Saturday, 3rd June 2023

Despite NURTW’s suspension, extortion of transporters by Agberos reigns

By Gbenga Salau
20 March 2022   |   4:12 am
Ten days after Lagos State government said Park Management Committee would manage the affairs of parks and garages, following the suspension of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) activities in the state...

An official wearing an apron branded Lagos State Park Authority in Mile 2 collecting levies from a transporter<br />

Ten days after Lagos State government said Park Management Committee would manage the affairs of parks and garages, following the suspension of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) activities in the state, the committee has not been set up, with the vacuum created occupied by unscrupulous persons, who have continued to stampede commercial drivers, motorcyclists and tri-cyclists to pay some forms of money to them.

Despite government’s suspension of the union’s activities, bus stops, parks and garages previously under NURTW’s management were still being manned by former officers, though now in disguise.

For instance, in Mile 2, there were persons wearing Lagos State Park Authority branded aprons collecting various forms of levies and dues from motorists and they were collecting much more than the N800 levy the state imposed on transporters. It was same scenario in Orile, Oshodi, Mushin, Lagos Island, Cele, Agege, Oyingbo and Bariga, except that those collecting dues cum levies were in mufti. At the places monitored, no ticket was issued to those who paid and those who resisted were mobbed and forced to pay the levy or a part of their vehicle was removed or damaged.

Sharing his experience, a driver of a mini-mass transit bus, Tajudeen Ajala, said nothing has changed despite government’s pronouncement. He said everyday he has continued to pay N1,100 for booking and N300 for every other trip he conveyed passengers from Mile 2 to Oshodi.

He added that at Oshodi, he paid N1500 for booking and N500 for every other trip he moved passengers from Oshodi to Mile 2 or Mile 12, just as he has been paying N1,000 for booking and N600 or N400 depending on the transport fare passengers paid at Mile 12.

According to Ajala, the booking levy at each of the parks is paid between 7:00 am and 9:00am and in all the points he was not issued a ticket.

“If you do not pay this money, you will leave the garage or park with an injury on your body aside a part of the vehicle would be removed to prevent you from protesting the next time. This is if you insist on conveying passengers from the park and not leave the park with an empty bus. And if you inform the Police, nothing will be done,” Ajala said.

Some other transporters who spoke with The Guardian said they had expected a change but nothing has changed, with the multiple collections by transport unions still in force.

The continued collection of levies by former NURTW officers might not be unconnected to the counter directive of the suspended NURTW Chairman, Musiliu Akinsanya, alias MC Oluomo, who, on Monday, ordered that union members selling tickets should return to parks and garages.

Akinsanya issued the counter order to all branch chairmen in the state, with a promise to protect the interest of their field officers including shielding them from Police arrest. He said any one arrested by the Police should quickly report so that he could intervene. He later amended his statement that initially went out, saying it was state tickets he asked his men to sell.

Akinsanya’s counter directive came four days after government’s suspension order, which the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said was issued to douse the unnecessary tension generated by the leadership tussle and protect the citizenry from the likely fallout of the situation.

Speaking during a live session on television, Omotoso said: “The NURTW is like any other union; it has its law, which its members subscribe to. It has its ways of doing things and politics. Lagos State government is not interest in the NURTW politics, what it is interested in is peace for Lagos. We do not want NURTW activities to lead to chaos. We do not want that. Recently, some members of NURTW marched to the governor’s lodge, saying they are not getting fair hearing from their national headquarter in Abuja.

“And as a result, they do not want to be members of the national body again. And the government told them to take it easy, as all it was interested in is peace. And they went away. But few days after, we heard the NURTW President suspended the state chairman and state chairman in an attempt to fight back, pulled out the state members. The government saw that it could cause security problem and government announced that the activities of NUTRW are suspended across garages and parks. 

“That is the situation we have now. We do not want anybody claiming to be members of the NURTW running the parks in Lagos. A committee will be set up to handle all the activities of the parks in Lagos, so that residents can go about their activities without any fear. NURTW is of concern to many people and it is understandable because they operate in a sector relevant to everybody, which is the transport sector. There is nothing special about them as they are just like any other union like artisans.”

Omotoso maintained that the state government would not take side with any of parties, as it was interested more about peace in the state. Speaking specifically about the park committee, the commissioner said: “Government’s plan is to set up a committee of stakeholders, people who know the abc of the transport sector. They are specialists in that field and they are experts who have been in the transport sector for years. And they are the people we are talking about, including security agencies and others who know the abc of the parks. The committee will run it in a modern way such that it will not give anybody headache.”

When the Commissioner was told that some people were still collecting money from commercial drivers in defiance to government’s order, during the interview, he said: “What the government has done is to tell security agencies in the state to look into the parks, and ensure that the activities of NURTW are stopped as government has pronounced. So far, so good such activities from the report we are getting have stopped and where it has not stopped, arrest has been made and the police are on top of the situation and watching everybody. The important issue is that the government moved in because we do not want trouble and that is the target of the government that there is no trouble in the state.”   

Commenting on the development, the Chairman, Federal Assisted Mass Transit, Abed Achewa, claimed his group was established because of the copious intimidation from the two popular transport unions in the state.

He insisted that the two unions’ lawlessness is backed by the state government, reasons he said the NURTW and the government are the same, noting that government only pretends that the union is not part of it.

Achewa further said that his group had on several occasions written petitions to government and reached out to government to get involved so that the pains and intimidation by the transport unions would end but the end result is zero and negative.

“When the issue of N800 government levy was introduced, we had expected that no other money would be collected by the unions, but nothing was done about it by the government, when the unions continued to collect huge sum of money from commercial drivers. So, the transport unions and the government are not helping issue. Both often pretend to be helping us when they are not.

“We have written to the government, including the ministry of transport and what we got is negative. Government will tell you, who are you; go join NURTW or Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) if you want to do anything about transport in the state, as if without those two unions, you cannot operate independently. This is despite the constitution of Nigeria allows for a group of people to come together for their own benefits.”

Achewa said if government cares about the plight of transporters, which should be of concerns to a responsible government, then it should call a conference where government representatives, union representatives and transporters would meet to discuss the issue about dues and levy payment to transport unions that is unfair to transporters.

When The Guardian contacted the Special Adviser on Transportation to Lagos State Governor, Hon. Toyin Fayinka, on if the state government has set up a body to manage the parks and garages, he said that the state government has not appointed any and if some persons are collecting levies from commercial drivers and transporters under the Lagos State Park Authority, they are doing so illegally.

“If you see anybody wearing Lagos State apron or cloth to collect money from transporters, it is illegal. The best place to complain is the Police formation because nobody has been appointed and anybody wearing those aprons are impostors and the security agents should do the needful. Before now, we have cried out, including the unions, that some people that are not transport union officials were collecting money and that police should please assist to stop that,” he said.

Fayinka further said no NURTW tickets should be sold in the parks and garages due to the suspension of their activities, though some agents had been asked to collect the N800 government levy and the agents have been handed the tickets to sell. “Most of them are not necessary members of any of the transport unions. They were selling the tickets for us at motor-parks, before the fight broke out.”

Consequently, the Commissioner for Police, Abiodun Alabi, was contacted, but he said such issues should not be discussed with him especially if it does not have to do with security. “It is not my function, it has to do with Lagos State,” Alabi said.