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Another week of agony, chaos in Lagos public transport

By Benjamin Alade
30 August 2021   |   3:03 am
Renewed efforts to enforce the law on errant commercial bus drivers have forced motorists to push back in protest against extortion.

Stranded commuters in Lagos. PHOTO: JESUTOMI AKOMOLAFE

Lagos drivers want Sanwo-Olu to check excesses of task force, LASTMA
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Renewed efforts to enforce the law on errant commercial bus drivers have forced motorists to pushback in protest against extortion.

BENJAMIN ALADE reports the harrowing experience and hardship faced by thousands of commuters that are caught in-between.

Commuters are reeling in pain, courtesy of the face-off between transporters and law enforcement agencies in Lagos. The Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit (Task Force) recently re-embarked on its zero tolerance for violators of traffic laws. But this has led to protests by commercial bus drivers that are perpetually on the wrong end of the law.

Last week, commuters at Iyana-Ipaja, Egbeda, Isheri, Idimu, Ikotun, and Igando area of Alimosho, were stranded due to protests against enforcement exercise by the task force.

The drivers had protested the alleged murder of a commercial bus driver by men of the Taskforce at Iyana Ipaja.

Another report alleged that the boycott was a protest against high-ticket fees imposed on them by transport unions and extortions by the task force and other security agencies.

Displaying placards at Ikotun, the protesting bus drivers lamented that the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), had made their operations burdensome.

They alleged that transport union officials, under the guise of collecting money for daily tickets and ‘security for police and army officers, subject drivers, and conductors to inhumane treatment.

A bus driver, Sesan said: “The task force operatives are making the work difficult for us. We are tired. By not working, many people, including government workers would be stranded, and they will not go to work. Government would be aware of our sufferings.”

“If I were to work today, the task force would have collected money over and over again. N50 here; N100 naira there. After buying fuel and paying task force, and union (Agbero) money, there is nothing left. We are tired. Let the people also feel our pains.”

Indeed, some transporters abandoned their trade, causing motorists to be stranded or pay higher fares demanded by few operators around.

On Lagos-Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, for instance, the last two weeks were hellish for many passengers. Few public transporters insight raised fares by as much as 400 per cent. A short distance from Oshodi to Cele bus stop that normally goes for N100 was charged N500.

Many road users had to trek long distances as the cost of travel became unbearable, where they were available.

“No more taskforce”, the protesters chanted as they displayed placards with inscriptions such as: “End LASTMA brutality” “End Taskforce wahala”, “End LASTMA blocking”, “End Taskforce in Lagos State.”

A bus driver, Sefiu, narrated his ordeal in the hands of LASTMA and the task force. He said two of his buses were recently impounded by Taskforce officials “for no reason”.

“I paid N55, 000 to recover one of them. They are always harassing us. The route we follow to the airport has been blocked for repairs, yet when we follow the alternative route, which is one-way, they will arrest us.”

Another protester, who simply identified himself as Kingsley, claimed they were being intimidated by government officials.

“Their wahala is too much. We want Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to help us,” he said.

Another driver, Samuel, said he was a media consultant, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, he bought a mini-bus to operate commercially.

Samuel said: “They have arrested me two times. The last time they wanted to arrest me, God saved me. When they wanted to arrest a driver, the driver hit an Okada man with his passenger and fled, the LASTMA and Task Force operatives also ran away.

“Whenever they come to terrorise us, they always come with a device they use to shock somebody and also tear gas us,” he said.

On his part, Mukaila, who claimed he recently paid the sum of N22,500 to get his bus back, added: “If we struggle with them, they would beat us up and tear gas us, we are tired. Do they want us to start stealing and be carrying guns? We are tired of their extortion, and constant harassment”.

Another driver, Habib Opeyemi, said he was also protesting because a vehicle he got on hire-purchase not up to two months ago was impounded by taskforce officials.

“I paid N250,000 to get the vehicle back on Monday,” he claimed. Opeyemi also alleged that three commercial drivers were killed on Sunday at Cele Bus stop.

Law enforcement intervention
Chairman, Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit, Chief Superintendent of Police, Sola Jejeloye, appealed to members of the public to bear with the Force, stating that the major objective of the Force is protecting life and property while ensuring sanity on roads and it would not derail from achieving such goal.

He apologised for any inconvenience caused due to the scarcity of buses on roads within the axis.

He said: “I urge anyone with evidence of extortion against task force men to come forward and I assure them of prompt action against such errant officers as deterrence.”

Jejeloye, however, did not rule out the activities of some fake and unscrupulous individuals, who disguised themselves as task force men to extort innocent citizens.

“We have arrested some of them in the past and we have strengthened our surveillance to arrest those still in the act to bring them to book.

“I, hereby, appeal to residents and protesting commercial drivers to give peace a chance as everything will be done to address this once and for all.”

Speaking on incessant arrests by his men, Jejeloye said commercial motorists are naturally committed to lawlessness.

Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Filade Olumide, said the nature of the yellow bus drivers are reckless, ruthless and they don’t take other road users into consideration.

Olumide said: “Our men on the road have also experienced injuries and deaths emanating from the recklessness of these drivers. We resorted to taking down their vehicle plate numbers for later apprehension but we discovered that some of them operate with fake number plates, which is not under our purview.

“If you see uproar and videos online of our men trying to enforce the law, it is because we have resolved to forcefully enforce the law on violators but unfortunately, members of the public are not helping us. Passengers would be the ones giving motorists courage and there is nothing we can do.

“We are just about 4000 staff strength with personnel running shifts. In some intersections, we have less than two officers; it would be difficult to apprehend motorists. Hence the task force and Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) and Central Business District (CBD) officers are arresting motorists violating the law. The Lagos state government is actually trying to bring sanity onto the roads. There are some protests lately against the Taskforce, are you now saying the task force should not do their job? There is no basis for such protest if motorists keep to traffic rules,” he said.

Prof. Samuel Odewumi of School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), said, for now, law enforcement has been problematic for Lagos State. Lagos has lost control of enforcement, especially in terrible areas.

Odewumi said the government needs to mobilise the unions to work together with LASTMA under a joint operation. “Let the union be the lead variable knowing that the union outnumbers LASTMA. Government should also empower law enforcement agencies with technology. The law needs to be enforced if Lagos needs to get its traffic straightened.”

Chief Executive Officer, West Atlantic Cold-Chain and Commodities Limited, Henrii Nwanguma, said matters of law and order on public roads rest on three arms of government. Lawmakers at all levels make the applicable laws, the Executive and its organs execute and/enforce the laws. Enforcement will require adjudication by the Judiciary.

Nwanguma said in the context of separation of powers at the three levels, the Lagos problem can be squarely situated and then ask the right questions of the concerned arm or organ. Until a specific incident is investigated, one can only safely say that a failure to properly carry out constitutional or lawful duty is responsible.

“There are daily allegations of collusion in bribery and corruption made against the same parties you say are clashing today, so it just might be that we are witnessing a public quarrel between partners,” he said.