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Government, union on collision course over new consolidated transport levy

By Gbenga Salau
23 January 2022   |   4:21 am
A sneak preview of what may play out in the days ahead presented itself during a briefing to announce the introduction of the N800 daily Consolidated Informal Transport Sector Levy

Two persons collecting dues under the disguise of being union reps at Oshodi, yesterday PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

• Dues Should Be Harmonised — Transporters 

A sneak preview of what may play out in the days ahead presented itself during a briefing to announce the introduction of the N800 daily Consolidated Informal Transport Sector Levy (CITSL), by the Lagos State government.
  
The state Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Rabiu Olowo, who spoke on behalf of the government, informed that the introduction of the harmonised levy would prevent transport unions from collecting levies from commercial buses, tricycles and motorcycles at the different bus stop, as these operators would henceforth pay once a day from their take-off points.     
  
But Olowo had barely dropped anchor when the state Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Mr. Musiliu Akinsanya, said that even though the unions were in support of the harmonisation of the levies, they would continue to collect their dues at the different locations the way that they have been doing.
  
These remarks jolted many that were present at the session, as they wondered the level of consultation that was done between the different stakeholders before the decision to come up with the consolidated levy was finalised.
    
Even though Akinsanya did not emphatically say whether the fee collection would align with the state’s new position, which frowns at collecting levies at bus stops, the state government was equally aghast by the remarks but restrained itself from joining issues with the NURTW chieftain. 

   
Consequent to this development, many residents are of the view that if the government fails to stop the mushrooming of levies/fees collection points by the transport unions, the new harmonised levy would be an additional burden on transporters, who would ultimately shift their liability to the commuting public.  
  
Beyond that, there are also fears that if not properly handled, the introduction of the levy might lead to a brawl in the days ahead, especially if the policy finally takes off on February 1, without harmonisation of positions by the government and the transport union. 
  
While shedding light on the new levy, Olowo explained that the N800 levy would cover charges for not just the 20 local councils and 37 local council development areas (LCDAs), but also for clearing waste, cleaning of motor parks and bus stops, as part of it would be transmitted to the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), and the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA).
 
He said the benefits of the levy include harmonising the collection process by putting a structure in place; reducing multiple taxes, dues and levies to all state agents and local councils; providing reliable data, eradicating harassment of bus drivers and bringing collaborative engagements within stakeholders, among others.
 
The commissioner said that the CITSL approach was an alignment with stakeholders and total restructuring of the transport system, a development that would further boost revenue generation in the state.
  
Olowo who said that the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration has prioritised citizens’ interest in the entire scheme, added that personal income taxes of the drivers would also be deducted from the N800 levy, and affected operators issued with tax cards. 
  
“The N800 is a single structured collection of the monies payable to all government agencies and parties, who are directly or indirectly associated with the transport sector. What the government has done is to reduce the multiplicity of levies and taxes, dues and monies due to the government from the transport unions. Bus drivers will get tax cards, and arbitrary payments will be eradicated once they pay from the point of their loading each day,” he said.
   
A driver, Solomon Ogunyemi, said the new levy would be appropriate if the monies currently being collected by the NURTW and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) are harmonised. He stressed that anything short of that would amount to additional levies on the drivers and motorcyclists.   
  
“At bus stops, persons claiming to be union officials usually ask for money, which drivers pay without questioning. If you ever question them over whatever charges that they pronounce, some union officials would not only pounce on you, they also attempt to extort the money from you, remove the wiper, fuel tank cover, or the side mirror. The government should therefore get the commitment of the unions to the daily single due,” Ogunyemi stated.  
   
Also, the Lagos State Chairman of Self-employed Commercial Drivers’ Association of Nigeria (SECDAN), Alhaji Job Abifarin, said that how field officers of the union collect monies from drivers was very bad.
   
“We have written a petition to the governor, which receipt was acknowledged. We were told that we would soon be invited for a meeting. If there was any help that the government and Lagos residents can render to us, it would be appreciated. But we demand a stop to multiple taxation.”
   
