By Bennett Oghifo and David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka
Luxury Bus owners have disagreed sharply with Governor Willie Obianor of Anambra State over the launching of operation Python Dance with the bus owners calling for removal of the numerous check points which they lamented built avoidable traffic snarls.
However, Obiano yesterday insisted that the security of lives and property were paramount, being part of his mandate and therefore backed the operation.
The duo spoke at different fora where each canvassed their points on the operation which the army has said would last till December 27.
While the Luxury bus owners appealed to the Federal Government to order the Army to remove the check points it mounted on many strategic highways in the south eastern part of the country to ease movement, as the Christmas and New Year festivities draw near, Obiano said, “Our task of restoring peace and order in our state and ensure that Anambra does not become what some people will tag a failed state marked by lawlessness was our cardinal task”.
The inter-state transporters said the road blocks had led to gridlocks, leading to travelers being stranded for hours, adding that some commercial vehicles arrive at their destinations two days after departing their terminals.
According to the President of the Association of Luxury Bus Owners of Nigeria (ALBON), Chief Dan Okemuo, to stem the harrowing experiences of travelers, the Federal Government and the Army should listen to the cry of users of the eastern highways and halt the operation immediately or conduct it off-road and in a manner that would not affect the flow of traffic.
Also, ALBON’s Vice President, Prince Emeka Mamah, expressed concern that if the situation remained the same till Christmas, traveling to the east for the festivities would be nightmarish for the easterners.
He explained that prior to the check points, traveling was slow because of bad road and that the road blocks worsened the situation.
Mamah said in the past few days, “the traffic congestion caused by the Operation Python Dance road blocks was so bad that many of our buses and passengers slept on the road while some trips lasted close to 48 hours.
“This is not the kind of Christmas gift we want for our customers who grow in number during the Yuletide. The road blocks are simply compounding the problems on the roads.”
In place of the road blocks, Mamah suggested that patrol teams be deployed to some identified trouble spots and stretches of the highways.
“I believe that this will be more effective and reassuring to the road users than road blocks that cause traffic jams and keep travelers stranded.”
Some of the army road blocks are located at both ends of the Niger bridge in Asaba and Onitsha; 9th Mile in Enugu; at both sides of the expressway linking Anambra and Enugu states (at Amansea); on the old Enugu-Awka road: and Onitsha-Owerri road – in what the Army authorities say was part of efforts to ensure free flow of traffic, as well as check crimes and raids by herdsmen.
But, the transporters argued that since the operation was launched on November 27, 2016, traffic, especially on the highway leading to Asaba and Onitsha from the Benin end, had not been flowing freely, and is likely to worsen if the road blocks were not dismantled.
Emphasising that the country was not at war with itself, the luxury bus owners said the presence of the military at road blocks gave the impression that there was war, a situation which may create tension among members of the travelling public. “We implore the government to do the needful by removing those military road blocks along our major highways for members of the public to have a peaceful Christmas devoid of tension.”
They appealed to government to prevent a repeat of last year’s ugly incident when the road leading to the Niger Bridge from Asaba was made completely impassable for motorists as soldiers mounted road blocks allegedly to checkmate the activities of members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
In a press briefing held at the ministry of information communications strategy, the commissioner for information, Ogbuefi Tony Nnachetta who spoke for Obiano said, “The on-going operation python dance by the Nigerian Army in the south east has been mis-presented by some persons as an exercise designed to inconvenience the Igbos and Anambra in particular.
“The governor’s statement on the exercise has been distorted by malicious persons, and the people of Anambra are appalled by the nefarious efforts and condemn it emphatically.”
He described the operation as a routine military exercise, and had taken place in other places in the country, and that it was incorrect to say that Anambra was at loggerheads with any sect or group of people as have been alleged.
Recall that the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB and members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB had accused Obiano of aiding the exercise in the zone to clamp down on its members.
The Governor said that no such plans have been made; rather the governor is only fulfilling his promise to the people on ensuring safety in the state by empowering security agents for the state operations, Kpochapu and Udo Ka Mma, which were meant to secure the state.