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Council Chairman, Mechanics Fight Dirty Over Land

Omos Oyinbode in Asaba looks into the quarrel over landed property between a Council Chairman and motor mechanics and its potential to cause breech of peace

In 2013, Delta State Government took a bold step to address the issue of mechanics littering all over the city of Asaba, the Delta State capital. Government’s interest then was based on cleaning the city of mechanics and their allied workers who everywhere constituted an eyesore to city life. It became imperative for the state government to relocate all of them to a particular site where they could carry out their jobs unhindered. This decision gave birth to the mechanic village, situated along the ever-busy Asaba-Benin Express on approaching the Asaba International Airport. The relocation was executed under the supervision of the State Ministry of Transport headed by Benson Igbakpa.

Many Deltans applauded the decision as it helped to clean the city of Asaba, thus adding to the beautification programme of the Uduaghan government, which will be expiring on May 29. The expanse of land inhabits all kinds of allied workers in the vehicle repair sector of the mechanical engineering affairs. Other businesses are being run in the mechanic village, food vendors are there, spare parts dealers, and hence, there is abundant life in the village. Many of the mechanics said they feel satisfied by the decision of the state government to move them to the village.

Former Deputy Chairman of the Nigeria Automobile Technicians Association NATA), Comrade Clement Okoluku, told our correspondent that it was good for them to be in the village so as to work as a family. According to him, mechanics in the city centres do not have guarantee of permanence as the landlord could evacuate them from the plot being used at the shortest notice under the sheer pretense of developing the plot, but they cannot be evacuated from the village as it was the sole place allocated to them by the state government. Okoluku also said the directive of the government was for all of them in the city to move over to the village but added that some are still in the town.

He blamed that on the ineffectiveness of government decisions as it lacked the power to enforce decisions made. He said “one thing is to say something, another thing is to enforce it to have 100 percent compliance. They said all mechanics should move to this place. They gave us notice but nobody enforced the law, that’s why some of them are still in the town”. Okoluku further said the village has motor mechanics, motor electricians, panel beaters, all allied workers and that all kinds of vehicles come to the village for repair.

To him, being in the mechanic village is more profitable and secured than being in the city centre. His reason is not far-fetched. “It is better to be here because being in the town, the owner of the plot can come anytime and say pack out of my land, I want to develop my plot of land. But as long as we are here, it remains permanent”, Okoluku explained. Hence,   he said government has done well for them. For the many heavy duty trailers, trucks and others inside the village resting in their number inside the village Okoluku told our correspondent that they were there on transit.

He said “they are just making use of the place as their temporal packing lot. When they are traveling and night falls on them, they remain here for the night till the following day. For now, it is temporal because when all our men must have entered this place, there will be no space for them in the village”. But besides the euphoria of being together as a family in a special village as this, there is a challenge threatening the mechanics. Somehow, Okoluku appeared to shy away from it judging from his diversionary response to the trucks and trailers packed in the village. But unknown to him, the lid had been blown open prior to the visit of The UNION. However, another executive member of the NATA seemed to be more vociferous than Okoluku. He is Comrade Ayo Bamidele Ajakunle, NATA Secretary.

He told our correspondent that the Chairman of Oshimili South Local Government Council, Barrister Chuks John Obusom, brought in the trailers and trucks packed in the village. Hear him, “it’s the local government chairman that asked them to park here. It is the state government that gave us this place. Then, the governor said we should not pay any money for now because this is a temporary mechanic village. After the election, if the local government comes, we can seat down with them and talk but the local government said each mechanic should pay N4000 per month, which is impossible. “We begged them that we should pay N1000 per month or year, they refused. They first of all asked us to submit our names so that they will know how many we are. We didn’t know that they needed it to know how much     each mechanic will pay. They said we should pay N4000 each and my state chairman said he cannot force his boys to pay N4000. That is the trouble we are having now with the chairman. So, we are begging the government to come and help us. Other states have mechanic villages, they are not treating them like this, why must our own be different?” In finding solution to the embarrassing situation, Comrade Ajakunle said “the way out is to know who is supposed to allocate this place to mechanics, is it the state government or the local government? The local government is saying the state government does not have right to allocate the land to us.

The Chairman said the land belongs to the local government. We want the state and local government to settle themselves so that we know who we should be paying to. Even though we want to start paying revenue, we can’t pay N4000 each mechanic per month”. The issue under contention between the council and the members of NATA is growing beyond leaps and bounds as the days go by. There is a clear battle raging between the two warring factions as regards the rent payment, to who, amount to pay, who has authority over the land: the state government or local government and who has the right to give out the land: state or local government. The mechanics said the state government under the supervision of the state Ministry of Transport gave the land to them. The UNION obtained a copy of the letter authorizing the mechanics to move to the village by the state government. The letter dated January 21, 2014 with the letter head of the Directorate of Transport, Mechanical Engineering Services Department and addressed to the Chairman of NATA, with heading “Notice to Relocate to the Temporary Mechanic Village” whose content reads “I am directed to refer to the above subject matter and to inform you to request your members to relocate to the temporary mechanic village along Benin Expressway.

