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How NURTW Found It’s Ways Back Into Ondo Politics "The Guardian"

Tension has gripped the people of Ondo State ahead of the 2019 general elections, as members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) openly manifest their unbridled influence in the political sphere. 

After the inauguration of Oluwarotimi Akeredolu as governor on February 24, 2017, the duly elected state executive of NURTW was overthrown. Mr. Jacob Adebo, the present state NURTW chairman, toppled the leadership of Ariyo Adetula, after which he pitch tent with the new government and party.

The last time the union unleashed a reign of terror in the state was in 2009, during the six-year administration of late Dr. Olusegun Agagu. Under Dr. Olusegun Mimiko’s two-term administration from 2009 to 2017, he was able to put a check to excesses of the NURTW and refused to meddle in their internal affairs and politics. 

In 2013, the NURTW state chairman, Obayoriade Oladutile, aka “Die the Matter” was sanctioned for ticket racketeering and his deputy, Apostle Omobomi Ajisafe took over from him. But of recent, the relationship between the state government, and the union has become cozy and ‘jobs’ were made available for the boys. For instance, during the last state congresses of the APC, thugs were unleashed on members of the party who elected Idowu Otetubi as state chairman, during which they stripped the lawmaker representing Idanre/Ifedore Federal Constituency, Baderinwa Bamidele Unclad. 

The Guardian gathered that some NURTW members were picked to hold party positions in the last congresses, while Adebo decided the results of some congresses, especially in Akure and some parts of Ondo Central Senatorial District. It became clear what their roles were when NURTW members, in their numbers, mobilized to disrupt impeachment proceedings of the state Assembly on Friday November 9, 2018, assaulting lawmakers, Assembly staff and journalists. 

The Assembly had some leadership issues to deal with, during which 18 out of 26 members allegedly sacked the Speaker, Bamidele Oleyelogun and his Deputy, Ogundeju Iroju for offences ranging from gross abuse of office to financial impropriety. They were replaced with Olamide George and Abimbola Fajolu as speaker and deputy respectively. Oleyelogun and his faction have since fled the state, laying claims to the leadership of the House from ‘exile’. 

According to a member of the NURTW, who pleaded anonymity, the union was alerted that the lawmakers had begun an impeachment process against Governor Akeredolu. He disclosed that the leadership of the union received distress calls from a loyalist of the governor and they sprung into action to frustrate the impeachment process. 

“We didn’t know what was going on in the House of Assembly initially until when the chairman called us that he got a call of some lawmakers wanting to impeach Akeredolu. He said he was asked to send his boys to chase out the lawmakers.“So the chairman ordered us to send everybody out of the House. He (chairman) said we should not allow the lawmakers to sit so that Akeredolu would not be impeached. But we later discovered that it was the Speaker they impeached,” the NURTW member said. 

Even at press time, a contingent of NURTW members were still stationed at strategic points along Igbatoro Road, where the Assembly Complex is located, guarding the nine lawmakers, who insisted that Oleyelogun remains Speaker; thus holding plenary sessions since the impeachment saga. For the record, the Governor sent a bill for the reordering of the 2018 Budget to the House under the leadership of the embattled Speaker, Oleyelogun, and it was read on the floor of the House attended by nine lawmakers together with numerous NURTW members occupying the watchtowers.

The factional Assembly leaders, George, Fajolu and the Majority Leader, Olugbenga Araoyinbo, raised alarm over threats to their lives and assaults in the state by thugs and NURTW members. From exile, the lawmakers, in a petition sent to the Inspector General of Police and the Presidency, accused the Governor, the state Commissioner for Police, Gbenga Adeyanju and the state chairman of APC Ade Adetimehin of abuse of authority. 

According to them, the Commissioner of Police and the state chairman of APC said Governor Akeredolu gave the order to “evacuate and flush” all lawmakers who were behind the impeachment of the principal officers.
Without mincing words, they accused the Commissioner of Police of high conspiracy by standing aloof without making any effort to stop the attack on them, Assembly staff and journalists. 

