Nasarawa - Commercial and private motorists plying Keffi-Abuja highway have bemoaned increasing rate of extortion by touts operating at the Mararaba bus stop, a densely populated suburb in Nasarawa, near the FCT.
Speaking to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) at the bus stop on Tuesday, a number of motorists, who have fallen victim to the activities of the extortionists, described their experiences as "alarming and very frustrating."
Mr Stephen Olaleye, a commercial bus driver told NAN that the activities of the hoodlums were very rampant, especially toward evening when they knew that the police on patrol would not be around.
"If you don't give them something, they start harassing and delaying you and in the process, your passengers get angry and disembark from the vehicle."
"They collect between N50 and N100 respectively, depending on how you bargain. We are helpless because even if they are taken to the police station, the police will still release them.
"The popular saying goes that `if you can’t beat them, you join them', that is why we have to succumb to their demand in order to continue with our business."
He stated that the claim that most of them were members of the National Union of Road Workers (NURTW) was false because they often declined to prove it.
Olaleye, however, expressed the hope that "God can decide one day to use someone to intervene for us and we shall be very grateful."
ThankGod Ezekiel, another commercial bus operator, told NAN that "These people we know as "agboro" in the local parlance, always come around us begging for money."
Ezekiel stated that they often claim to be union members and sometimes they said they were working for the Karu Local Government, "but whenever you ask them for official tickets or receipts, they would grow annoyed and start harassing and dragging you".
"Most especially, if they discover that you are a new person on this road, they would never let you go if you don't part with something.
"But those of us who are not new, we often wrestle with them and if need be, we begin to fight them.
Malam Ahmed Yaya, simply said that he lacked words to speak on their operations whenever he got to the bus stop.
"In fact, I don't know what to say again about them, but I don't support their activities," he added.
But for Mr Lamidi Bakare, a private motorist, "the experience is harrowing."
He told NAN at the bus stop that the worst they would do was to remove vehicle number plates "for any delay in settling them".
Bakare recalled that on Sunday, he was going to the church with members of his household, and he spotted a member at the bus stop and offered to give him a lift.
"As I stopped at a space by the road side, three young men emerged from nowhere and surrounded the vehicle and started asking me to park.
"Before I could ask them where I should park, they have started screwing the bolt of my car number plate and I was highly embarrassed."
Bakare stated that he was also harassed by the hoodlums when his car developed a fault near the bus stop and he came down to see what the problem was.
"They just rush in from different directions and forcefully removed my vehicle number plate and when I confronted them, they demanded for “settlement”, not minding the problem of the vehicle."
However, when contacted at the bus stop, Mr Uche Marshall, the Road Marshall of Self Employed Commercial Drivers Association, Abuja branch, denied the extortion claim by the motorists, saying that "the insinuations were totally false and unfounded because it does not hold any water".
"Anybody you see operating under this overhead pedestrian bridge is either representing the NURTW or Vehicle Owners Association. So if you see any one operating in this place outside these two bodies I have mentioned, you can call in the police to get that person arrested."
"We can identify all our members operating in this place because they have been issued with reflective jackets and identity cards."
Marshall stated that he was "not aware of any forceful removal of vehicle number plates by the union members, except where a vehicle is wrongly parked, we only direct the driver to park well."
He said they were there "assisting the police to control traffic and to decongest the road, so that everybody would have a sense of belonging".
When contacted, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of "A" Division, Mararaba, Superintendent of Police Thomas Daweher, confirmed the development, saying that the police were on top of the situation.
He told NAN that the branch chairman of the Road Transport Workers Union, Mr Benard Adeyi had been invited for "a crucial meeting on the matter".
As I'm speaking to you now, I have a document on the activities of the extortionists at the bus stop and we are clamping down on them.
"Most often, I personally lead my men in raiding the place and whenever they noticed my presence, they disguise themselves and go into hiding." (NAN)