Hon. Igwe James (SAMAJA) is the Director Contact and Mobilization Grassroots Development Initiative(GDI). He also doubles as the Chairman UDISAM-a body promoting the welfare and protecting commercial drivers from police harassment and intimidation. In this interview with Abah Nnanna in Abakaliki, he spoke on efforts made to stop extortion on the high way and insecurity in the country. Excerpts:
Can we meet you?
I am Hon. Igwe James . The Director Contact and Mobilization Grassroots Development Initiative(GDI )and also the Chairman UDISAM. UDISAM is a name derived from different bodies. We came up with the name to enable road users to be free from embarrassment and intimidation on the road.
What motivated your interest in the establishment of UDISAM?
The motivation is very simple. You know when you grew up in a society and you sensed things that are not right and because of your age, you cannot correct them. What you do is to conceive it in your mind and pray God to give you the opportunity that one day, you will accomplish it. I grew up in a family where I noticed that my father was into transportation , and I grew up in that field and I saw a lot of intimidation, threats and how drivers were oppressed. I came up with the idea because in any spheres of life what matters is freedom.
How far have you gone about the idea and where are your areas of coverage?
I started by approaching the law enforcement agencies. I started from Abuja to talk to the police there first. I came back to Ebonyi and Enugu to also talk to the police here. They accepted my proposal. I again went ahead to talk to the corps marshal in-charge of zone 9, he also accepted the proposal and other security agencies. I brought the idea whereby drivers on the road could also be assisting the police in doing their job. And the only way that could be done is to give them proper orientation. We train some people on tips about security. We printed some stickers that bears PCCRU and some control rooms in the southeast where if you notice something you are not comfortable with in a vehicle , you can stop the vehicle by way of trying to ease yourself and call any of the control rooms and indicate your location or to the nearest check point by giving them sign that you do not trust the people in the vehicle.
The idea really helped even during the time of Endsars . It also helped during the time of COVID 19. It is promoting one voice among the drivers. We are about five hundred on the road. Each of this five hundred has their conductor , making it one thousand of us on the road.
What extent have you gone in stoping the intimidation witnessed by drivers and who are those intimidating the drivers?
Although my father was into the business. But I was once a commercial driver. The same horrible experience could not allow me to move on with the business. As for those intimidating the drivers; it is very clear. You see a lot of police officers, though in every society we have bad eggs and good eggs. You see some police slapping the drivers because they did not bribe them. They beat some of them or even pack you on the road for the whole day just because the amount they requested from you, you could not come up with it. You cannot do anything. Sometime they will tell you the IG is aware. There is no any inspector general of police that will tell a police officer to do that. Sometimes too they will deflate your tires. They can also tear-gas you because you refused to bribe them. We have so many cases where you see a military man slapping the drivers. We have the clips . So many drivers have been hospitalized due to maltreatment from the military. They will tell you to go and call anybody you like. It has been reducing. Even though we have not achieved our goal. As goes on we would make more achievements.
What is your relationship with the NURTW?
Talking about the national union of road transport workers, their job is to extort. I have been saying this. There is a kind of law they operate with that gives them such power because each time you talk , they will tell you their is a law that gives them right just like the government. Most times when you bring your vehicle which you borrowed to buy or you sell your land to acquire a vehicle to enable you feed your family. When you bring it, they will give you stringent conditions. They don’t even care there is a part of their law that said it must be 10%. They will go ahead to collect 40% and if you say no, they have acquired so much power that they can impound your vehicle . Because of the money they are generating, they have made friends with bad police officers. So, when you go to the police involved, your matter will just die like that and nothing will happen.
How have you been able to institutionalize your idea in the southeast and what impact so far have you made?
