Lagos commercial drivers, transport unions fight dirty over ‘crazy’ levies
•It’s a battle of life and death –JDWAN lawyer •Drivers’ association illegal –Parks management •Why truce meeting failed –Govt
Commercial drivers and park managers are at each other’s throats over alleged extortion and harassment. SUBAIR MOHAMMED, LEKAN OLABULO and TOLA ADENUBI look take arguments from all sides.
IN the course of the seven-day strike action called by commercial drivers in Lagos State under the umbrella of the Joint Drivers Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN) which ends today, a write-up penned by an unknown writer but obviously in support of the strike action went viral on the social media.
It reads: “In case you have no idea why Lagos transporters commenced a seven-day strike, let me give some clarity and make you really angry. There are over 75,000 commercial buses (danfo) in Lagos, according to the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) estimates.
“According to the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), each commercial vehicle driver pays at least N3,000 to agbero, also known as touts, as tickets every day.
“This means that these drivers pay an average of N225 million each day, N6.75 billion each month and N82.125 billion each year to agbero in Lagos.
“That is not all. There are at least 50,000 tricycles (Keke Marwa) in Lagos and each of them pays N1,800 to these touts each day. This, therefore, means that each day, agbero walk off with N90 million from transport taxes collected from tricycle drivers. Every month, their pay reaches N2.7 billion, rising further to N32.85 billion every year.
“Aside from the fact that this boycott will severely affect ordinary hardworking Lagosians, I really will love to see this last for even a month….”
They take 80 per cent of our daily earning –Drivers
While the viral write-up was obviously advancing the cause of the drivers, they claim that the quoted numbers may have drastically understated what they are allegedly going through at the hands of various transport unions like the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) and, lately, the Lagos State Parks and Garages Management.
Counsel for the drivers in their multi-dimensional battle against the unions, Mr Ayo Ademiluyi, in an interview with Saturday Tribune, said the strike was a matter of survival for his clients.
Although compliance was not substantial among the drivers, the strike still crippled commercial bus activities in some parts of the state. The action also led to about 100 per cent hike in transportation fares in other areas.
Ademiluyi, also a rights activist, said the outcome of the strike would determine if commercial bus drivers survive in the state or not.
He alleged that the Lagos State government and its agencies have impoverished commercial bus drivers through oppressive tolling regime, claiming that 80 per cent of their daily earnings go to the touts and state-engineered “illegal” toll collection.
He called the state government the prime suspect in the alleged extortion being contested while lamenting the alleged official insensitivity to the plight of the transporters since the strike commenced.
He said: “Since the commencement of this strike by the Joint Drivers Welfare Association of Nigeria, JDWAN, there has not been any meeting between the union and the Lagos State government.
“The attempt to blackmail JDWAN with the false position that there were meetings between the association and the Lagos State government is the highest derision by the Lagos State government.
“The fact of the matter is that the Lagos State government is the principal criminal in that act of extortion. We are not opposed to meeting with LASG but if they think they want a meeting to be held, they should make it official with a written letter addressed to JDWAN.
“But seeing them (JDWAN) as a ragtag association or as an unserious body won’t solve the issue at hand. Such perception is far below expectation.”
According to the JDWAN counsel, there is an existing court order stopping the state government and the state parks and garages management from collecting tolls from commercial bus drivers in the state.
But this court order, he alleged, was violated by the state government. He added “the Lagos State government has been making illegal wealth from the highly impoverished commercial bus drivers in the state.”
Parks management illegal –Lawyer
Contesting the legality of the latest addition to the transport sector in the state, the Lagos State Parks and Garages Management, Ademiluyi claimed that it has no root in law.
He said: “The Lagos State Parks and Garages Management is a figment of the imagination of the government. It does not have any root in law. We challenge Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Attorney General of the state to publicly state the proposed bill or law that established the Lagos Parks and Garages Management. It is the creation of the executive arm of government and not of the law through the State Assembly.
“I urge the commuting public to see themselves as participants in this struggle because the money being milked by the Lagos State government did not fall from heaven; it is gotten from their purses through hike in transport fares.
