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Why excesses of transport unions should be checked

By Gbenga Salau
19 December 2021   |   4:14 am
The ultimatum given last week by the Self Employed Commercial Drivers Association of Nigeria (SECDAN), that Lagos State government should check the activities of transport unions in the state has reopened debate on the nastiness surrounding the operations of transport unions.

• We Pay Dues Despite Not Being Members, Says Driver
• Scrapping Of Unions Long Overdue — Residents

The ultimatum given last week by the Self Employed Commercial Drivers Association of Nigeria (SECDAN), that Lagos State government should check the activities of transport unions in the state has reopened debate on the nastiness surrounding the operations of transport unions.

Two major issues are at stake: huge revenue these unions generate from the commercial motorists and the crude way they go about their engagement.

So, it was not surprising, when SECDAN in its statement not only asked Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to look into the unions’ actions, but also wondered why the state government has been silent on the danger posed to the society by the operations of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NUTRW) and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).

At every motor park and bus stop within the city, persons claiming to be officials of these transport unions, dressed in yellow top and trousers or white on green extort money from commercial drivers. And when the drivers or riders refuse, these officials would either try to damage or remove spare part (s) from the vehicle. This is after inflicting injuries on the driver and his conductor. Curiously, this is sometimes done in the presence of security officials, who look the other way.

The unions are going beyond collection of dues from commercial drivers to also extorting money from cart pushers and traders and as well mount tollgates to collect money from all kinds of vehicles. For instance, under the Maza Maza-Mile 2 Bridge, both unions have mounted tollgates about 100 metres from each other to collect fees from vehicles. Non-commercial vehicles are only allowed to pass without paying after blocking the passage for about five minutes or more.

The Lagos State Chairman of SECDAN, Alhaji Job Abifarin, in a statement, claimed that NURTW and RTEAN agents were harassing and forcing each of its drivers to pay N30, 000 daily.

According to him, the activities of NURTW/RTEAN on Lagos roads have become inimical to the vision of transforming Lagos to a smart city, as these unions employ methods that are antithetical to any known economic logic or political explanation.

He said: “Even as we don’t want to comment on the existence and acceptability of the two organisations in the state, we believe that their role in the state’s transport sector should by now be seen as an embarrassment and unfortunate in the state, so-called centre of excellence in the country and a megacity in the world.

“Today, no one is unaware of the touts’ activities across all bus stops, and garages in the state. They are violent, as they maim, destroy and have no respect or regards for the state law. They are irresponsible and very embarrassing to everything the transport sector represents in the state.

“For the record, drivers and vehicle owners in Lagos State, today, are frustrated and amazed at the annoying silence of the state government over the glaring violent and illegal extortions of the unions’ agents, despite that most drivers do not belong to their unions or are actually members of different associations and groups.”

Abifarin said it is worrisome that the state government has been unperturbed about the ugly trend and seems to accept the fact that the operations and agents of the two unions have become an embarrassment to the image of Lagos State and a clog in the crusade to make Lagos a truly safe place for all businesses.

He, therefore, urged Governor Sanwo-Olu to take another look at the transport sector and do a sincere and objective assessment of how the touts of the two unions have defaced the state.

He continued: “Because of government’s silence and due to our teeming members’ frustration and complaints, we have resolved to sound out a clear warning to the government and good people of Lagos State through a two-day warning strike and withdrawal of our vehicles from the roads, starting first in the Ikorodu axis of the state.

“This action becomes inevitable, due to the activities of various agencies of government, who seem to always give the unions room to further continue their illegal activities with violence and of no fear or regards to any existing law(s) in the state.

“We hope to see a sincere and radical masses-friendly change in the Lagos State transport sector in the next two weeks, failure of which we dare say may create a serious issue in the state, as we will be left with no choice than to explore all existing peaceful means to mobilise for a change in the sector in Lagos and for other states to follow.”

