Truck drivers block Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway

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From Okey Sampson, UmuahiaArticulated vehicle drivers have blocked the Aba axis of the Enugu/Port Harcourt expressway in protest against its dilapidated nature and alleged extortion by soldiers at checkpoints along the Abia stretch of the road.It was learnt that the decision by the protesting  trailers, tankers, tippers and other articulated vehicle drivers from the Ariaria junction to Flyover Alaoji in Aba, Abia State has caused gridlock and untold hardship to commuters along the corridor.The protest, which started last Thursday has now stretched from Flyover to Obehie, a distance of over 25 kilometres and beyond Osisioma, towards the Enugu end of the expressway.Yesterday, the truck drivers who had been cooking their meals on the expressway since the protest started, shifted their base from the Ariaria Junction to Osisioma Junction, thereby preventing vehicles from the northern part of the country and other parts of South East from entering Aba.One of the drivers, Madu Ikechukwu, told Daily Sun that the deplorable condition of the expressway not only destroys their vehicles but killed some of their members.Ikechukwu said aside the poor condition of the expressway, the drivers were also protesting the extortion by soldiers.“The extortion is mostly by the army along the Abia section of the expressway. Immediately it is 12 midnight, from Owerrenta to the Flyover in Alaoji, you will be forced to pay N1,000 as they claim there is curfew in Abia.”Another driver, Onyebuchi Orji, described traveling along the Aba to Port Harcourt section of the expressway as hellish.He flayed the large scale extortion of truck drivers by soldiers deployed to provide security along the expressway, saying their action further compounded their plight of navigating the bad portions of the expressway.“There are nine military checkpoints from Owerrenta to Alaoji in Aba and at each checkpoint, our members are forced to pay N1,000 once it was 12 midnight,”  he alleged.Onyebuchi said the situation was made worse for drivers  following the order by the state government that articulated vehicles should not enter Aba until from 10pm.He  also bemoaned activities of touts who he alleged come to extort them in the guise of collecting revenue for Abia State Government.A truck owner, who simply gave his name as Ifeanyichukwu said the condition of the expressway had become so deplorable that trucks fall at will.“Upon that, some touts said we should not enter Aba until it is 9pm, citing an order from the state government, and if we park by the roadside waiting for the 9pm period, soldiers will come to be disturbing us, collecting from N500 to N1,000. If we eventually get to the town, touts will be disturbing us with all sorts of levies.’He appealed to the government to fix the road, and to soldiers and touts in Aba to immediately stop ongoing extortion of articulated vehicles and harassment of  drivers for illegal levies.Reacting, Abia State Commissioner for Transportation, Chief Godswill Nwanoruo, said government would dialogue with the drivers on what the state could do to ameliorate their plight, including doing some remedial works on the bad portions of the expressway.He, however, said the extortion by soldiers at checkpoints was well beyond what the state can handle.“The extortion is coming from soldiers, especially those at Ariaria Junction and other places, that are collecting money from them… Where they brought in Abia State government is that our daily ticket expires when they are still on the road, trying to come into the town because of the bad road, that when it expires, the BIR enforcement agents will come after them,” he said.As at 2.50pm yesterday when this report was filed, the truck drivers were still on the road with a vow not to leave until they were addressed by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.



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