Awka – Anambra State Government needs to investigate and stop the imposition of a compulsory Christmas Party levy of N4,000 on commercial tricyclists popularly known as Keke operators in Awka North and South Council Areas of Anambra State.
Investigations by TNC correspondent Kenechukwu Ofomah revealed that the Keke operators were forced to part with the sum of N3,000 for the same party last year, while those who refused were severely harassed.
It was also gathered that this year, the Keke operators have been mandated to pay the sum of N4,000 for the party, with the threat that failure to pay will amount to insubordination to the persons superintending over keke operators affairs in the two council areas.
In Awka North and South, there were over 11,000 keke machines as at last year December, totaling about N44 million, if all were to pay this year’s Christmas levy.
Further investigations disclosed that the some very powerful persons accused to have the backing of some top state government officials, were the ones overseeing the keke business in the two LGAs.
According to the Convener of a Civil Rights Group, Recover Nigeria Project, Comrade Osita Obi, who raised the alarm over the obnoxious plan, the persons collecting the illegal levy are working with Anambra State Ministry for Transportation and are using cultists and other outlaws to enforce compliance.
“It is no more secret that these people are working with the Commissioner for Transport in the State, Mr Afam Mbanefo, who they bring returns to, to continue to extort these hapless keke operators.
“I have confronted the Commissioner on this severally and nothing has been done,” he regretted.
Comrade Obi said it is appalling that the Keke operators who are mostly graduates, who government could not provide employment for, are being ripped off by the same government through the imposition of many levies.
“I am involved in this because majority of these Keke operators are members of the Recover Nigeria Project, who have decided to fend for themselves since government couldn’t give them any job.
“Now, the same government that is supposed to protect these people who have chosen to gainfully engage themselves, is the one extorting them.
“This is the height of wickedness and insensitivity to the plight of the masses who are already suffering.
“Aside the compulsory Christmas party levy, these Keke people have also been extorted in the name of what the government call ATMC, where they use thugs to collect an upward of N7,500 from the keke operators for the code.
“This is a code the government said will cost only N2,000.
“Now, when these thugs recruited by these people collect these varying sums from the keke people, they issue them a receipt of N1,500. Tell me if that is fair,” he queried.
When TNC accosted the State Chairman of Keke Operators Union, Sylvester Obiorah, he made it clear that the Union is not involved in the illegal deal, saying that such payments should be investigated by government and the persons involved prosecuted.
“This is becoming worrisome that keke operators will be extorted in this manner.
“I have received this report from many of my members and I want to call on the state government to investigate it and ensure that anyone involved is made to face the law.
“This is not contained in our constitution and even if anyone wants to do it, it should be voluntary.
“I also think such parties when organized, should be done according to units because local government is very large,” he said.
Obiorah revealed that the development in Awka North and South was because there are no elected Keke Union leaders in the areas, noting that due to fear of maiming and harassment, many operators are paying the money.
Meanwhile, when the State Commissioner for Transport, Mr Afam Mbanefo was reached on the allegations, he denied involvement in the whole saga, saying the state government was made to believe that the payment was a voluntary payment.
“There is no way I can involve myself in such illegality.
“When I first heard about the complaints, I summoned their leadership in the affected areas and they confirmed to us that the payment was optional.
“We then had to ask them to put it in writing to ensure that no one is extorted.
“Now that this is coming up again, the government will put its eyes on ground, to see that nobody is forced to be part of what they do not wish to do,” he promised.