“They should not count themselves as struggling, rather they should see themselves as fellow comrades in the struggle to liberate themselves from the oppressive tax regime of the Lagos State government.
“Having said this, the survival of our members is predicated on the outcome of the strike action. If they don’t persevere and fight this to a logical end, they will continue to suffer and labour for the ‘agbero’ and the Lagos State government and the commuters too will continue to bear the financial brunt.
“The reality they are confronted with is that at least 80 per cent of the money made by these commercial bus drivers in the state goes to the illegal toll collection. They are left with the little they can feed themselves and their family with. So, this is a struggle between life and death and they are ready to continue till the government accedes to their demands.
“Therefore, the only way out of this is for the Lagos State governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to open a discussion with JDWAN. We are not opposed to discussing with the Lagos State government. They should desist from going to the press to lay claims to false facts. They should do a proper correspondence and at the appropriate time, we will respond to them.
“But we will allow meeting with none other person than Governor Sanwo-Olu himself. We have gotten more than enough insults and name-calling from the Commissioner for Transport and the Permanent Secretary since the commencement of the strike action.
“They called us a bunch of rascals and other unprintable names, so there is no other person that can meet with us than the governor of Lagos State and that is the truth.”
A failed truce?
A truce meeting earlier scheduled for Wednesday did not hold as the aggrieved drivers allegedly failed to turn up. The meeting was at the instance of the Commissioner for Transportation, Frederic Oladeinde, Saturday Tribune learnt. Although unions’ representatives were seated, the drivers were not in attendance.
When contacted over the botched meeting that was scheduled to start by 2.00 p.m., the spokesperson for the state Ministry of Transportation, Mrs Bolanle Ogunlola, said the unions, after waiting for an hour, left the venue around 3.00 p.m.
Ogunlola, in an interview with Saturday Tribune, said: “The meeting was scheduled to hold by 2.00 p.m. on Wednesday. However, the bus drivers didn’t turn up for the meeting at the appointed time. After the unions waited for an hour without seeing the drivers, they left the meeting venue by 3.00 p.m.
“However, the bus drivers later showed up for the meeting around 5.00 p.m. and by that time, the meeting could no longer hold since the unions had left. The ministry has now shifted the meeting to Friday, 4th of November (yesterday) to resolve the issue between the bus drivers and the unions.”
A defiant agency?
The chairman of Lagos State Parks and Garages Management, Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo, however, claimed that the union has not received any formal complaint from the commercial bus drivers in the state.
He gave the assurance that the body would look at their grievances with a view to rebuilding the strained relationship between the drivers and the unions.
The secretary of the union, Mr Olayiwola Lemboye, who spoke on behalf of MC Oluomo, stated that the agency would resort to its own conflict-resolution mechanism to address the grievances of the bus drivers.
Lemboye added that the drivers were aware that the secretariat is open to them for any complaint on the activities of their members.
He said: “As we speak, we have not received any communication from anyone on the issue of extortion or harassment. They ought to have reported the matter to their branch chairmen or bring it to the state secretariat if their branch chairmen are not forthcoming.”
He cautioned the group against politicising the operations of commercial transportation in the state, alleging that “the purported strike action has a political undertone. If not, how come they are coming under a name unknown to the law?”
Further attacking the legality of JDWAN, Lemboye said: “The government recognises two bodies – the suspended National Union of Road Transport Union (NURTW) in Lagos State and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN). The Joint Drivers’ Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN) is not known.
“Despite that, the state government’s Liaison Officer to the Parks and Garages Management, Mr Hakeem Odumosu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, has also waded into the matter and held a meeting with them. Instead of adhering to the agreement reached, they resorted to blackmailing the respected retired police officer.
“The chairman of Lagos State Parks and Garages Management, Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya, is a peaceful person and will never subscribe to such illegalities.
“More so, our operations are limited in the border area of Badagry where they alleged that some of their people were attacked.”
‘Ikotun-to-Island costs me N10,000 this week’
As the two proverbial elephants fight, the proverbial grass, the commuters, are suffering.
When Saturday Tribune visited Ikotun Bus Stop in the course of the week, many commuters were seen stranded, waiting for scarce buses.
