Chaotic transport system in search of succour
When transporters under the aegis of the Joint Drivers Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN) advised Lagos residents to avoid plying commercial routes as drivers would withdraw their services and stay with their families, not many took them seriously until they pulled the plug, last Monday.
Expectedly, for the seven days that they withdrew their services, hundreds of thousands of residents across the state felt the heat. Pockets of stranded passengers at bus stops lent credence to the effect of the industrial action.
From Ojuelegba in Surulere to Oshodi in Oshodi-Isolo Local Council, Maryland, Iyana-Isolo, Oyingbo, Ikorodu, and Iyana Ipaja among others, the story was the same.
Interestingly, after the drivers indicated that they would withdraw their services, the state government remained unperturbed, and only called for a meeting on the third day of the strike. By then, the strike action had already impacted not just the commuters, but also economic activities in the state.
Last Wednesday’s meeting was rescheduled for last Friday because the Ministry of Transport claimed that while the Lagos State Parks and Garages Management (LSPGM) came for the meeting at the agreed time, the drivers showed up about three hours late when the LSPGM representatives had left.
The drivers who are accusing the LSPGM of constantly extorting them through illegal ticketing, and the collection of manners of levies, contrary to what the state government mandated it to do, stressed that they could no longer condone the extortion and harassment at almost every bus stop.
The LSPGM is led by the sacked state chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Musiliu Akinsanya, better known as MC Oluomo.
Giving details of its allegations against the (LSPGM), the group said: “Federal Mass Transit and coaster bus drivers pay over N12, 000 daily, from Oko Afo, to CMS, or Oyingbo. This includes loading charges and illegal payments at several bus stops till we get to our destination.
“From Ogijo to Ikorodu, we pay over N5, 500 per day. Garage ticket of N850, chairman’s ticket of N1, 700, and king’s levy of N200. We also pay N500 for Ita Oluwo, Odo Gunyon N1, 200, Ile Epo Oba N200. We also pay N900 for passing by, whether you pick up a passenger or not.
“At Ikorodu Roundabout, we pay N1, 000 in the morning and afternoon and we pay N500 in the evening, which makes it N2, 500. At Benson Bus Stop, we pay N900 for a whole day.
“At Agric Bus Stop, we pay N200 each to eight motor park thugs. It is called welcome to Agric tax. When we stop to load passengers at Agric Bus Stop, we pay an extra N300, which is not part of the N1, 600 welcome to Agric tax. When we get to Aunty Kenny Bus Stop, we pay N200 before buying a Lagos State ticket for N500.
“At Ogolonto Bus Stop, we pay N100. At Mile 12 Bus Stop, we pay N500 for plying the expressway, and N1, 000 for plying the service lane (for buses en route Yaba- Oyingbo). Mile 12 to Ojuelegba bus drivers pay N1, 500 while big and coaster buses pay N2,000.
“Red buses (big buses) from Ikorodu to Oshodi pay N5, 000 to motor park boys in the morning and afternoon. At Ketu Bus Stop, we pay between N600 to N1, 000 depending on the size of the bus for just dropping off passengers, or picking up anyone. For buses plying from Yaba to Ikeja, we pay N200 at Jibowu Bus Stop, Total Bus Stop N100, Fadeyi N100, Onipanu N200, Elediye N200, Palmgrove N200, Anthony N100, Ikeja N200 – total N1, 300.
“On our way back to Yaba, Palmgrove, and Onipanu, we pay N500, Fadeyi and Total N500, Yaba N200 with Lagos N800 ticket making it a total of N3, 300 in the morning alone. We pay N2, 000 each in the afternoon and evening, which makes a total of N7, 300 daily. Mini bus drivers plying and Iba-Okoko to Agbara pay N5, 000 per day to motor park boys, minus the extra of LASTMA, Police Department, and Lagos Task Force daily extortion.”
The group stated that any attempt by its members to resist the brazen extortion often compounds their plight, as they get arrested and eventually pay N10, 000 as bail bond to the police, while the motor park boys go scot-free. “We also have to bail our buses separately,” JDWAN further alleged.
