Disquiet in Lagos transport unions over alleged O’pay dues

•We pay N700, get N100 receipt –Riders •Task Force spits fire, NURTW keeps mum
•We didn’t demand bribe –Police

BOLA BADMUS and SEGUN KASALI dug into the alleged sharp practices characterising union activities in Lagos.

THERE is a general feeling of uneasiness within the transport unions in Lagos State as a result of alleged sharp practices going on there.

The two dominant unions in the state – a situation also replicated at the national level – are the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).

There have always been allegations that internally generated revenue (IGR) that should have legitimately gone into public coffers, held in trust by the state government, gets diverted into private pockets of the unions’ fat cats.

The unions, at state and national levels, particularly the NURTW, have always been known to run an opaque financial system with the members always complaining of not being in the picture of how their daily contributions and dues are spent. NURTW, however, has made some attempts at accountability with the national body taking over the management of the secretariat of each state branch by sending an executive secretary to each chapter directly from Abuja.

The executive secretaries have a four-year tenure and they are generally seen as career officers who are not necessarily members of the union at the state level. The new secretary seconded to the Lagos branch is Mr Seyi Bankole.

The raging issue is about the treatment being meted out to the new entrant into the unions, the registered motorcyclists operating on the O’pay platform. Unlike the regular okada, the O’pay riders are seen as executive and exclusive, and a replacement for the regular riders who were barred from the metropolis and business districts of the state for allegedly constituting nuisance to its transport sector.

While the vehicle drivers, regular okada and tricycle operators known as Marwa had largely grumbled in near silence over the alleged extortion in the payment of their daily union dues, the O’pay riders are not keeping quiet and their audible protest has also reached their management.

 

The complaints

With thousands of O’pay riders operating in the state, there is an assumption that some people somewhere within the unions are milking the system by forcing the operators, through the popular urchins known as agbero, to pay an extra 400 per cent on the N100 boldly written on their daily ticket.

A receipt sighted by Saturday Tribune showed that the O’pay riders have been grouped under an umbrella known as Nnamoral Motorcycles Owners & Riders Association, described as an affiliate of RTEAN with state headquarters located in the Igando area. Also boldly written on what was dubbed “Official Daily Revenue Receipt” is N100 with the receipt displaying a day’s validity.

While RTEAN is more pronounced in Ojuelegba, LASU, Iyana-Oba, Igando axis of the state, NURTW holds sway on the Island and Mainland of the state. The territory demarcation has seen the O’pay riders having to pay to either of the two unions, depending on their areas of operation within the state.

The online okada riders are now pointing fingers at the leadership of the two unions which allegedly used agbero to extort them by forcing them to pay between N300 and N500 for N100 ticket.

In a viral allegation on the social media, it was alleged that despite the agreement between O’pay and the Lagos State government to operate the business, the leadership of the NURTW in the state has allegedly taken over a fresh negotiation with the company forcing it into a new agreement as an affiliate body, alongside alleged underhand dealings. The new union chairman was also alleged to have carved new operational territories for the company, bringing in new restrictions.

We pay N700, get N100 receipt –O’pay riders

An O’pay rider, Seyi Akinyemi, expressed dissatisfaction with the new policy of dues payment which the bike riders have been mandated to make to the NURTW on a daily basis. Akinyemi specifically raised the alarm over the indiscriminate collection of the dues as nothing was fixed and charges simply based on routes being plied. He said the amount written on the ticket is N100 but the unions collect N400, N500 and even at times N700.

“The amount written on the ticket is N100 but the agberos sell ticket for N400, N500 and even at times N700, depending on the bus stop you are. We make this payment on a daily basis. Of course, the management is aware of the payment of the dues as they have recently reached an agreement with the NURTW leadership on payment terms.

Akinyemi stated that he had never been in discord with the unions, saying “when they come near me, I ask them what they want and I show them my ticket on request without any trouble.” He expressed his dislike for the payment of the dues, adding that he had no option because the dues must be paid with or without passengers.

“We don’t like it at all. How can we be paying N400 every day? But if you want to work, you have no option. On this work, they can give you any order and if you keep rejecting, they won’t give you any work and you won’t have any money at hand, not to talk of N500 that you must pay,” Akinyemi said. He appealed for the cancellation of the ticket, saying; “it will be fantastically good if this is cancelled because it is really ripping us.”

Meanwhile, Akinyemi narrated his horrific experience with the task force, saying they were now the big issue confronting the riders, considering what he called the wanton seizure of their bikes.

“The only one we are having issue with now is this task force. They are the ones holding me now. They said we should not take Alausa route. Meanwhile, what they told us before was that we should not pass Governor’s Road and we shouldn’t stop in front of Shoprite. And we don’t get to stop there. Whenever we want to take passengers, we ask them to come inside a bank and we get on our way. We don’t know why they are just picking us up everywhere. This morning [Wednesday], somebody called me and said I should not go to Lekki/VI; that task force was there. “I don’t know what is happening but the task force has been disturbing us since last week,” Akinyemi said.