Speaking to Saturday Tribune, a commuter, Olayinka Shobowale, lamented: “Transport fare from Ikotun to Cele Express which used to cost N300 now goes for N500. Also, Ikotun to Oshodi which used to go for N500 now goes for N700. From Aspamda to Iyana-Iba which used to be N200 is now N500.
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“The transport fares have risen to an outrageous level since the bus drivers began their strike action. The buses on the road are very few and they have jacked up the fares.
“Most of us are paying with pain because we have to go out and earn a living. If I had a choice, I would stay indoors. I work on the Island and live in Ikotun. I have been spending N2,000 to and from work every day, meaning that by the end of this week, I would have spent N10,000 from my meager salary on transportation. This is excluding feeding. How much is my salary?! I can’t continue like this. The Lagos State government has to find a solution to this issue.”
Ignored court order?
On May 24, 2022, the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered Akinsanya (MC Oluomo) and other transport unions to stop the collection of levies from non-union commercial drivers in all motor parks in Lagos State.
Others affected by the order are Registered Trustees of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Registered Trustees of Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) and Registered Trustees of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO).
Justice Peter Lifu made the order while granting an exparte application marked FHC/L/CS/224/2022, tabled before the court by a lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Olukoya Ogungbeje, who sued for himself and a new transport union, Transport Union Society of Nigeria (TUSON).
Ogungbeje dragged MC Oluomo and other transport unions before the court alongside Alhaji Lawal Yusuf Othman, the Lagos State government, the Attorney-General of Lagos State, the Inspector-General of Police and the director of State Security Service (SSS).
In the application, Mr Ogungbeje asked the court for an order “to restrain all the respondents jointly and severally, whether, by themselves, their agents, officials, or whosoever called, from forceful imposition, collection, extortion, further forceful imposition, and collection of any transport Union levies, dues, fees or monies Motor-Parks levies, dues, fees or monies, bus-stop levies, dues, fees or monies, vehicle garage levies, or any transport union monies, dues or levies from any person, commercial vehicle driver and or transporter that is not a member of the respondents in connection with the facts of this case, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive originating motion filed before the court.”
He also asked the court for an order “restraining Lagos State government and its Attorney-General, jointly and severally, whether, by themselves, their ministries, organs, agents, officials, servants, or howsoever called, from further enforcement or implementation of the N800 transport union levy due and money imposed on every transporter and commercial vehicle driver in Lagos State, commenced on February 1, 2022, in connection with the facts of this case pending the hearing and determination of the substantive originating motion filed before the court.”
He equally sought an order “restraining all the respondents jointly and severally, whether by themselves, their agents, officials, servants, privies, officers and or howsoever called from arresting, detaining, harassing, embarrassing, humiliating, inviting, seizing and confiscating any commercial vehicle, disturbing and or interfering with the lawful Transport Business operations of the applicant and his transport union members in connection with the facts of this case pending the hearing and determination of the substantive originating motion filed before the court.”
Justice Lifu had on May 8, 2022, after listening to Ogungbeje’s submissions, ordered all the respondents in the suit to show cause within seven days from the day they were served with the application why the orders sought should not be granted.
At the resumed hearing of the matter, Ogungbeje informed the court that all respondents had been served with all the processes as directed by the court, adding that the respondents, despite being served, failed to show cause within seven days as directed by the court.
He, therefore, urged the court to grant all his reliefs as prayed.
Justice Lifu, after listening to the lawyer’s submission and ascertaining from the court records that all the respondents were served as directed by the court but failed to show cause, granted all the reliefs sought for by the applicant.
However, others had applied to be joined in the suit. They include the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State; Nigeria Police; Mr Tajudeen Ibikunle Baruwa, the Registered Trustees of Motorcycle Operation Association of Lagos State (MOALS), the Registered Trustees of Tricycle Owners and Operator Association of Nigeria (TOOAN), the Registered Trustees of Nagari Nakowa Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association of Lagos State (NNAMORAL), Oba Adeshina Suleiman Raji, a.k.a JAFO Authority, Lagos State Park and Garages Management Committee; Mr Hakeem Odumosu (AIG) (rtd) and Dr Taiwo Olufemi Salam.