The National Union of Road Transport Workers ( NURTW), an affiliate of the Trade Union Congress, has made contributions to society because of the role it plays in the coordination of the activites of transport workers in the country. But more importantly, it has continued to create employment to many youths in the country.
Alhaji Abiola Azeez, popularly called Istijabah is championing the cause of the Union as Zonal Chairman of TOOAN, an affiliate of NURTW and is fast gaining public credits for reforms he is instituting in Lagos State. A resilient Union leader with exceptional leadership qualities, he has continued to wield so much grassroot influence and has made foray into major sectors of the economy including oil& gas, foods, real estate and construction.
ISTIJABAH, is a dodged and charismatic leader who has risen through the ranks of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to become the Zone C’ Chairman, Tricycle Owners and Operators Association of Nigeria, TOOAN and also emerged as member Lagos NURTW Board of Trustee all under the leadership of Alh. Musiliu Akinsanya, a.k.a MC Oluomo.
In an interactive chat with Adeola Oredola, he talks about how hardwork and honesty elevated him to the peak of NURTW
Tell us how your journey as a road transport worker started?
The journey started about 30 years ago, when I was in secondary. In those days, as a student of Baptist Secondary School, (LABASCO), Orile-Agege, Lagos, after school, I used to work as a bus conductor, with the Volkswagen Kombi bus, that was plying Alagba (Iyana-Ipaja) to Agege. Long after school days, I learnt Mechanical Engineering for almost six years from where I acquired driving skill. I went back into the business and got a Bedford Molue bus on hired-purchase from Alh. Shakiru. I was diligent enough to complete the payment and the man was impressed with my performance and later agreed to give me another bus, on the same term. My first Molue bus was, AG 452 MUS, and the second was AP 74 MUS. This later opened up my venture into purchase of buses as a dealer, which I give out on hired-purchase.
Al-Isjijabah has become household name in the transportation sector, why the choice of name?
The brand, Al- Istijabah, is registered under Abiola Azeez & Sons Nigeria. LTD.The name is an Arabic name which affirms God as the start and end of everything. The name means, Prayer Answered. I am the type of person who allow Almighty Allah to guide my actions. He is first for others things.
How do you manage thousands of men working for you?
I earned all I have got through the support of Almighty Allah. Having so many people working under me and making living through my business network, is a function of discipline, focus and perseverance. I lend money to people for business without interest. I only make profit based on Islamic tenets. I give people opportunity to grow but not as a shylock.
How profitable is the Transport business?
The Transport sector is a risky job. I learnt everything about the business from the scratch. Thanks to the mentorship of my first benefactor, Alh. Shakiru Adanitan, who sold my first commercial bus to me. He is my mentor and role model in the business of transportation. He employed me as a manager, having tested me with so many things including money. It is inspiring to be empowered by a mentor. I have gone ahead to empowered people in that same manner by giving out buses and other vehicles through hired-purchase.
What attracted you into NURTW having achieved much as a car dealer?
Car dealership and ownership is a branch of NURTW. So my involvement in the NURTW activities is another great experience for me too. I joined as a Unit Chairman and moved through the ladder as Branch Chairman, Zonal Chairman of TOOAN and now a member of the NURTW Lagos BOT. I have joined my leaders both past and present to reform the status of the Union. MC Oluomo, who is now Lagos NURTW Chairman has made me part of the team to upgrade the status of the union. This is why we have more University graduates coming into the business.
How much influence has your religious belief had on your activity as a Union man?
I am a serious Muslim. The Almighty Allah is the supreme. I observe all my prayer daily. I make my daily decision based on fear of God.
How do you deal and manage different characters exhibited by your boys?
I have so many men with funny characters among those working for me. I am determined to change them into responsible and honourable men. As Muslims and Christians, I have introduced mechanism that would help apply fear of God in them. The idea of instilling the fear of God in them is to guide their actions at work, community and home. I always have private sessions with all of them to ensure that they are changed and influenced. I have been receiving good feedback from people about some of them and it a delight being a great influence on them. I have at different occasions taken time to plan lives of errant staff and stubborn people around me. I have been a great influence on them and this has brought joy to me.
When is your staff strength?
It is difficult estimating the numbers of men and women working under my transportation business. In the tricycle department, I have over 1000 tricycles managed by Istijabah Transport Company, plying different routes across the entire Zone C. I have hundreds of Volkswagen LT buses. You can imagine having like six(6) people working on each bus, then multiply that with over 200 buses. That is just about 120 people working on shifting basis in that department and it goes beyond that if I have to do accurate estimation. The trucks and haulage department also has so many workers. Apart from the transport sector , I have so many staff working in the bakery and Gas station. There are so other companies registered under the Azeez Abiola & Sons Nigeria LTD.
