A serious war is ongoing among the members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) in Abia State.
News Echo gathered that the fiasco which began at Ugwunagbo Local Government Area (LGA) is currently spreading like wildfire as it has led to the death of one person at Ikwuano LGA.
Narrating the genesis of the crisis, NURTW Secretary, Ugwunagbo LGA, Chief Peter Asagwara, told journalists in Aba on the 8th of December 2021 that they have tried to manage the situation so that it will not escalate, but regretted that some politicians are sponsoring the crisis underground.
Asagwara specifically accused the Chief of Staff to Abia Governor, Dr. Anthony Agbazuere of fueling the crises and acting as de facto leader of NARTO in the state.
He also fingered Mrs. Chinasa Nnata, the Chairman of Ugwunagbo LGA, as dancing to the tune of Agbazuere.
He said that the genesis of the crisis was the unconstitutional tenure elongation by Mr. Chukwudi Ahuama (Eshiwe) who had against the constitution of NURTW stayed in office as Chairman of the Ugwunagbo branch of the union, for 16 years.
Asagwara said that as of 2016 when Ahuama insisted on going for the third tenure, the crisis got so hot that thugs were sponsored by Ahuama to deal with the members, leading to Mr. Chimyeze Irondi, losing one of his eyes, as it was plucked out by the hoodlums.
He also said that in 2020 when Ahuama came up with his power elongation strategy for his fourth tenure, some stakeholders of the NURTW Ugwunagbo; Alozie Onuoha and Chidebe Adiele went to the National Industrial Court and instituted an action against that tenure elongation.
Asagwara however said that while the matter was on, Dr. Agbazuere called him to see how Ahuama can be allowed and managed to remain in office, having been there since 2008.
He added that when Dr. Agbazuere called him, he was still at Law School and that he bluntly told the COS who is also a lawyer that the issue of tenure elongation is a constitutional matter.
Meanwhile, Asagwara said that while at Law School that he got series of complaints from his members of ill-treatment from Mr. Ahuama, whom he said was been sponsored by Dr. Agbazuere for some unknown political reasons.
“They complained that he doesn’t pay allowances, our National Union receipts were not being purchased. When I tried to call him, he kept giving excuses. When I came back and met him, he told me how he donated millions of Naira to one brigade commander and how he donated for school buildings elsewhere, which I later found out were all lies.
“I asked him why he should prioritize showmanship against the welfare of his members? A member of the Union was ejected from his residence, by his landlord, he went to Ahuama for assistance, which was his entitlement, but never got it. Another member of the Union, who was also one of our trustees, gave that member N200,000 from his pocket and Ahuama disengaged him for assisting a member.
“Whenever he does these illegal disengagements, he used the excuse that those people are not from Abia State and that they’re not Ngwa people, as yardsticks to justify his ill treatment against them.
“I made it clear to him that this is National Union of Road Transport Workers where every Nigerian who is a road transport worker has a right to be a member.
“On the 21st of September, the State Administrative Council (SAC) of the NURTW in an executive meeting called everybody involved and considered the implications of allowing Ahuama to continue as Chairman at Ugwunagbo which is an aberration to the Union’s constitution.
“After the deliberation, the Abia State Administrative Council of NURTW dissolved the entire Ugwunagbo LGA Executive of NURTW while caretakers were appointed.”
Asagwara said that to their shock, the next day, precisely on the 21st of September 2021 Ahuama came out with a letter from Mrs. Chinasa Nnata, Ugwunagbo LGA Chairman which purportedly authorized him to keep operating as the transport union leader now under a newly created union in the LGA called National Union of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) which never existed there, a decision he said they opposed.
He said, “Mrs. Nnata, the LGA Chairman came to question us on why we should dissolve NURTW Executive without letting her know. I made it clear to her that our duty is to communicate to her the decision of the union and not to take orders from them. As we tried to convince her, Ahuama sent thugs and cultists with guns and machetes and injured some of our members.”
According to Asagwara, Nnata gave NARTO the directive to confiscate and take over all the parks and loading bays rightfully owned and established, by NURTW with government approval and handed over the leadership to Ahuama who was recently removed by NURTW as Chairman having overstayed his constitutionally allowed tenure.
Asagwara said that while Nnata and those behind her decision were brewing crisis in the LGA, in order not to make sure NURTW does not get itself into issues that will lead to bloodshed, they approached their lawyer who wrote to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu on the 23rd of September 2021 on the matter.
