Time to curtail NURTW’s excesses
Seldom in the history of modern societies has a state bequeathed so much power to gangsters to freely disturb its peace and stability as Lagos has endeared the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). Whatever the motive is, the recurrent reign of terror on the streets of the foremost commercial capital eschews civility and stands condemnable. And if the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led government is serious about sustainable development in Lagos, it is time to take a long hard look at hooligans hiding under the umbrella of unionism to legitimise criminal enterprises.
For the umpteen time in a short while, factions of the Lagos NURTW recently embarked on a daylight street brawl in the ever-busy commercial hub of Lagos Island. In the blazing gunfight that lasted hours, businesses across the Idumota and Obalende corridors were shut down, pedestrians and workers on their way to offices scampered for safety. And when the dust finally settled, no fewer than three persons were reportedly killed; scores were injured and economic loss unquantifiable.
Most harrowing in the latest episode is the oddly familiar casual disposition of the state government and security agencies that are saddled with the enforcement of law and order. The police steered clear of the fiasco for too long, apparently seeing it as a family affair. The aloofness emboldened street urchins to mop-up shops, expensive wares in Idumota, and harass anyone in sight. When police waded in, it only arrested suspected leaders of the warring factions – Adekunle Lawal a.k.a Kunle Poly and Mustapha Adekunle a.k.a Sego – for trial. As a government that would rather bark than bite, Lagos State officials also went pampering, persuading the gangsters to sheath swords and let peace reign! It was days later that the state government summoned courage to temporarily suspend activities of NURTW in Lagos Island – being the decision of a stakeholders’ meeting that was attended by the NURTW itself, Central Business District (CBD) and Lagos State Market Women Association.
Indeed, Lagos NURTW has become notorious for violence and bloodletting in a statewide aggression to earn unaccountable revenue from the streets. Last year in February, a similar street fight was recorded at Obalende between rival gangs, which left several people injured. In April same year, several persons were injured at Mile-2 and Ojo parts of the state when members of the union engaged commercial motorcycle operators in a gunfight over toll collection. It was the same internal battle for supremacy and gunfight that stole the show on January 8, 2019 at the Skypower ground venue of Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s kick off of gubernatorial campaign. At least three persons died in the gun duel and many, including journalists, were injured in the free-for-all that sent even the then state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode and All Progressives Congress’ (APC) bigwigs all on their heels. But the scope of menace has gone wider. In March 2018, a confessed serial killer and member of the NURTW confessed to killing as many as 100 persons, with indicting allegations on top members of the uncouth union. None of those cases has been resolved to date nor culprits brought to book: an incentive to stage another ‘carnival’ of firearms.
With this track record in criminal enterprise, it is strange that successive state administrations since 1999 have continued to indulge the rogue elements as if its members are above the law. The question to ask is: what is it about the leadership of the NURTW in Lagos State and the ruling party in the state that lawbreakers cannot be brought to book? Why is the NURTW so lawless and seemingly wielding more power and influence over the populace than the government in power? Why is the government so lethargic at enforcing its own environmental laws that prohibits touting, street trading and miscreants collecting tolls on the road? Who is in-charge of the streets – constituted authority or outlaws – and for what purposes? Why is there so much impunity and hypocrisy in Lagos mega city?
Whatever the current nuisance value may be, it is imperative for Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration and whoever may be benefiting from thuggery to acknowledge that the commercial-nerve centre is sitting on a keg of gunpowder with this army of rogue elements everywhere. Indeed, the fifth largest African economy and its race to infrastructural and economic development risk losing it all in one fell swoop of irate hooliganism as the hijack of 2020 #EndSARS’ protest showed. No matter how gigantic the Lagos Urban Transport Master Plan, Smart City, Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and innovations of the private sector among other projects get, they can soon come to naught in an atmosphere that harbours and mass-produces drug-addicted street urchins. On the flipside, a serious administration that is bent on sustainable development and committed to its larger responsibility of security and welfare to the law abiding citizenry will not continue to indulge criminality under whatever guise. Therefore, the government should properly condemn the group’s unruly behaviour and initiate moves to instill civility in their conducts or have them proscribed as lately done in Oyo and Ondo states.
By design, the NURTW being an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is an independent Nigerian trade union that should serve interests of transport workers in the road transport sector, by pushing for social stability for members as defined in its constitution. Clearly, the body has been hijacked by power brokers and for the pleasure of a happy few that have zero investment in the transport sector. And by their criminal acts and wild hooliganism in street toll collection from supposed members, the union has failed in its primary objective. It is not out of place for the NLC and other well-meaning labour groups to demand a reform that will bring sanity to the body. It is not enough for the national NURTW to condemn Obalende’s disturbance. The leadership should push for an overhaul to weed out the bad eggs that are giving unionism a bad appellate in Lagos.
Indeed, the Lagos NURTW is a bull in a china shop that has long outlived its tolerance level. The state government should be bold to enforce the full weight of the law, ensure compensation of all victims of the recent street brawl, get justice for the deceased, and enforce civility in public space to have a decent Lagos metropolis.