Another O’pay rider, Abubakar Hammed, affirmed the flexibility of the dues even as N100 is clearly stated on the ticket. Hammed also mentioned the management’s alleged reluctance in addressing their demand, having filed a series of complaints.

He said, “That is how we have been making the payment. In fact, the amount we pay is different. In Surulere, it is N200. So, now tell me, how much would one take home? As you can see now, from Agindingbi that someone is requesting a bike to go to Sogunle, it is just N290. We don talk talk talk to the management but dem no wan do anything. So, na wetin we go do na?”

Hammed’s colleague, Seun Oluwatosin, said buying the ticket was extremely inconvenient for him as his least daily income had reduced from the N3,500 it used to be.

“We buy ticket from the NURTW workers every day. It is extremely inconvenient. The ticket payment is a big problem as my income has kept reducing every day ever since the inception of the pact with the NURTW. The management even told us to be buying the ticket. I can’t even get one order today because if I pick it, it will be a problem and that is why I am even at the office to solve the problem,” Oluwatosin said. He, however, expressed his desire to leave due to the inconveniences being experienced since the inception of the agreement with the NURTW. “Nothing is easy but I would leave O’pay if I see another job,” he said.

We will resolve the differences –O’pay

Despite the many questions tabled before the O’pay management by Saturday Tribune, the response from the Senior Director of Operations, O’Ride, Mr Ridwan Olalere, simply confirmed the allegations in a subtle manner. But he gave the assurance that the crisis of confidence between the riders and the unions would be resolved. “There seems to be a misunderstanding between both parties and we are working very hard to resolve it. Ultimately, we want all stakeholders to be happy as we remain committed to producing transportation solutions to Nigerians,” Olalere said.

 

Why we are arresting O’pay riders –Govt

The Lagos State government, through the Task Force, has also reacted to the raging controversy. The chairman of the agency, CSP Olayinka Egbeyemi, was all rage dissecting the issue to Saturday Tribune.

“We are not just arresting anyhow. At Olowopopo, on the way to the African Shrine and very close to Otedola Bridge, on a daily basis, you see between 300 and 400 of their motorbikes. They would block the road. All the flowers and gardens that were there, they have destroyed them and littered everywhere. For heaven’s sake, we are not saying you should not do business here in our country but can we do this thing in your country? We have warned them: how can you be doing this without having a park and you now block the whole road? Is it that Nigeria has turned to rubbish like this?

“I have gone there, myself and the DPO Alausa. ‘The CP told me to tell you, don’t put these things here again or tell us when you will relocate’. Their Oyinbo man (white man) told me they would move at the convenient time. So, our people must continue to face gridlock in Lagos State?

“If you are coming to Otedola from Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, people who want to navigate must be locked in the traffic on the road. Because you are doing a private business, our own people must suffer. Of course, the CP told me to go and evacuate everywhere and now they have realised their mistakes. In fact, just a few minutes before your call came in, we released their 200 bikes.

“Together, we met with the CP yesterday and they said they had just got their park. They left my office not quite long ago. That is just what is happening. It is not a clampdown. If we want to clamp down on these people, you will not see them on the road again. They are easier to arrest than all these local okada. They said they got their park not far from that Alausa, a very big yard. I think the CP has sent people there. I think the DPO Alausa has testified that they had got that place. We will now monitor them and if anybody is caught again, we will take action because we want sanity in our state,” Egbeyemi said.

 

NURTW keeps mum

When Saturday Tribune called Mr Bankole’s mobile line as the head of the Lagos NURTW secretariat, a lady who picked the call claimed he was attending a meeting of the state executive council. She requested that a message be dropped for him. When told of the allegations against the union leadership, she became a little agitated and promised that the state scribe would return the call. When Saturday Tribune didn’t hear anything from the union’s end, several other calls were made to Mr Bankole’s line which connected but were not answered.

 

We didn’t ask O’pay for bribe –Police

The image maker of the state police command, Bala Elkana, denied that the police in the state wrote to any company demanding for bribe. He described the allegation as “unthinkable”. He also said that the renewed onslaught on “lawless” commercial motorcyclists was not targeted at any company or any particular group of people. Elkana said the police had impounded about 30,000 motorcycles in their bid to restore sanity to Lagos roads.

“I don’t believe that that write-up is from O’pay. There is no way the police would write a letter to a company demanding for bribe. That is unthinkable. The operation ongoing now is against motorcyclists who break the law; those who flout the traffic laws; those who ply the restricted routes,” the police spokesman said.

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