He said that after the governor had looked at the content of the letter which included that: “the LGA Chairman be directed to rescind her decision of directing for the arrest of the NURTW caretaker committee members of Ugwunagbo, LGA Chairman, should allow the NURTW to carry out its activities without undue harassment and unconstitutional meddling by her; “that LGA Chairman should annul or withdraw immediately the purported approval for the establishment of a new Transport Union (NARTO) in Ugwunagbo for peace to reign in the area; “that the LGA Chairman should be held responsible for any breach of the peace or violent clash between members of the NURTW and the newly created NARTO in Ugwunagbo,” and minuted the above which Dr. Agbazuere completely ignored.
In the photocopy evidence of the letter which he made available to journalists, which he submitted to the Governor in person and watched as he on receiving the letter minuted and directed his Chief of Staff thus: “COS invite the Executive Chairman of Ugwunagbo LGA. We must align with the views of the State Administrative Council (SAC) of NURTW.”
The letter as made available to journalists was written by Barrister Hagler Okorie of the Winners Chambers, Aba on the September 23, 2021 and the Governor’s directive to his Chief of Staff, Dr. Anthony Agbazuere to invite Mrs. Chinasa Nnata to enable them to align with the views of SAC NURTW was given on September 25, 2021.
“In the letter which the Governor minuted, he used the word we, which I believe included the Governor whom we all know is a law-abiding man. However, Agbazuere turned down the Governors directives.
“This neglect of the Governor’s directive allowed Ahuama to recruit some cultists known as Aro-Boys, who used guns to pursue our members at the Flyover at Asa-Nnetu.
“We went to court. On the 28th day of September, 2021, the Aba High Court restrained them. But when the court looked at our order three which captured Aba High Court’s jurisdiction about trespass, but because the main issue is who becomes chairman and who operates, the Aba High Court said it’s the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court.
“To our greatest shock, Agbazuere used a lawyer in his Chambers to go to the National Industrial Court, Owerri, Imo State in favour of Chukwudi Ahuama and served us the order of the court. We said okay since it’s that let’s go there. When we got there, the court in its wisdom adjourned the matter till February 10th, 2022.”
Asagwara who also presented the document of the ruling on SUIT NO: NICN/OW/44/2021 between Mr. Chukwudi Ahuama and others vs NURTW and six others pointed out where the court said in the ruling on Wednesday 17th November 2021 that, “mediation is encouraged. As such, parties are ordered to explore settlement on or before the next adjourned date.”
According to him, the court never ordered that Ahuama and NARTO should take over NURTW’s loading bays. He added that immediately after the matter was adjourned, Ahuama intensified his violence with the open statement that as long as Dr. Agbazuere is involved, nothing will happen.
He said that before the court ruling on the 17th of November, some of the armed thugs recruited by Ahuama who were arrested with guns and charged to court were released within 48 hours by the court.
“The thugs came out and their boastful comment is that since Agbazuere is there, nothing will happen to them. They’ll openly tell you that we don’t know how powerful Agbazuere is.
“I don’t know the arrangement they did to release criminals they recovered guns from. Whenever you approach Agbazuere to ask him why he ignored the governor’s directive, he’ll excuse himself saying the matter is in court, because his Chamber is the one handling a matter his boss, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has ordered him to bring a solution to. This is conflict of interest.
“Rule 17-5 of the rules of professional conduct of lawyers doesn’t allow Agbazuere to get involved by using his Chambers to engage in a matter his boss has already directed him to settle. The Governor had directed Agbazuere, but he practically did otherwise.”
Asagwara who said he has served the Abia State government from the era of Governor Theodore Orji to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in different capacities said he has tried to bring an amicable solution to the issues raised, but that the interest of people like Dr. Agbazuere are making things difficult.
“On the 2nd of December, Ahuama and his thugs macheted members of NURTW for telling them that what they are doing is not right. I have reported to the Commissioner of Transport to address this matter.
“The Commissioner of Police, Janet Agbede gave an order detailing RRS to maintain peace and order at Flyover Asa-Nnentu that since we’re in court, nobody should be at the loading bays for now until the court decides.
“The CP sent police officers there from RRS. Agbazuere called the Commander of RRS, SP Johnbull Obioguru and told him that Ahuama and NARTO are the people recognized by the government to be there and the RRS pulled out of that location while the crisis continued.
“We also learnt that Agbazuere asked them to go to Ikwuano LGA, disengage members of NURTW and establish NARTO to take over as they’re trying to do in Ugwunagbo. The question is must he disengage people to get established? Can’t he create fresh loading bays?
“Our agreement with Ugwunagbo LGA which is written down stipulated that our contract with Ugwunagbo LGA will stand from 29th August 2008, till the 30th of August 2023.
