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How Transport Unions Exploit Transporters, Commuters

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Uniformed union officers collecting dues from transporters

Uniformed union officers collecting dues from transporters

OWO mi da, owo mi da, (where is my money, where is my money) is the singsong of agberos (agberos are foot soldiers of Road Transport workers’ union) at bus stops and motor parks in Lagos State, as they seek to enforce due collection.

These agberos claim they are members and workers of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) or Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN). In most places, though they say they are unionists, the general perception is that they are touts and this is mainly because of their mode of operations, which is usually impolite.

As union members, they ought to be dressed in white and green or yellow top and shot, but majority of them do not put on these uniforms, and when they do, they are shabbily dressed.

At each bus stop, most of these boys, who claim they work for transport unions, usually reek of alcohol and smell of marijuana hover around them. Their task is to collect what they refer to as union dues from bus drivers or conductors. It is always a different story, when they don’t seem to be getting their cooperation; they could cause damages to the vehicles by removing the driving mirror, windscreen wiper or the fuel tank cover. Sometimes, the driver or his conductor is manhandled, leaving them with injuries.

In one of the incidents that this reporter witnessed, it was not that the drivers had not paid, but he was hesitant to pay more, having done so earlier on that route. A bus conductor was beaten to stupor because he refused to part with N50 demanded by the union official. The conductor felt he only picked a passenger; therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to give out the N50 fare he had not collected.

When The Guardian visited some parks, it was gathered that whenever there is an objection from drivers or their conductors about what should be the union dues, such a driver a person is giving a marching order not to come to the park again after he must have been seriously beaten.

A Keke Marwa (commercial tri-cycle) driver, who operates on the Cele-Ago Palace Route, said that he pays N1,400 for booking and loading to persons working for the NURTW, though he is usually issued a ticket of N300. He pays another N100, which is meant for the state chairman of the union (Owo Chairman). He, however, noted that the N1,400 is outside the N500, which is meant for the Police and LASTMA.

An Urvan bus driver, who plies the Oshodi-Egbeda route, told The Guardian that he pays a minimum of N2,650 daily. For his first trip in the morning through Oshodi, he pays N700 and every other trip before noon attracts N100. Once it is 12pm, he is expected to pay another N200, and N100 for any other trip, and N50 at other bus stops, where he picks passengers.

He also disclosed that at the Egbeda end of the trip, he pays N800 in the morning and N500 in the afternoon. He further pays N250 at Ikeja-Along bus stop in the morning.

For the Oyingbo-Bariga route, a driver revealed that he pays N800 in the morning and another N50, though, he is usually issued a ticket of N200 if given one and then, another N150, to two other NURTW officials. Thereafter, he pays N150 and N50 for every other trip before 12noon.

At the Bariga end of the trip, he pays N300 and another N100 for security; thereafter he pays N150 and N50 for every other trip before noon.

In the afternoon, he pays N400 at Oyingbo and N150 at Bariga for every other trip of the day. Then in the evening, anytime from 5pm, he pays N250 in Oyingbo for loading.

A molue conductor, whose bus plies the Mile 2-Oshodi route, said on the average, he pays N8500 daily, while an urvan bus driver on the Mile 2-Ago Palace route disclosed that for his first trip at Mile 2, he pays N900, but gets a N300 ticket. Thereafter, he pays N300 for every other trip of the day. At the Ago-palace end, he pays N800 and N250 for every other trip of the day.

It was also gathered that the reason road transport workers do not issue ticket is because they are given targets to deliver and not the number of tickets sold. This, the source said, is one of the reasons that the face value of the tickets is not what the field men collect from the drivers and their conductors.

According to the source, the agberos in Mile 2 — for the Mile2-Ago-Palace route — are expected to make a daily return of N52,000 to the union, and whatever is left, is their take home. He said that any day they do not meet the target, they either borrow to complete it or superior officers would eject them from the park.

Speaking on the activities of the transport unions in Lagos, one Matthew said that drivers are usually left with no option, but to pay whatever these union workers demand.

According to him, there is no place to complain or run to for justice. “They are the ones who dictate what should be paid as union dues without recourse to members of the union. If you object to paying, you suffer three folds. Apart from wasting your time, as they hold the bus hostage, they also get you injured and damage or a remove part of the vehicle. And if you are unfortunate that the scuffle happened midway to your destination, you have to refund the transport fare paid by the passengers to enable make alternative arrangements.”

