Mr Somieari Iminabu
chartered a taxi from water lines along Aba Road in Port Harcourt to ABC Transport office for a journey to Lagos; unfortunately, he alighted from the taxi and forgot to pick up his laptop and wallet that contained his ATM card, driving license and his international passport. He was advised to go to the office of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and lodge his complain which he did. But he was told by members of the union that since the taxi he boarded was not painted with the State colours, it would be difficult to track it.
This is one of the dangers associated with boarding unpointed taxi, and one of the reasons the Rivers State Government insisted that all taxi used for commercial purposes in Rivers State must have the State colours of Sky blue, white and sky blue. Government’s directive is contained in the Rivers Road Traffic Law No. 6 of 2009, second schedule 11 which says that not painting a commercial vehicle in the approved colours has a fine of N10,000.
In compliance with this law, the Commissioner for Transport, Hon George Tolofari in a meeting with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) said,“all commercial taxis doing business in Port Harcourt must adhere to the colours of sky blue, white and sky blue. In view of the security challenges in the country, it is imperative that all commercial vehicles in the State should be in the State colours to make it easier for identification in the event of any problem”.
Regrettably, the Rivers State Traffic Management Authority (TIMARIV) which is the enforcement arm of the Ministry of Transport has complained of resistance from commercial drivers anytime there is an attempt to enforce the law on unpainted vehicles. The Acting Comptroller-General of TIMARIV, Mr Confidence Eke said that the challenges they often experience are from uniform men and touts.
According to him, “most of the unpainted taxis are owned by either serving or retired uniform men, who either drive the cars themselves or ask someone else to drive it for them for commercial purposes and any attempt to arrest and prosecute them meets resistance”.
TIMARIV also has to contend with the area boys who prefer to be called ex-militants. According to Mr Eke “these touts create illegal loading points and encourage taxi drivers to load from these points, and whenever TIMARIV comes to enforce the law on unpainted taxis, this group of boys attack the officers with machete and daggers”. So these area boys and the uniform men consistently resist enforcement thereby embolden others not to paint their taxis.
However, the taxi drivers said that the primary reason why they are reluctant to paint their taxis is because of the discrimination.
Mr Ebere Nwogbo said, “If I paint my taxi in the state colours, I would not be allowed to access the Rivers State Secretariat, hotels, banks and even some estates”.
Another taxi driver, Mr John Emeka sadi “Passengers prefer taxis that do not have the State colours and so if I paint my taxi, I would lose many customers”.
While explaining why he does not want to paint his taxi in the State colours, Mr Tunde Tinabu said, “My car is a private car, but I use it occasionally for transportation, so painting it in the State colours would make me a member of NURTW”.
Hon Tolofari, however, noted that the increase in number of unpainted taxis has encouraged criminal activities in the State, saying the Ministry of Transport reports of how many of these unpainted taxis are used by criminals to rob people of their valuables. He also added that it has made it difficult to ascertain the accurate data base of the number of taxis plying the roads in Port Harcourt and its environs.
“According to the record from the Ministry of Transport, the number of registered and painted taxis in the State are 10,220, but you would agree with me that this is a far cry from the number of vehicles that are actually plying the roads of Port Harcourt and it environs as taxis”, the commissioner said.
On his part, the consultant to TIMARIV on unpainted taxis, Mr Arubi Agama said, “there are about 53 loading points in Port Harcourt and its environs that consistently resist enforcement, so TIMARIV usually engages the services of the military for such operations before they could successfully arrest and impound these taxis that do not have the State colours”.
In Strengthening the importance of the military during enforcement, Mr Arubi said “From April to June 2011, with the assistance of the military, TIMARIV arrested and impounded 1,187 unpainted taxis, whereas the other nine months of that same year that the operation was done without the military, they arrested only 804 taxis”.
The available records with TIMARIV show that from 2011 to September, 2013, about 9,142 unpainted taxis have being arrested and impounded.These figures show that TIMARIV records more success in enforcements when they engage the services of the military.
The reason for this is not far-fetched. While these touts and the uniform men who use unpainted taxis may be armed with dangerous weapons, TIMARIV go for such enforcement with just a batting. This has exposed the officers of TIMARIV to great danger, thereby making the services of the military invaluable during enforcement.
According to Mr Eke, funds and other logistics make it impracticable to use the military in all their operations.
TIMARIV has also used free painting as an incentive to encourage those who refused to paint their taxis.
Mr Arubi said,“Since January, 2013, TIMARIV has offered to paint the taxis of those who still use their unpainted vehicles for taxis free, but regrettably, only 43 persons responded”.
The State secretary of NURTW, the legal body that operates transportation in the country, Mr Chuks Boms said that “TIMARIV has giving us sufficient awareness and sensitisation on the benefits of painting commercial vehicles in the State colours and I appeal to road users not to patronize taxis that do not have the State colours”.
While the Hon Commissioner for Transport charges TIMARIV to use the military to enforce the prohibition of unpainted taxis on our roads, Mr Eke is appealing to those taxi drivers who have not painted their vehicles in the State colours to go to TIMARIV zone 6, along East West Road and paint their vehicles to avoid necessary sanctions by TIMARIV.
But would this directive be obeyed by the hundreds of commercial taxi drivers who ply Port Harcourt roads and its environs with unpainted taxis? Only time will tell.
Kenonye is of the Rivers State Ministry of Transport