Lagos bus drivers’ protest

COMMUTERS were left stranded  for hours last week as commercial drivers plying the Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos State and its environs protested alleged harassment and extortion by personnel of the Lagos State Task Force on Environment and Special Offences Unit. The drivers, who carried placards with various inscriptions, lamented that over 30 buses had been impounded by the agency in the Ojodu-Berger area of the state. According to them, personnel of the task force usually extorted between N40,000 and N50,000 from them whenever their buses were impounded. The protesters therefore urged the Lagos State government to scrap the agency. Said one of the drivers: “The harassment and extortion must stop; they are getting unbearable. We have families to fend for. We are not armed robbers; we are doing legitimate work.” Another driver indicated that a number of his colleagues had relocated to their states of origin because of the stress associated with the transport business in the state, while some had taken to other businesses.

Reacting to the allegations, the Public Relations Officer for the task force, Adebayo Taofiq, accused them of being responsible for the gridlock being experienced in the state. “Inasmuch as the drivers are not ready to comply with the state’s traffic law, they will continue having problems with the state traffic law enforcement agencies, particularly the task force. The drivers cannot differentiate between a garage (motor park) and a bus stop; most of them will line up at designated bus stops and turn them to garages, which the state government will not tolerate. When the drivers are arrested, they are always arraigned before the mobile court; there are instances of some persons impersonating the task force personnel, but we tell them that our men have their jackets with their names inscribed on them.”

As the commercial drivers and the task force bickered last week, life became difficult for hapless Lagos residents still battling the corollaries of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, if current evidence is any indication, a repeat performance is not only possible but inevitable. Truth be told, the task force in question has not provided evidence that its actions are solely influenced by the public good. Nigerians are well aware of the fact that extortion in different forms is a regular feature of the interaction between motorists/transporters and law enforcement agents in Lagos, as indeed in many parts of the country. The harrowing details of such interactions are too frequent and too many to dismiss with a wave of the hand. In this regard, we reject outright, the submission in respect of the current case that “There is no room for extortion and nobody is harassing them unnecessarily.”

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of its case, the task force must realise that laws are made for humanity and not the other way round, and that highhandedness and democracy are patently antithetical. The alleged imposition of indiscriminate levies on errant drivers has to stop: it goes against the laws of the land, and against a subsisting judgment of the court of law. If the raison d’etre for setting up the task force is free flow of traffic and orderly use of the road, then it goes without saying that much can be achieved through enlightenment campaigns and regular interface with the drivers and their unions. Since, according to the task force,  “the drivers cannot differentiate between a garage (motor park) and a bus stop,” why not educate them on the difference?

On their part, the motorists must accept the fact that public transport business imposes certain responsibilities. They must not only carry valid vehicle documents at all times, they must be willing to obey all traffic rules. Where they face undue harassment, as alleged during last week’s protest, they should engage the instrumentality of their union to make their concerns known to the state government. The Lagos economy is central, and movement is at the heart of any commercial activity. We therefore urge the Lagos State government to take more than a passing interest in how traffic control agencies are being run. It must enforce the rules and stamp out extortion under any guise. However, there are much more serious issues confronting the transport sector in the state, and the state government must address them without delay.

As we noted in previous editorials, Lagos requires major interventions in the transport sector targeted at seamlessly moving millions of people daily. In this regard, it must actualise the proposed Fourth Mainland Bridge and complete the Lagos-Badagry monorail that has been ongoing without any hope of completion for over a decade. We insist on our position that Lagos as the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria requires a functional, efficient and effective mass transit rail system, not a transport system largely made up of buses.

 

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