The lawmakers confirmed that the NURTW chairman, Adebo was invited through telephone calls to disrupt the House proceedings and plenary session. 
Adebo commandeered the attack with “not less than two hundred thugs who came with different sizes of gun, axes, machetes, charms, cudgels, broken bottles and other dangerous weapons and immediately started shooting uncontrollably, sporadically inside the Assembly Complex attacking everybody violently.

“They destroyed several vehicles and even structures worth millions of Naira, beat up people, as we speak honourable members, staff and visitors to the Assembly Complex are hospitalized in different locations across the state receiving treatment as they battle for survival.”The lawmakers have been absent in the subsequent sessions after the impeachment attempt, for fear of being attacked. They have demanded the arrest of the NURTW chairman and investigation of involvement of Governor Akeredolu and the APC chairman, Adetimehin. 

However, the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Yemi Owolabi, denied involvement of the Governor, stating that his boss did not meddle in the Assembly fracas. Olowolabi, who described the leadership tussle as mere squabble of the House, noted that impeachment is an inherent right of the lawmakers, whom he said, have

Meanwhile, a social critic and leader of Concerned Ondo State Youth, Wande Ajayi has warned the state government against the relationship with the NURTW, saying: “Dabbling in internal politics of NURTW is synonymous with swimming in unwholesome trouble.”Ajayi said: “Our Governor should have taken a leaf from his predecessor who nipped the excesses of NURTW in the bud immediately he was sworn in and vehemently refused to patronize them. 

“This, to a large extent, is responsible for the peace recorded in the state in the past eight and a half years. The once volatile union had to dance to the tune of Dr. Segun Mimiko. They even had their election at the Dome! “Unlike when they would declared a curfew by themselves in previous years when a date is announced for such poll. For Gov. Akeredolu to patronize governor them again one wonders why. 

“But then we remember they were the ones used to ‘take over’ APC’s Secretariat during the primaries. The Governor is rewarding thuggery when he should have invested in more productive ventures.”Staff of Ondo State House of Assembly are worried that government is shielding the assaulters. The workers have refused to resume and recognise Oloyelogun as Speaker, but the Governor is alleged to have threatened not to pay their salaries if they fail to resume. 

In a letter of protest written to the Clerk of the House, Mr. Bode Adeyelu, by the Assembly union leaders, they complained that, “despite the leadership of NURTW openly accepting and taking responsibility for the attacks, no single prosecution has been effected.“It is obvious they are above the law and have the full backing of the Governor. If over 40 armed Policemen could look on as NURTW members attack journalist and Parliamentary staff, one wonders who is safe in this state.
“Will the Governor continue to encourage brigandage and thuggery for selfish reasons despite his oath to protect us all

The PDP Zonal Publicity Secretary, Mr. Ayo Fadaka said, “these developments are happening now because of the obvious low capacity in governance of Ondo State currently.”Fadaka noted that the impeachment of the Speaker, Oleyelogun and his Deputy, Iroju, are peculiar happenstance in any democracy across the world. 

“We are of the view that the House of Assembly is an organ of government that must discharge its functions without this undue interloping actions of the drivers union. “The drivers union as a pressure group must know its limitations and not overstep its bounds under any circumstance,” he said. 

A pressure group in the ruling party, Concerned Ondo APC, under the leadership of the former Deputy Governor and BoT member of the party, Alhaji Ali Olanusi has condemned the involvement of NURTW in Ondo politics. The group, made up of party stalwarts and former state chairman of the party, Isaac Kekemeke, said patronage of the union by Akeredolu-led administration is dangerous to the sustainability of democracy in the state. 

The APC elders urged the Governor and party leadership to desist from supporting the union and using them as thugs to repress any dissenting camp or opposition to the Aketi team. They warned that the foray of the union, alongside other similar groups into the politics spells imminent disaster ahead of the 2019 general elections.
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