“Another point in that agreement also said that the council shall not during the subsistence of this contract, approve, allocate or assign any part of the park to any other Union or individual. This agreement was signed while Ahuama was the chairman which disqualifies him.”
Asagwara also said that part of the agreement stated that should the NURTW breach the agreement through unruly behaviour or unlawful conduct, the LGA shall have the right to terminate the contract, but must give two months notice, stating an intention and reasons to disengage them.
He also said that even if the members of NURTW has erred or gone against their agreement with the LGA in 2008 which he insisted they never did, why should the LGA give authority to the man that has led NURTW throughout the period of the supposed error if there is anything like that?
“I stand by my word, Agbazuere is the one bankrolling Ahuama. He is the one telling them that the Abia government is with them. He is the one giving them authority to take over all the motor parks established by NURTW in different local governments he’s instructing them to go to.
“If Agbazuere had implemented Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s directive, Ahuama wouldn’t have had the strength to instruct one Ejike to go to Ikwuano to establish NARTO which led to the death of someone.
“I have been speaking out about this before today, and I have challenged Agbazuere to take me to court if he feels I’m lying against him. I stand by my words.
“Agbazuere is using his office to intimidate people. How can he keep intimidating people like this to the extent of asking NURTW members to withdraw their court cases.”
The pioneer chairman of NURTW Ugwunagbo LGA, Chidebe Adiele Onuoha said that when he and the current caretaker Chairman, Alozie Onuoha went to the National Industrial Court to challenge the tenure elongation of Ahuama in NURTW, Agbazuere invited them together with Mrs. Nnata in a hotel in Aba for discussion.
According to him, as the discussion was ongoing, Dr. Agbazuere openly told them that they can go ahead to any court of their choice, but they should realize that he has the contact of all the judges in those courts and will ensure he uses his connection to get judges to rule in Ahuama’s favour.
When contacted on the 9th of December 2021 to enable him to respond to the allegations leveled against him, by the NURTW Ugwunagbo LGA, the Chief of Staff to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Dr. Anthony Agbazuere threatened our reporter who made the call on behalf of the Aba Federated Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) that they were walking into serious trouble for digging into the matter.
He went further to say that he does not even know anything about the matter and allegations the NUJ was trying to get his response from and further said that if NUJ needs any information from him, they should come straight to his office in Umuahia as he cannot say anything on phone.
At this point, our reporter asked him for a date and time to come to his office to get his response, Dr. Agbazuere said that he does not even book an appointment on phone, saying that our reporter should just come to Umuahia without a date and a time.
“I don’t grant an interview on phone. If you want anything come. I don’t even say or grant anything on phone but I’m saying if you want anything you just come. I don’t book appointments on phone.
“You people are just walking yourselves into trouble. Do you understand? I know you’re recording what I’m saying but I don’t care about that. What I’m telling you is that I don’t grant interviews on phone. If you want anything come to my office,” he said.
To exhaust every stipulation of balance, objectivity and ethics of journalism, further efforts were put to get Dr. Agbazuere to respond on the matter despite his initial threat and willingness to stand by it.
Dr. Agbazuere later fixed Tuesday, 14th December as a day he will respond to the allegations in his office. However, when it was getting close to the date precisely on Monday, 13th December 2021, he said one of his children outside the state was sick and that he had taken her to hospital.
After that day all efforts which included phone calls and text messages meant to get Dr. Agbazuere to speak on the matter failed as he refused to pick nor respond on the matter till the time of filing this report.
When contacted to respond to her own allegations, Mrs. Chinasa Nnata, the LGA Chairman of Ugwunagbo said that upon her assumption of office, she revoked every revenue group and union existing in the LGA.
She however said that she gave room for the Unions and other group affected by her decision to come and renew whatever contract they had with the LGA, but NURTW never showed up until August 2021 after she must have recognized NARTO.
When reminded that NURTW had an agreement with the Ugwunagbo LGA before her being elected and that government is continuum, she insisted that she has the power to revoke any existing contract in the LGA whether there was any agreement or not.
Our reporter also contacted the NARTO Chairman at Ugwunagbo, Mr. Chukwudi Ahuama to enable him to respond to the allegations against him, but he said he does not know anything about NURTW or Chief Peter Asagwara.
“There’s nothing like NURTW in Ugwunagbo LGA. Peter Asagwara is not a member of NURTW. He is an informant. I don’t deal with informants. All I know is NARTO, because it is NARTO that the LGA empowered to operate at Ugwunagbo LGA.”