Expectedly, while the strike lasted, residents were inflicted with severe pains as they transverse the state in search of their daily bread.
Indeed, many of the commuters claimed that the drivers’ actions forced transport fares to rise by more than 100 per cent across many routes.
According to Deborah Johnson, a resident, while the industrial action lasted, commercial buses charged N800 as fare for Mile 2 to Lagos Island service. Before now, she spent between N300 and N400 on the trip.
This is not the first time that commercial drivers have protested against the activities of transport unions. But their previous protests, including petitions to the state government, especially the Ministry of Transportation (which is the supervisory ministry) have not yielded fruits.
They stated that rather than things getting better with the banishing of the NURTW, operatives of the newly formed LSPGM were even more ruthless in their operations, and always threatening to deal with any driver with the backing of the state government.
Relatedly, the Alaba International Market was recently shut down by the management of the market over alleged widespread extortion by persons claiming to be park managers.
The traders decried what they described as extreme extortion going on within the corridor, especially between Volkswagen Bus Stop, and Alaba Market as too humongous, as traders pay between N70, 000 to N100, 000 before a container bearing truck-carrying is allowed entry into the market.
Buyers and suppliers who patronise the market and warehouses around it are also extorted by the LSPGM officials.
“Traders who cannot afford or who hesitate to pay are either beaten up or physically assaulted by LSPGM officials.”
Since the state government created the LSPGM following the faceoff between the national and state arms of the NURTW, many residents, commercial drivers, and stakeholders expected a shift from the modus operandi of the transport union, but months after, things have simply got worse, with the level of extortion getting out of hand.
The state government in its bid to sanitise the hitherto chaotic milieu introduced a daily N800 levy, which commercial transporters were to pay, but this was never implemented for a day, as the Akinsanya-led team simply did whatever pleased them while the state government plays the ostrich.
This is why critics have continued to accuse the state government of insincerity in the implementation and management of the unified payment system.
For instance, between FESTAC’s first gate and Mile 2, there used to be two collecting points before the creation of the LSPGM, but four more have been added to take it to six. At each of these points, drivers of haulage vehicles are made to part with the N500 average, and failure to do so often leads to their vehicles being impounded.
When another drivers’ group, the Self Employed Commercial Drivers Association of Nigeria (SECDAN), earlier threatened that its members would withdraw their services as a result of the extortion by transport union officials, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso was contacted over the threat by SECDAN, he said: “If there are complaints, drivers know the channels to reach the government.”
Commenting on the worsening trend, the Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said that over the years, multiple and excessive extortions from Lagos drivers have been the order of the day.
“The interesting aspect of this is that the monies collected from these drivers have not been accounted for by relevant agencies of government. It is a common phenomenon in different parts of the state to see commercial drivers and their assistants being bullied, molested, and assaulted by agents of LSPGM.”
He accused the state government of insensitivity for allowing drivers to down tools, saying that it should have dialogued with the drivers knowing that their activities contribute significantly to the growth and development of the state’s economy.
Surprisingly, two days after the strike action by the drivers started, the state government intervened by inviting the unions and the commercial drivers.
Asked to comment on the impact of the transporters’ strike action, Omotoso claimed that he was not feeling the impact of the drivers’ strike. He added that many residents do not feel the impact of the strike.
“Our people are everywhere monitoring what is going on and nobody is complaining at all. On October 31, people said that they wanted to go out, there were no buses, but it was due to anxiety. But on November 1, nobody saw any effect.
“The fact is that the drivers have gone to court and the state government is going to meet them in court. We have held three meetings with them. Do not forget that they are just a group, as there are so many players in that sector.”
On the alleged extortion by the Akinsanya-led boys, Omotoso said that the state government has directed the Police to arrest anyone collecting money from transporters.
“If you get onto the roads and begin to stop vehicles to collect money from them illegally, you are doing something criminal. And the government has directed the police to arrest anyone collecting illegal money and the unions are working on that too.”
On why the state government waited till things degenerated before intervening, Omotoso said that the group was initially faceless, but “when we were able to reach out to them, we asked them to come for a meeting, and they refused to come as they wanted to see their lawyers. But we have met a couple of times.”