He further said that if the transport fares of the passengers are to be repaid, the driver suffers loss on that trip because he must have paid some other agberos from the fare he initially collected. These, he said, are why, almost all the time, the drivers and their conductors usually comply paying the unreasonable due.

“If you consider what would be lost, it will be in multiple fold of what you are to pay at that point of disagreement, you just pay though not from a willing and happy heart.

“You cannot run to the Police, because the agberos have no respect for them. Besides, the Police usually feel unperturbed about their activities. When these union people are beating up a driver or conductor, even if a Police officer is passing by or within the spot of the incident, he turns the other way, as if not aware of what is going on.”
For Obiora Chukwu, it is a shame that the state government does not see these agberos as a form of threat that must be crushed.

“When I calculated the amount I pay daily as dues to these boys, I discovered it would have bought me a fleet of vehicles.

“I have been a commercial driver for almost 10 years now, and if I have been buying a bus in the last seven years, I should have eight buses now in transport business. But I only have one.

“Come to think of it, if only on daily basis, I pay about N3,000, you know what that means in a month, about N90,000 and what that translates to at the end of the year. A Tokunbo urvan bus costs about a million naira, so you see what I am saying.”

For John Udoh, they benefit nothing from paying the dues. “Yet, when these boys board any bus, they find it difficult to pay.”

Chukwuemeka, a tricyclist, who operates along the Iyana-Itire-Lawson route, said that paying N,2400 daily to the union is a burden to him. He said that after paying N1,200 each at Iyana-Itire and Lawanson, and deducting other expenses, his daily take home usually falls below N2000.

The Lagos State Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Idowu Adelakun, said that though NURTW is an affiliate of NLC, it has the right to collect dues from its members.

He argued that the NLC has no right to stop the NURTW from collecting dues, saying every union has its own constitution, and probably, the transport union’s constitution permits such daily dues.

When told that the concern of people is that the huge dues collected from the transporter is transferred to the commuters, who are workers, whose interest are being protected by NLC, he answered: “If there is any feeling of dissatisfaction with the procedure for collection of dues, they should protest.

“Even members in other unions, anytime there is an increase in union dues, they protest and if we know that the protest is genuine, then we would reduce it.”

According to him, “if they are really members, at their meetings, they have to take a decision on why they cannot pay such huge dues. And nobody will hold them to it. As a union member, you have a right.”

For Adelakun, if there is no protest, there is nothing the Lagos State chapter of the NLC can do, as there would be no room to call the parties to a roundtable to discuss the issues.

Responding to the case of drivers and conductors being beaten up, Adelakun claimed that majority of these drivers operate in the morning as transporters, but in the afternoon, they become touts or brand themselves as transport union field officers.

“And the majority of the yellow buses you are seeing belong to transport union workers, which is why it is difficult for the transporters to protest.

He said if there is no protest, there is nothing NLC, as the umbrella body for labour unions in Lagos, can do. “It will be like we are interfering in their internal matters, but if there is protest; we could intervene.”

On the argument by some of the drivers that they are not members of these unions, yet they are coerced into paying the dues. Adelakun also claimed the NLC is limited in that too. He said there was a time some drivers said they are not members of the NURTW and do not belong to any union, as they are self-employed.

“We followed up this issue independently but later these set of people were co-opted into the NURTW executive and that was how the whole case died.
“It is because some of them are benefiting from this money, that is why they cannot fight and it is also difficult to fight for them.”
The Lagos NLC boss maintained that it would be taken as interfering in their affairs, if the Lagos State NLC calls these transport unions to ask why they are collecting such huge dues.
“They may even ask if we got any protest from anybody. Also, they pay their affiliation dues to NLC at the national level; they pay 10 per cent to the head office in Abuja. So, for us at the state council, it will be difficult for us, if there is no protest.”
He painted a scenario that involved workers in the rubber and leather sector, where after taking up a case of marginalisation, the executive of the union called to express their displeasure, wondering why NLC, Lagos, is concerned when the members of the union had not complained to them.
“We intervened then because we felt as human beings, there was need for us to come into the matter, but the union executive turned the case around, as if we were engaging in undue interference in their matter,” Adelakun said.

Attempts to speak with the NURTW were not successful. When the reporter called the Public Relations Officer of the union at the headquarters, Abuja, he said that the Lagos State chapter of the union could better handle issues raised.

Thereafter, efforts to get the President of the union to comment for three days was also not successful; he did not pick the calls, neither did he respond to the text message sent on the third day.


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