What is your success secret?
As a transporter who is now a Union leader, honesty and fear of God are my top secrets.
Is it true that you need to be a tout to become a Union leader?
My venture into the transportation business is not influenced by hooliganism. I have never participated in any form of gangstarism.I have never led thuggery or involved in vices in order to emerge as a Union leader. I have achieved all I got through hardworking and focus. I don’t smoke, drink alcohol and I do things capable of bringing shame to my status. You don’t have to be a thug before becoming a Union leader.
How do you control your boys who smokes and drinks?
I have disciplinary measures in place to checkmate their lifestyles and operational excesses. They can’t come to my office or event with hemp and alcohol. I don’t give them that chance. It is a rule that they have learnt to obey. No matter the size of the gathering. They understand my do and don’t. They pass this message among themselves.
Is it true that your boys remit millions of Naira to you per day?
This would be nice if it is true. But I am sorry to disappoint you, that it is not true. There is nothing like millions of Naira daily, rather the money we make daily, is shared from the street to the National leaders. You can imagine the stages that the token collected from bus drivers are distributed. The collector takes a certain percentage to take care of his home and the sharing process goes through the finance officer at the Unit level, to the branch, Zonal, State Exco & Chairman and Federal Exco and finally to the National President. The money made daily is not owned by an individual. So I don’t have sole authority over it, because we make remittance to different levels, until it gets to the National level of NURTW. Instead of paying unnecessary attention to the daily earnings the Union makes, we deserve some credits for creating jobs for millions of people. NURTW is the largest employer of labour. This can be contested with facts. Review what happened during the lockdown and you would see the people who are affected. The level of hunger was as a result of the lockdown and the road transport workers were the people mostly affected.
If the NURTW is not that attractive why are people killing themselves to emerge as Union and park heads?
People struggle to own parks and head the Union because of that wrong perception. It is not true that there is so much money in the Union, most of us have been in business before emerging as Union leader. There is nothing attractive about NURTW. I have businesses that I do beside this and other investments.
How do you protect your members and workers from undue harassment by law enforcement agencies. How are you coping with Government’s policy on ban of tricycle in some routes?
We have continued to hold continuous engagement with the government officials on how to put the interest of our people in contest when developing policies and enforcing them. MC Oluomo as the Chairman of Lagos NURTW has earned respect from the government, this has influenced the way our members and their interest are protected. There will always be reforms , we just have to adjust and align with new development aimed at making our country better.
We have regular seminars and workshop with the law enforcement agencies on road safety and rules. These fora offer opportunity for us to have a good working relationship with law enforcement agencies.
How do you give back?
Families of workers ( drivers and conductors) who have lost their lives on the line of duties have continue to enjoy support from us. We reach out to theirs wives and children. Some are on scholarship while we have set up businesses for their wives. We have a policy in place for our workers including soft loan without interest for repair of their buses and keke. Some of them have benefited from our hired-purchase scheme with friendly terms. Our terms of bus ownership are friendly and that is why many people are working under our company.
I have people who have been sponsored to Hajj and this is what we do every year. I have families who are benefiting from our food and housing support programmes.
What is your reaction to the way you are tagged in the street due to the excesses of your boys, and how do you manage this?
It difficult changing the perception people have towards you, especially if you have so many people depending on you. I have continued to enforce discipline among my boys. I am aware this is having impact on the way I am tagged but if you come near me you will see the reality. This hazard of leadership is not limited to the Union alone. This police0p how the law enforcement officers especially the police are tagged but it doesn’t mean there are no good ones amongst them.
As for the excesses of my boys, our office is always opened for members of public to report any errant staff. We have measures in place to checkmate them. Trust me, none of them would be willing to be reported.
What reforms are you planning to introduce now as the Zonal Chairman of TOOAN?
TOOAN of NURTW is about to witness uncommon leadership style and Zone C, is to be the leading zone in Lagos state due to our power-packed programmes that we have started to implement. We have programmes in place for every registered member. We have empowerment programmes for the members. My plan is to give out more than 100 tricycles annually to members who have preformed excellently well throughout the year. There also workshop and trainings that we would be running for all. These are aimed at completely changing the way we are addressed.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for implementing remarkable feats during my tenure and this is the legacy I want to leave behind at the end of my administration.