A resident, Godwin Anyebe, said the call was long overdue, and all Lagos State residents should join such call for government to look into the activities of transport unions in the state.

He said: “How could transport union members collect N1, 200 from a tricycle operator everyday as ticket dues and remit only N100 to the state government? The same is applied to bus and Okada operators.

“I am saying this because I have interacted with operators, who complained about this gross fraud to me with empirical evidence. Such act, I dare say is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. This is because these people are collecting huge amount of money without contributing anything towards road construction or maintenance in the state.”

Speaking on the mode of operation of the union agents, Anyebe said this is nothing but an organised informal sector meant to enrich few individuals at the expense of good roads in the state.

“These people operate from unit to branch, state and national. And it has become part of their norm and convention to give huge amount to executives of unit branches, state and national for breakfast and lunch before sharing whatever comes their way at the close of work.

“Above all, their modus operandi is barbaric and terrifying. These people oftentimes drag down drivers and bus conductors over dues, thereby creating chaos and disorderliness. Anything that creates fear is an act of terrorism,” he said.

In his view, it is the commuters that bear the burden of the huge dues paid to the unions. “This is because, in most cases, the drivers will be left with no option than to transfer the burden of payment of dues to the passengers.”

Similarly, Cordelia Jesugo Adetunji, another resident, said it is important government check the transport unions’ excesses.

“It is worrisome the way they behave, particularly in my area, First Gate, Maza Maza, and Mile 2,” she said. “The union officers usually stop a motorcycle in motion, by dragging the handle of the bike or even pushing the motorcycle, not minding the safety of the passenger and rider. It is truly frightening.

“Their operation is totally unacceptable, because I personally don’t understand what the dues are used for. This is aside the fact that the officials involved are very arrogant and violent. They are mostly youths that should be in secondary school, polytechnic or university, which means the future of Lagos State and Nigeria is scary. Hence, there is an urgent need for government to look into the NURTW/ RTEAN operations.”

Adetunji equally argued that the commuters bear the brunt of the charges by these unions, as a trip that should ordinarily cost not more than N200 is increased to N400. “Government should scrap the transport unions and not just call them to order because they are a threat to everyone. They are just too violent.”

A commercial driver, Tajudeen Akeem, said he does not belong to any of the unions, as there was never a process to join any of the two unions or and invitation to join the unions by their leaders or members. He is, however, forced to pay to the unions at every bus stop.

“How can you belong and be paying dues to two unions with the same goal and objective,” he queried. “You cannot tell NURTW officials that you belong to RTEAN. So, you can only pay your dues to NURTW or else, you will get the beating of your life. And it is vice versa. The irony is that the fees are paid at almost every bus stop, whether a driver picks passengers or not. What kind of dues is that?”

Akeem explained that in the past, the unions close by 6pm, but now they have extended their closing time to 10pm.

“All manner of titles are given to the various money collected from us. And these monies are paid in the morning, afternoon and evening. Where on earth are union dues paid almost every hour or trip? Yet, government has not done anything to end the menace.”

Akeem further said most of the drivers and their conductors do not take home what they pay as dues, which is why they often find it hard maintaining their vehicles.

“Look at the rickety vehicles most drivers ply on Lagos roads. We can hardly feed well, because transport unions, under the guise of collecting fees, take a larger portion of our earnings. So, we beg the state government to look into their activities. The pain is too much for us to bear,” he said.

Attempts to get the state government to speak to SECDAN’s call, as well as some of the issues raised were not successful. The Special Adviser to Lagos Governor on Transport, Mr. Toyin Fayinka did not pick his calls.

Consequently, the Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Transport was contacted. After briefing her, she said Fayinka and the Director, Transport Operations, Abdulhafiz Toriola, were in the best position to speak to the issues. She was informed that Fayinka was not picking his calls, so she asked that Toriola should be contacted, who also did not pick his calls, but later sent a message that a petition should be sent to the ministry.