Kings of the road: Inside the money-spinning Lagos transport unions

KASALI QUDUS explores the inside of transport unionism, its politics and unbelievable IGR.

Transport unions, like other professional groups, were formed to see to the welfare of members in their trade. They look after  commercial drivers, their equipment (vehicles) and general wellbeing. Moreover, they take care of members involved in road accidents and assume responsibility for the upkeep of dependants of dead members. In the days of yore, it was common to see that executive and top echelons of transport business were former transporters who knew the trade inside out.

These days, the music has changed and outside forces in politics, commerce and entrepreneurship are calling the tune.

The incursion which began with meddlesomeness in cab and mini-bus driving cadre has now spread to tri-cyclists and motorcyclists. The mode of operation is same: the leaders smile to the banks as the drivers wallow in abject poverty. Some intending investors in the transport industry have been discouraged by the antics of the  union members .

Transport union leaders own choice properties in upscale areas and boast of exotic fleet of cars in  their  garages.  They collect money daily from the multiple levies that are collected from commercial bus, cars, tricycle and motorcycles operators.

Commercial vehicles operators pay as much as N1,800 daily to settle fees for security tickets, booking, loading  and off-loading of passengers. Some of these payments strangely are used to ‘settle  security’.

Dare, who is one of the workers retrenched by the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), narrated that “one experience I can never forget in my life is what I went through with the people called   the Union of transport  sector. They really know how to send one out of business.”

“After I collected my entitlement from the government, I bought a bus with the intention of using it for commercial purpose but the experience  I had with the union people is nothing to write home about, “ Dare said.

He also added that “initially they told me that I would register with N8, 000.”

“Every day I paid N1,500 early in the morning  and I also paid at different bus stops. There are  some bus stops where  I paid N100, depending on the number of passengers that I picked or dropped”.

He, however, pointed out that “In actual fact these people also settle the police, at times three to four groups of policemen would collect money in a day. They also give daily money to other operatives.”

Another commercial bus driver simply named Taofeek also has a story to tell.

“I have been driving since 1974. I shuttle the routes around  Bajulaiye unit most times. One thing I can say is that in the olden days, the country was so good to the extent that the union took very good care of the drivers in many circumstances.

“But nowadays, it is the other way round. In the olden days, it was the drivers that eventually emerged as  the union leaders. These days, people come from different places and  leaders being imposed on us, not necessarily through  election. There is no protocol, hence, we lack proper planning   and orderliness,” said Taofeek.

He continues: “As a result of imposition of leaders, we have no say in the affairs of the unions. They collect money for loading and booking. Morever, there are various rates you pay on tickets. There are payments for council tickets in the morning but in the afternoon, you will pay for booking, loading and evening running. The booking fee is collected twice, from Bajulaiye unit and Onipanu unit as follows – loading-N100,ticket-N200,booking-N200,council fee-N200 and evening running  charges-N100. Council money and union ticket are collected once. The evening fee is collected at Bajulaye unit and also Onipanu unit”.

“I spend exactly N1,600 every day to carry out my commercial operations. If you are a new comer at Bajulaiye unit, you would have to do registration with the sum of N5,000.”

Investigations by Saturday Tribune showed that further collection is done by officials of the transport unions. The henchmen collect  levies from the commercial bus operators on behalf of their unions but most of them don’t have anything to justify or validate collections.”

A park attendant with one of the unions who pleaded anonymity, while speaking with Saturday Tribune said:  “People just talk about unions collecting money from drivers. Some of us are like the drivers . It is our leaders who benefit from the  money. At times I only get N1,500 in three days. There were many occasions when they would tell us that the whole money collected from commercial drivers was going to those at the top.”