He said the group was in support of the N800 levy, but unhappy with the payment of dues to more than one transport union daily.  
   
“Payment of dues ought not to be at every bus stop. It is a slap on our faces. For instance, if a driver picks up passengers at Ikorodu and is heading to CMS, dues would be collected from him in not less than 10 points along the route. Yet, at the take-off point, he would have paid about N3, 000 to the union at the park. 
   
“We have been condemning this for a long time now, but the government has not listened to us. We are hopeful that if the state government fully enforces the one-off collection, it would be good,” Abifarin stated. 
  
Commenting on the development, the Special Adviser on Transport to Governor Sanwo-Olu, Mr. Toyin Fayinka, said that the state government meant well by introducing the harmonised levy principally to check multiple and illegal collections by “unknown agents.”
   
He, however, claimed that the levy was arrived at after engagements with all stakeholders, whom he said were in support of it.  
    
Going down memory lane, Fayinka said that the 1999 Constitution authorised local councils to generate revenue through the sale of tickets to transporters at various motor parks and garages, just as it empowered transport unions to collect dues. 
   
“Local councils and LCDAs are independent entities and can issue tickets to generate revenue. In Lagos, Mushin Local Council shares boundaries with Oshodi-Isolo and Surulere local councils, and if a transporter loads at Mushin, the council representative will issue a ticket to the driver. When he gets to Oshodi-Isolo, another ticket would be given to him. While heading to Ojuelegba in Surulere, another ticket would be given to the driver. If the driver proceeds to Lagos Island from Ojuelegba, the driver would be issued yet another by the Lagos Island representative. The driver would be issued five tickets. If it is N200 per council, it means that the driver would have paid a total of N1, 000 for tickets daily. 
   
“This is alongside the levy for refuse disposal collected by the headship of the parks, just as the law allows for the collection of environmental pollution levy for vehicles emission. And at each of these locations, four to six people stand on the road to collect money for different lawful agencies. So, the council chairmen were told about harmonising the payment through the issuance of just a ticket and proceeds from the single tickets shared among the councils and the MDAs.”
  
Fayinka implored residents and all stakeholders to be optimistic because it was an initiative that has not been experimented with before, and the government should be supported to make it work. 
  
“We initiated it, but unfortunately the people that are not stakeholders, people that are not in the transport sector are the ones that are crying more than the bereaved,” he stated.
   
He noted that while the state can ban the activities of the unions in the various parks and garages, it cannot collect dues on behalf of the unions because “if we collect the dues for the unions, we would be violating the law.”
   
Fayinka said that the state government was concerned about multiple collection of dues at various parks and bus stops, but constrained to act in accordance with the law of the land, as the law does not give the state power to regulate dues collected by the transport unions.  
  
He, however, said that apart from complaining to the government, aggrieved transporters should also approach the industrial court if they feel undone by the initiative. 
   
“We are starting from somewhere, working on the multiple collections that are even not remitted and we are starting with the levy meant for government. Give us support on this and we would move to the next level. We are not an irresponsible government, as we do not want to put 10 sticks into the fire at a time. One step leads to another. The state government does not allow illegal fees; we need to start somewhere and with time the mode of the collection will change.

This is aside from the security measure that will be inputted into the tickets when we start. Three months after the commencement of the project, you can review it to help the government improve it. We need not rubbish the government levy because of the loopholes in dues collection. We have harmonised government levies and we expect the unions to do the same.  
   
“We are passionate about the plight of the transporters and commuters. If we want to compel the unions to reduce their collection, we must show example by reducing ours and that is the reason that we came up with this. With N800, a driver can start a journey from Badagry to Epe then to Mushin with the single N800 ticket in a day. There is no need to pay at every local council or LCDA that the driver transverses. The transporters do not need to pay for the cleaning and clearing of refuse at motor parks. We have asked the unions to compile the list of drivers so that they would be issued tax clearance certificates at the end of every month. Lagosians should know that we started this in good fate.”