For operators of illegal welding and Mechanic shops in Port Harcourt, the fear of the Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority is the beginning of wisdom. They risk daily harassment and confrontation with the Task Force officials who curb the city to apprehend defaulters.
The Task force operatives stalk out daily with trucks and tow vans to effect compliance on government directives on removal of illegal mechanic and welding shops in Port Harcourt.
As part of Government’s plan to restore the Garden city status of Port Harcourt through its urban renewal Policies, the Rivers State Government had approved three areas for authorised welding and mechanic operations. These include, Mile 111, Elekahia and Akpajo. But in defiance to government directives, a handful of illegal welding and mechanic shops still thrive in the city. But such illegal operations had not evaded the unwinking attention of the task force.
One of the operations of the task force in Ogbunabali recently, crystallized into a mild drama as the Task Force swooped on a shop along Ede Street. The task force numbering about Seven over powered the shop owner who put up a futile resistance, and impounded his items. The Task Force left impudently after the operation. The owner of the illegal welding shop, an average aged man who refused to give his name told The Weekend Tide later, his daily experience in the hands of the task force. He alleged that the Task force invaded his shop at least twice every week to impound his goods and the impounded items were only released after some stipulated amount had been paid to the Task Force office.
Asked why he had refused to relocate according to government directives, the shop owner said, he had approached the authorities concerned and he planned to move next year. But in the interim, he stated that he operates at his present site to make ends meet.
In similar vein, a man who gave his name as Tony recently, Sauntered into the premises of The Tide, looking exasperated and visibly apprehensive.
He was desperate for attention, and he saw the newspaper house as a place where respite can come his way. His problem was that his goods, had been impounded by the task force operatives of the Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority (RSESA). Tony a mechanic by Profession also alleged that his shop around D/line had been a prime target of the task force as he always paid money to the task force officials to redeem his seized items. He also alleged that the task force office is involved in real business, as they collect huge amount of money from people to allow them carry out their welding and mechanic operations outside the government designated areas. “The Task Force always come to my shop because I refused to pay a huge sum of money to them. People flood into their office daily to negotiate, and those who pay the money they are asked to pay are not harassed. They have a cover up for their compromise”.
The predicament of the two victims of task force harassment represents the frustration of other operators of illegal mechanic and welding shops in Port Harcourt.
But Nnamdi Wokekoro, Chairman, RSESA insisted that sanity must be restored in Port Harcourt, and as such defaulters on government directives on urban renewal are in for a ditch. To restore the needed sense of order and sanity in the garden City, Wokekoro told newsmen in Port Harcourt recently, that it will require some element of coercion to effect compliance. Napolean Ali, Chairman of Special Task Force for the removal of illegal mechanic and welding shops also dismissed the allegations of the owners of illegal welding and mechanic shop in Port Harcourt as baseless.
Ali denied the allegation that the Task Force office collect money from any person before seized items are released. He said the defaulters knew that what they are doing is illegal but they were only feigning innocence and ignorance.
“We are only concerned about the removal of illegal mechanic and welding shops in the city, we carry out our duties according to directives and we do not collect money from any body”.
An official of the Environmental Sanitation Task Force, on removal of illegal mechanic shed welding shop who would not want his name in print explained the hazards of their official duties. He said, it takes courage when your official duties involve daily harassment of people and instruision into their way of life. “our job requires physical confrontation with people who see us as a hindrance to their daily means of livelihood, we are detested by such people and they hate us with passion, we thank God for every day we live because we don’t wear masks while carrying out our duties. We just wish that people should learn how to act according to law, to save themselves from embarrassment”. Effort to reach the leadership of the State office of the Nigerian Welders Association for comment on the issue was not successful as at press time.