Residents Bemoan Excesses Of Sanitation, Traffic Officials
ENFORCEMENT agents of the Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) and traffic regulators of the Ministry of Transport may be a new ‘wave of terror’ in Enugu city, no thanks to their mode of operation, which residents find disturbing.
These officials allegedly hide under the guise of revenue enforcement to harass, intimidate and fleece people. Daily, residents lament their ordeal in the hands of either. This is especially the case since the state government installed traffic lights on major road junctions and rehabilitated some urban roads.
Mr. Anthony Ogide works with the branch of a private company in Enugu. Sometime, last year, he had returned to his office only to be confronted by ESWAMA officials over sanitation fees for the year. Ogide, meanwhile, had neither been served a bill nor had any previous encounter with the revenue officials over unpaid bills.
Having opened the branch of the office three months earlier, he had never paid any such bill and explained to his visitors that he never received any to that effect. “Then you must follow us. When you get to our office, you will explain,” the officials had told him. All pleas that they should provide the bill, to enable him pay or allow him drive behind them fell on deaf ears. The young men bundled him into their bus and zoomed off.
At the ESWAMA office, Ogide was detained in a cell alongside over 50 other people ‘arrested’ in various parts of the state for allegedly failing to pay their sanitation bills. He was told he could only regain freedom by providing evidence of previous payments, as well as paying the ‘unseen’ bill of N10,000 with an additional N6,000 as penalty, failing which he would face the ESWAMA mobile court.
He pleaded vigorously that his office was only three months old in the state and had never been served a bill, adding that the N10,000 demanded was outrageous, since his was merely a two-room affair. If Ogide managed to beg his way through having to pay the ‘arrears’, there was no escaping payment of the new bill and penalty. He was allowed to put a call through to friends who raised the money and secured his release. Surprisingly, only N10,000 of the N16,000 paid was recorded in the receipt he received.
Ogide’s experience is just one of many that residents have encountered in the hands of ESWAMA officials in the state. Last year, a 17-year-old boy, Chidiebere Edeh, died after the officials and a policeman attached to them beat him up at a junction in the Abakpa Nike area of the state.
It was gathered that a scuffle between ESWAMA agents and Chidiebere ensued minutes after the deceased allegedly disposed off a bag of rubbish at one of the approved dumpsites. Residents who lived close to the dumpsite said that apparently unhappy with the way the boy discarded the stuff, the agents began to hit him with sticks. Attempts by the boy to explain that the rubbish was tied in a black nylon bag, as recommended by ESWAMA, and neatly dumped, proved abortive. They beat him to stupor and dragged him into their waiting bus. On their way, however, they discovered he had become unconscious and consequently dumped him by the side of the road. He died before medical assistance arrived.
There was also the case of Nma Ukonu, a staff of South Saharan Social Development Organisation, an NGO in New Haven, Enugu.
Ukonu was in her office when ESWAMA officials walked in and asked for the ‘waste management fee receipt’ of two preceding years and the current year. She told them that the organization is non-governmental and that its Programme Manager, Mrs. Franca Nwoye, was not on seat, as she alone kept documents pertaining to the office. She further informed them that the organization normally pays service charge, yearly, to managers of the property.
The officials insisted they must take her to their office. When she refused, four men descended on her with blows and kicks. Thereafter, they dragged her into their waiting bus. At their office, she was detained for almost eight hours. Mrs. Nwoye was later contacted and made to pay N56,000 before Nma was released. Although Nma had prosecuted the agency, where a Federal High Court, early this year, ruled the matter in her favour, it is not clear whether the agency has paid the N500,000 fine slammed on it.
Two years ago, the government fixed traffic lights in the state with EasyPark Limited as concessionaire. Regrettably, traffic enforcers, comprising officials from the Capital Territory Development Authority, Ministry of Transport and the Police have teamed up with thugs to harass and intimidate residents. Local Government Councils have also made uniforms for certain men and women empowered to enforce traffic within their territory. They roam every part of the state looking for vehicles to clamp for wrongful parking or jumping of traffic lights. Police officials also aid their operations, turning patrol cars recently assigned to them by the state government into tools for chasing traffic offenders.
Ikechukwu Ogara told The Guardian how traffic agents attached to the Enugu East Local Government attacked him, recently, as he went to Nsukka. He had pulled aside to buy a bottle of water when three men pounced on him and accused him of causing obstruction. His pleas that he had made way for traffic failed. He received slaps for attempting to prevent them from removing his number plate. They overpowered and bundled him into their car and took him away. His car was eventually towed to their office and released after he allegedly paid N20,000.
Concerned residents recently gathered at a town hall meeting to call for a review of laws that established the agencies, saying their operations must be done with a human face.
At the two-day meeting called by a non-governmental organization, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Association (PRAWA), in conjunction with the Enugu State Justice Reform Team, the Justice For All (J4A), residents insisted there was need to review the laws to make them conform with modern trends, irrespective of the revenue accruing to government.
They accused officials of the Enugu State Waste Management Agency (ESWAMA), the Capital Territory Development Authority, the Ministry of Transport, as well as those of local governments, of exploitation under the guise of enforcing traffic and sanitation rules, and called on the state government to intervene.
An official of ESWAMA at the meeting, Egere Nwatu, said the agency was looking into the root cause of some of the abuses by her officials, stressing that there was need to differentiate between crimes and waste management offences. He said the agency has embarked on training of its staff as well as sensitization of the public.
According to him, ESWAMA distributes bills before embarking on enforcement. The problem, he said, had to do with residents who have always waited for enforcement before settling their bills.
“For instance, for some time, now, we have been on air announcing that people should go and pay their bills as enforcement will commence by July. We have also asked those that have not got their notices to come to our office and collect the same. But what you
see is that people hear this and pretend that they didn’t. And any day they are arrested, they will start accusing the agency of lacking a human face,” Nwatu said.
Also, the Director of Transport, Ministry of Transport, Emmanuel Uchenwa, said the Ministry, sometime ago, organized a seminar to address the issues of traffic, adding that it also forwarded a bill for the establishment of a Traffic Management Authority. He said he was confident that following establishment of the body, problems being experienced by residents while using the roads would be curtailed. He noted that the traffic lights make the roads safer and should not be removed.
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