…Vow to resist further harassment
By Sam Esogwa
Foreign exchange traders of Hausa extraction operating near Presidential Hotel, Aba Road, Port Harcourt, have accused the anti-street trading task force of the Rivers State government of so far extorting them to the tune of over N5m.
According to them, they were made to pay this huge amount of money as fines and bail fees in the process of trying to release their members arrested by the task force for one alleged offence or the other.
The foreign exchange traders revealed this during a chat with newsmen at their Aba Road operational base, Port Harcourt, last week.
Vice Chairman, Presidential Exchange Bureau de Change, Isaka M. Sani, confirmed the incessant harassment and extortion by the anti-street trading task force, a development he said his people are not happy with.
Sani said: “My people are very angry now. Why they’re very angry is because they’re paying money. It’s only Hausa people they will arrest and we pay N120,000. We have the least people they arrested and we have spent more than N5m. We calculated today all the people who paid the money.
“Now, they don’t even carry the people to court; they carry them to this Kala Police Station or Abacha Road Police Station. They will not bring bail paper. Our person will just give them N50,000, they count it and see that it is complete and they will release our brother. I am only telling my people to take it easy because they are very angry.”
Reacting to the death of the Hausa trader allegedly killed by the task force members, Sani said they would not blame Governor Nyesom Wike but the task force members who he said had abandoned the work they were sent to do and were now doing a different thing.
“For what happened, we cannot blame Governor Wike because it’s his people and order is coming from government house but they (task force) are doing wrong work which is not what they were told to do. I will only tell my people to take it easy because everything is from God. We believe everybody has his own time,” he said.
One of the bureau de change operators, Chijioke Chibundu, also lamented over their incessant harassment and extortion by the task force members, saying it is becoming too much.
“The problem of this illegal street trading of Bright Amaewhule – the thing is becoming too much. You see him arrest somebody where you will pay N120,000 for not doing anything. Yesterday they came here two times. They use to search people; if they catch you they will search you – that is zone 6. Everybody here knows. When they catch you they will search you, collect your phones, collect all your money. Governor (Nyesom Wike) should look upon this matter because the governor does not know the amount they’re collecting from people here; governor does not know that they’re collecting N120,000. The least money we pay these people is N50,000; I know governor does not know that one. They’re not doing what governor sent them to do. They’re now putting their own jara (extra money). If you don’t have money, they will take you to court or Kala police station; they will give you account (number) and you will go and pay that money,” he explained.
Another bureau de change operator from the north, who said he had bailed about three persons arrested by the task force revealed that he paid N100,000 for each of them through a Keystone Bank account given to him by the task force, late last year.
He said: “I paid N300,000 for the three persons. And I took a lawyer. I paid N15,000 again before we got there and I bailed my people. Even, the lawyer was telling me to allow them to stay there so that we take the matter to High Court. But these people are old and some of them are sick; we cannot allow them to stay there. So, I needed to release them first and after we can take action.
“Sometimes I ask myself: why are we in Rivers State? May be we’re not part of this country. But we’re not here to make trouble; we’re here to find our stomach (look for our daily bread). We’re not criminals; we’ve been here for many years.
“Any time they come here, they arrest our people. As long as you’re in caftan, you’re in danger. When our people see them, they’re afraid. Some will run across the road and motor can jam them in the process. What we’re begging Rivers State is, they should allow us to find our stomach; we’re not criminals.”
Narrating his own ordeal in the hands of the task force, one of the bureau de change operators said he was arrested for doing nothing, and taken to a mobile court at Ikwerre Road, where he was fined N120,000.
“I explained to them that I didn’t do anything but was going to my brother’s place when they arrested me. They said they didn’t want to know and that I should go and pay N120,000. They carried me; we slept in prison for one week. I told them that I was not well; they said how did that concern them?
“My village people sourced for N120,000 to come and bail me. I don’t know what we’re going to do. I have been here since 1981. The time when (Melford) Okilo was here, he liked everybody: Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba. When (Peter) Odili was here, he liked everybody. The time of (Chibuike Rotimi) Amaechi, he did this government but not like that. There were Hausa people here then, likewise others but this time, it is like they dont want to set eyes on us. If they do not want to see us, let them buy trailer; anybody they kill, they should drop him inside the trailer and go and bury,” he lamented.
It was not possible to reach the head of the anti-street trading task force, Bright Amaewhule, for his reaction to the allegations, as at the time of filing this report.
However, a member of the task force (Zone 6 unit), who pleaded that his name should not be mentioned on print, debunked the extortion claim by the bureau de change operators mostly from northern Nigeria.
The task force member added: “Street trading has been banned in this state and they are aware. But if you go there, you will see them hanging along the road, looking for customers. So, when they’re arrested and prosecuted for violating this law and later fined or bailed, they say they’re being extorted. We’re not extorting anybody. Are we tax collectors? We’re only doing our work which is to maintain sanity on the streets and the roads. Government is saying that people should not trade on the road.”