Drivers’ strike and the LASG/union alliance


THE recent strike by commercial bus drivers to protest against harassment and extortion by transport union operatives highlights the failure of the Lagos State Government to stop the criminal activities of touts. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu should arrest this menace in the interest of the megacity and its 22 million residents. 

Long known for chaos, the Lagos transportation system has been rendered even more tumultuous, expensive and oppressive by the activities of violent transport unions. The government should rid the roads, garages and parks of these uncouth individuals; introduce and dispassionately implement lasting reforms in the public transportation system.

Irked by the multiple levies and extortion by union enforcers (agberos) working with the Lagos State Parks Management Committee, bus drivers organised  under the aegis of the Joint Drivers Welfare Association of Nigeria, said they had had enough. Their national leader, Abiodun Akintade, lamented, “Drivers and commuters have had a brimful of extortion and harassment from the motor park management and caretaker committee thugs.”

The association reiterated the obvious impact. “It is also visible that the cost of goods and services is a consequence of agberos’ extortion. Goods can’t be delivered without transportation and 95 per cent of working-class residents can’t be transported without the service of commercial drivers. The unfettered and violent extortion by the union agents has not only increased fares beyond the affordability of workers, but also made goods and services out of reach of the poor Lagosians.”

Brazenly, union thugs operate on major roads. They impede vehicular traffic, engage in bloody fights and constitute a public nuisance, even in the full glare of security agents. For instance, rival factions of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria have engaged in fierce street battles for supremacy on the Mile 2-Badagry highway recently. 

Their excessive charges are invariably borne by passengers, thereby hurting the economy and further impoverishing many. Formerly, union collectors operated only at the motor parks and garages where they provided services by calling on passengers. But emboldened by official collusion or inaction by the state and local governments, they now forcefully issue ‘tickets’ and collect dues at every bus stop. 

Lagosians say they have been betrayed by the state government and ruling political faction that has cemented an alliance with a faction of the transport union operatives.  Some law enforcement and traffic management officials are also complicit in the reign of the touts. Absurdly, some factional union leaders move around with police escorts at their beck and call!

 Sanwo-Olu’s administration has cemented the state’s alliance with some union operators.  Its favourite is apparently Musiliu Akinsanya. When the national body of the National Union of Road Transport Workers sacked him as chairman of the Lagos State chapter for alleged misconduct, he found cover with the state government. Sanwo-Olu suspended the activities of the union entirely and appointed him as the chairman of the LSPMC.

In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, Akinsanya and seven other persons were stabbed when opposing union members battled with weapons during a rally in Ikeja where both the outgoing governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, and the then Candidate Sanwo-Olu were present.

Ideally, parks and garages are within the purview of LGs. For effective management and accountability, levy collection should be restricted to the parks. It is an aberration for unions to forcefully collect levies at bus stops. Sanwo-Olu should stop the nonsense today.

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JDWAN executives disclosed that between Badagry and Alaba, there are 25 stops where agberos collect money from drivers at each stop. Those who resist are brutalised or have their vehicles vandalised.

The International Centre for Investigative Reporting revealed that road transport unions in the state generate N123 billion annually from commercial buses, tricycles and motorcycles; about N82 billion of this is extorted from bus drivers. On the average, each bus driver pays N3,000 daily. This menace is a lucrative “protection racket.”

The International Police Organisation regards forceful payment of fees for protection as criminal racketeering. Under the Nigerian constitution, membership of any union is voluntary; so is payment of dues to unions. Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution states “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”

Instructively, before the advent of civil rule in 1999, the outgoing military administration of Mohammed Marwa had largely cleared the roads of the agberos with strong law enforcement. Gradually, they staged a come-back shortly after Bola Tinubu took over as civilian governor, and have since become allies of the major political factions. 

They mess up the parks and bus stops, smoke marijuana openly and engage frequently in fights that sometimes result in injuries to innocent persons and damage to property.

The LASG’s aspirations to megacity status, smart city and faster development ring hollow in the light of the surrender to unruly transport unions. Governance should be run on modern, decent lines.

Lagisians should no longer remain silent. The fight should not be left to drivers alone as everyone is a victim.  Civil society organisations, community development associations, professional bodies and corporate bodies should protest against the oppression. Through formal engagements with the state government, litigation public mobilisation, residents should reject the continued tyranny of the agberos and the unconscionable officialdom.

The reform of public transportation in the state must be holistic. While the thugs should be taken off the roads, Lagos should consistently strongly enforce its traffic law. Many mini bus drivers break all traffic rules. They have no headlamps, signal lights, wipers, doors, windows, valid vehicle papers or driver’s licences. They park recklessly and pick passengers indiscriminately thereby causing round-the-clock gridlock. The traffic managers are often overwhelmed by the unremitting lawlessness. 

A modern, efficient and orderly transportation system also defines a megacity; Sanwo-Olu should put a permanent end to lawlessness in the interest of residents he was elected to protect and serve. ,

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