When I came up with the idea, I know it is not going to be an easy task. But today, we are rejoicing. Between the boundary of Enugu to Orji River, we have over forty check points. Apart from the police checkpoints , you can get about ten army check points, 15 road safety check points. If I have succeeded in zeroing all these check points without the drivers giving money ; we are progressing. We always interact with the drivers who confirmed this. But from their confessional statements, they spend over four thousand naira in bribing the police. But that four thousand naira now go back to the driver. I have stopped illegal tickets both in Enugu and Ebonyi states. About seven to eight hundred illegal tolls were in circulation without the consent of the government. Like I told you , my aim is to conquer southeast. When you talk about southeast, it is a place the policeman can bribe you to be posted to.
How many of these agents intimidating and harassing road users has been prosecuted?
Right now , we have only two cases involving the military. You know the police is an institution that can easily be managed. The military is not like that. Unknown soldier can go to any place and carry out an operation. But you can easily trace a policeman. We have a case sometime with a police officer and by the time he saw that the case would not favour him, he apologized. For the two cases I have with the military, I have gone to 82 Division to make sure that the culprits are brought to book. I believe very soon , it will come to an end and in Ebonyi here, we are working with the man in charge of the military police. It has been problem, but it is reducing. I have succeeded in reducing extortion to 85% on the roads in southeast. You can see the police on their duty post but they are not there to collect money. We have recovered ammunitions through this platform. We have given a lot of information that led to the recovery of arms from passengers.
There are a lot of insecurity arising from inter and intra communal crisis and the herdsmen attack in Ebonyi state. Are we really secured?
Nigeria and Ebonyi state is drifting into insecurity. The system is messed up. But let nobody say it is not his or her business because if it is not your business today; it will be your business tomorrow. Insecurity in this country has gotten to a point that we do not need to be tribalistic. You cannot destroy what you cannot produce. You can destroy a flower in your garden but you cannot destroy a soul you cannot bring back. When you kill a soul that has
dependents, you have succeeded in creating poverty. That you are not a PDP member or APC has nothing to do with your conscience. I have not seen in the bible or Quran where killing is encouraged. If you kill a person now, his or her family member would retaliate leading to escalation of crisis. The governor cannot handle the issue of insecurity alone; its everybody’s business. He is not God. I see no reason why the herdsmen should kill people in Ebonyi state. To me, there is no joy in taking the lives of the people. When the PDP members said that those herdsmen killing in Ebonyi State are PDP members, it does not make sense . Buhari do not even know that people are planning to do such a thing . I am not trying to exonerate the federal government from the insecurity. But every government has its own pattern.
There had been issues between IPOB and Southeast governors on their stance on herdsmen habitation in southeast, don’t you see the herdsmen taking advantage of this attack in the southeast?
I know there is a part of the state that prohibits their people from eating cow meat. Most of them would travel from their villages and come to the urban and eat the same cow meat. That the governor gave the room for us to co-habit as one Nigeria, because last time I checked our allocation is still coming from the federal government and the capital of this country is located in Abuja, I have not seen the capital of Biafra , is leadership style. We have our different idea and agenda. It is the bag eggs among us that are creating the problem. I have never seen what the governor did as a crime. It does not also mean that we should go ahead and looking for the herdsmen to kill. Buhari has his own style. He wears the shoes and knows where it pitches him. Those elected should support the governor and president to ensure peace in the country.
Since the governor of Ebonyi state defected to APC, his former PDP has not rested in keeping him on his toes. Do you see the APC having a field day in the state?
I am an APC member . I defected last year from PDP to APC. I will not be telling you that my business is not moving. It is a very simple thing. Why most of us defected to APC is very clear. We want to achieve higher. We want a place where we can give the people what they want. The governor has been working when he was in PDP and the work is still much going on now that he is in APC because of his relationship with the federal government . You can see without the federal government , he cannot make these achievements .
Some top politicians like Boniface Ofoke and others who were the governor’s closest ally are still with the PDP. What is your view about this?
That is all about politics. If all of us are in APC and nobody is in PDP, we will not be able to elect the best leader. This is like a catapult shooting all of us to get the best leaders. It makes the politics to be sweet. The day I defected , I did with over three hundred people. We all have our own crowd. Let them be there. I want to advice that people that mean well for their people should move to APC. It’s not by force.