vote for him in March. His political traducers however believe that he is double-dealing, maintaining that the fracas in Ikeja where MC Oluomo was stabbed was his handiwork. The logic of this reasoning is baffling. Shockingly un-politician-like, Ambode has recently been quoted to have said this of the man parceled to take over from him: “The qualities of Babajide Sanwo-Olu, a former banker, former cabinet member are very strong and he is also very strong in public sector management. When you compare his qualities to the qualities of other candidates, he is very competent and he is very reliable and I have no doubt that we will have him as the next Governor of Lagos State. So, come February 16, we will vote President Muhammadu Buhari and Professor Osinbajo and come March 2, we will vote Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Dr. Obafemi Hamzat.” Which, to me, drinks from the brooks of that wise-saying by the Yoruba, to wit that a grown up man who sings the panegyrics of a fellow man deserves our salute, for such a task is reserved for the valiant.
The calculation of the Tinubu clique is that, when he is out of the governorship seat, Ambode may soar higher at the federal if APC retains the presidency, going by ostensible general sympathy for his being illogically sacrifice by the Tinubu camp, in spite of his apparent loyalty and sterling performance in Lagos; that he may become another “rebel against the order of Lagos hegemony” like Babatunde Fashola.
The Tinubu group seems to have unlearnt all the ills of the First Republic. You will recall that musicians were also employed in the service of the political hegemony of the time. While Hubert Ogunde sang the ideals of the Action Group, Dadakuada music exponent, Odolaye Aremu, sang for NNDP, a.k.a. Demon. The haughty Wasiu Ayinde Marshal currently serves the Tinubu hegemony in that regard. His song was said to have began the shootings and stabbings which, but for providence, would have cost MC Oluomo’s life. The Tinubu group’s intellectual brain box however revs up its consolidation of the base of power and daily ups its ante by consolidating its hold on the power of coercion, using the NURTW as the marionette. The good news is however that empires fall and emperors crash. Humanity will live forever.