I am also directed to inform you that the grace period that was given to you to relocate has since expired. Therefore, you are expected to relocate with immediate effect to avoid the use of force to ensure compliance”. Engr. E. Oyakemeagbha on behalf of the Commissioner for Transport, Hon. Benson Igbakpa, signed this. In another three-page letter addressed to the governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, and also obtained by our correspondent, Principal Counsel to NATA members, Barrister Solomon Ediwe, called on the governor to prevail on the Chairman of Oshimili South Local Government Area, Barr. John Obusom, to withdraw the trucks and trailers from the mechanic village as the village solely belongs to the mechanics. In the letter, Barrister Ediwe said the encroachment of the Oshimili Local Government to the mechanic village was a threat to the good intention of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of creating a conducing environment for the mechanics and making Asaba clean.

Barrister Ediwe said the council had issued various threats to his clients, imposed unreasonable and heavy taxation on them and had arrested many of their members for failing to dance to the council’s tune in the willful attempt to encroach into the mechanic village and pay tax beyond their ability. Ediwe therefore condemned the attempt of the local government to demarcate the mechanic village into three and lease part of the village to heavy duty trucks and trailers, describing such action as inimical to the objectives of setting up the village for the smooth conduct of the automobile technicians and keep the state capital clean.

The letter reads in part: “it is imperative to note that the workshops of all the mechanics and automobile technicians have been taken over by trailers and trucks thereby displacing the mechanics from the land allocated to them by the governor. This single act of the Oshimili South Local Government Chairman is at variance with the directive of the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. We beg to use this medium to inform all Deltans and stakeholders in the state, particularly the security outfit that the conduct of the council chairman would very likely breach the peace in the mechanic village, an idea which was well planned by the state government to accommodate over 10,000 automobile technicians within Asaba, so as to keep Asaba clean and curb criminal activities in the state capital. “It is upon the receipt of the letter we wrote that the local government chairman swung into action and made arrest. If the local government is saying the land is their own they should go to the appropriate authority to clear that. The Commissioner for Transport is still insisting that the property belongs to them. Then, the question comes, who supersedes, is it not the state government? He should go and settle with the state government and the government will now give us directive”.

Your comment on the rift between ‘The Mechanics Must Pay Rent to Us’ your office and the members of NATA The mechanic village, as it is properly called, is the property of Oshimili South Local Government Council. That has been the position right from when it was development authority during the military regime. The local government acquired it in the old Bendel State. The local government council erected all the structures there. If the mechanics must use it, they must pay. We did not say they should not use it but they will pay rent to the owner of the land. The local government is the landlord of that place. The contention now is that the Commissioner for Transport, Hon. Benson Igbakpa, was assuming ownership of the land. When the road was commissioned, the governor made it clear to him that the land is the property of the local government. If anybody is using that place, he should pay rent to the council, it’s a source of revenue to the council.

They are collecting money from people selling there and they are not remitting it to the council. Is that not fraudulent? And when we saw that they were not occupying the entire land space, we went to clear the expressway of big lorries, we now say let’s give lorry drivers one side to pack their lorries and they are protesting. How can they protest? They must obey constituted authority. The governor of the state has made it clear that that place belongs to the local government, anybody using it should pay rent. Now, when the Commissioner was   You cannot give what you don’t have. The commissioner has no right to give that place to anybody. If you are talking of decongesting the town, it is the duty of the Ministry of Environment, not Transport. The mechanics are not transporters; they are mechanics.

The transport commissioner cannot give what he does not have. Will I take your property and give to another person? Do I have the right to do that? No! The local government is a tier of government with the right to owe and acquire property and anybody using it will pay, that’s the position. They also said the tax or rent levied on them is so high for them to pay Have they come to negotiate? I have a text message they sent to me acknowledging that they had been informed. When I came in here, I invited them and we discussed. And they said they will come. We’ve not seen them again. Look at the text message their chairman sent to me on the 5th of March, 2015, by 7:30am, they said “my chairman, good morning sir, I’m so sorry in any way I have offended you. Please sir, I’m ready to work with your administration. We have agreed to pay the money.

Thanks and God bless you”. And since March up till now, we’ve not seen them and they are collecting money from people there. Should I fold my hands, the local government needs revenue to function and the mechanic village is an aspect of the local government. The National President of NATA called me but I told him my position, we are not saying they should not use it, but they must pay rent to us. They are not the owners and the state never gave the place to them . The transport commissioner has no power to take it. Even at that the governor of the state told him that the place belongs to the local government and anybody using it should be accountable to us and pay rent. Now what do you think is the way forward to resolve the entire issue? We are not saying they should not use the place, but they will pay rent to the council.

That’s all. It’s one of our sources of revenue. Are they not making money? When they were in the town, were they not paying rent? Now they’ve come to the mechanic village, they say they don’t want to pay rent. Is it right? We have all our documents showing our ownership of that place. If the Ministry of Transport say they own the land, let them show us the proof of ownership of the land. We are not quarreling. The governor is aware of what is happening. They said you allowed trailers and trucks to enter the land and take-over the place from them I told you that the mechanic village is so wide and they are not occupying all of them, so in the interim, instead of trailers lying on the highway causing accident and obstruction, we moved them to a part of the mechanic village. Owners of the trucks are paying rent to us but they are not paying rent. It’s my property, I don’t want trailers to be on the highway and cause obstruction or accident so I took 1/3 and gave to the trailers and they are paying me rent, the mechanics are occupying 2/3 and they don’t want to pay rent, it’s unacceptable to us.

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