Ban on Roadside Trading: DOPT, Witnesses Disagree over Trader’s Death

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… Calabar Residents Cry out over Agency’s Alleged Molestations

… Police Arrest Two, Driver of DOPT Vehicle At Large

By Magnus Effiong

The Department of Public Transportation (DOPT) of the Cross River state government and those who witnessed the gruesome death of a trader identified as Michael in Calabar Road during the enforcement of ban on roadside trading by the transport agency last Friday are singing discordant tunes as regards the remote and immediate causes of death.

While the transport agency is saying the death was not a deliberate act and that the DOPT were trying to escape from hoodlums allegedly hired by the roadside traders, many witnesses said the DOPT seized Michael’s wares, molested and used their vehicle to run over him, killing Michael, a father of five, at the spot.

Our reporter gathered that the incident happened while operatives of the agency were trying to enforce the ban on roadside trading. Those who spoke accused DOPT operatives of highhandedness, molestation and seizure of traders’ wares indiscriminately.

Narrating what happened, an eyewitness, who gave her name simply as Lizzy, said the DOPT had arrived at the post office area and immediately started packing people’s wares that were displayed around the area.

“They packed Michael’s wares (shoe) but the young man fell on his knees and pleaded with them to release his goods.  It was at that point that two of the DOPT workers descended on him.  They pushed him around and finally when Michael fell down, the DOPT driver ran over him with their vehicle and he died instantly.

“At that point, pandemonium broke out as everybody took to his heels, including the DOPT men.  But some traders returned and decided to take the dead body to the DOPT office near Governor’s office but were prevailed upon to report the issue to the nearby Atakpa Police station,” she stated.

Another eye witness who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity said at least two persons had died in the course of operations of the DOPT, lamenting that an agency that was established to maintain discipline on the road was becoming an unnecessary monster sending residents of Calabar to early graves.

“Michael is the second person the agency had killed in the last one month.  Just last week, they killed somebody at Marian market. DOPT was not established to kill people.  It was not even established to attack traders.” This could not be independently confirmed as at press time.

Another trader, Dora Effiong, recounted their experiences this way: “They beat up people who try to salvage their wares from being seized even after collecting gratifications from us. Their duty is to collect money from traders and drivers. When you pay them, they allow you to sell for some hours but when their big men come with vehicle, those operatives who collected your money would turn tiger and chase you away. Now see what their greed has done.”

Also speaking, a resident, Modlin Odu who expressed disappointment with the operations of the agency said, “This State agency is responsible for the control of intra-city roads. Agreeably, the agency has reduced by way of employment, touts and cultists on the streets of Calabar, but necessary training required to enforce laws designated to the agency hasn’t been given much consideration.

“The driver of the DOPT vehicle must be made to face the full wrath of the law for committing murder or the agitation for the end of this agency will be intensified. This will serve as deterrent to other officials,” he said.

However, in an interview, the Director General of DOPT, Mr. Godwin Nyiam, said the death was not intentional. He said the driver of the DOPT vehicle was trying to avoid being attacked by the mob who, he said, were approaching the scene with weapons.

He said he was also a victim of mob attack few days ago at Marian market and accused some personalities of sponsoring attacks at DOPT operatives in a bid to run down the state government.

His words: For ease of traffic, we advised them not to sell by the raid side. Having given them more than five months notice, so when they (DOPT men) got there, they saw that the people have returned to the spots we’ve been trying to warn them against.

“They asked the first person they saw why they were selling there and then he responded, ‘those things you people did before, you cannot try it this time around, you cannot try it. What you people saw at Marian market is even half of what you are going to see here today.’ Then they (DOPT) made U-turn at and the man who was selling still kept his wheel barrow at the middle of the road. Other vehicles were horning.

“The DOPT men now took the wheel barrow and put it in their vehicle; the man now went and sat in front of the vehicle that nobody will drive out. At that time, the car wasn’t driving. The car was parked, since he had blocked the road. While they were arguing, they saw boys with cutlasses and fuel; that means it was planned, and they were speaking in Calabar language, (Efik) ‘no mi matches’(Give me matches). That no DOPT staff will escape.

“In that process, everybody was running, that’s where they had the accident. The eyewitness stated the same thing before the DPO Atakpa, because he said he is a bus driver. He loads from African Club. That is what he saw.

“The truth is that it was when they saw the crowd coming with sticks that the DOPT vehicle moved in order to escape. The experience I had in Marian market, up till now, it’s still like a shock. I saw death live. People bringing cutlasses, all manner of weapons, that DOPT cannot stop them from selling on the road side. I know that this is being sponsored by enemies of good governance.”

Asked why his agency was collecting money from roadside traders, he said “We are not collecting tolls. We are saying ‘leave the road.’ In a bid to bring sanity, there is always a reprisal attack. And then we are very civil in our approach. We are not entitled to any gun to protect ourselves when confronted with that type of scenario. Unfortunately the man died. May his soul rest in peace. It was not a deliberate thing.”

Recall that the House of Assembly had, some months ago, recommended the scrapping of DOPT over incessant complains from members of the public on the agency’s activities and for the agency not being revenue generating agency.

Meanwhile, the Police have confirmed that two DOPT men involved in Michaels unfortunate death have been picked up while the yet-to-be identified driver is at large.

The Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, ASP Irene Ugbo, said “I can confirm that two DOPT officers are in our custody, but the main person that used the vehicle to jam him has run away. We will get him.” She said the Police would ensure all those involved in Machael’s death would be brought to face the wrath of the law

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