• Blame Political Elite For Condoning Unionists
Many Lagos State residents have applauded the state government for banning the activities of transport unions around the Oshodi area of the state. The state government early in June, suspended transport unionism at the seven branches of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the Shogunle and Oshodi areas of the state. This was sequel to the murder of popular union leader, Rasaq Bello, better known as Hamburger.
Until his death, he was the chairman of the Motorcycle Operators’ Association of Lagos State (MOAL), Oshodi Chapter.Acting Commissioner for Transportation, Anofiu Elegushi, while reeling out the suspension order in Alausa, Ikeja, listed affected branches to include LoB A, D, J and Oshodi A, B, C and D.
But despite the ban, members of the union quietly returned to work two days after and have remained on their duty posts since then. The ban was meant to be indefinite. However, pleased with the “temporary” return of sanity to affected areas, some residents, who saw it as a welcome development, want the ban extended to all parts of the state.
For them, such a step would put paid to the nuisance constituted by the activities of these transport unions, including NURTW, MOALS and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).
Over the years, these transport unions have perfected the art of resorting to free-for-all over minute issues that basic understanding of each others scope of activities, or delineating overlapping functions would have addressed amicably.
Sadly, with these unions, matters ranging from takeover of motor parks, failure to pay for tickets and dues by drivers, conflict of interest, as well as minor arguments, could spiral into bloody wars within hours. In some instances, innocent members of the public caught in the crossfire end up paying the ultimate price.
A resident, Segun Abifarin, wants government to limit the activities of the transport unions to recognised motor parks and their secretariats, and not just bus stops as has been the case.He added that transport unions perpetrate mayhem and go scot-free because they enjoy the friendship of the political elite, who also use them to achieve political goals when the need arises.
Another resident, Kunle Okunade, who claimed that unionists have been in the habit of flouting state laws, even to the detriment of other road users, urged the ban to be extended to other parts of the state in order to restore sanity.
For a blunt Kemi Alder, transport unions constitute public nuisance, as they harass innocent drivers and collect monies that they do not truly account for. Opeyemi Maria, sees some members of these transport unions as brutes, who take delight in descending on drivers, who as much as delay in the daily payment for prescribed tickets.”
She expressed disappointment that the unionists may soon return to Oshodi, as has been the case every time the government wields the big stick. Samuel Adeyemi, who said, “The high cost of transportation in Lagos State is due in part to the excessive levies that drivers are charged, alleged that government usually approaches issues involving unionists carefully because they make use of them during elections.
Dr. Adebayo Akintayo, another resident of the city is of the view that: “Attempts by bus drivers or conductors to resist the payment of some illegal tolls introduced by these unions, have occasionally sparked violence, which ultimately lead to theft, vandalism or malicious damage to vehicles.
“There is an apparent collusion between these touts, law enforcement agencies and some highly influential persons and politicians in the state. That, I suspect is the reason why at some bus stops, unionists are deployed to collect illegal tolls and levies on behalf of influential persons, or even law enforcement agents.”
Before the ban on transport union activities in Oshodi, in the wake of Bello’s death, many residents of the area lived in fear because of rumour that thugs loyal to the deceased would carry out a reprisal. The same scenario played out in February, when a union member was killed in the Kola area of Alagbado, following a clash between NURTW and tricycle operators, who demanded to operate independently, and away from the influence of the NURTW.
Just last month at the Iyana-Ipaja area of the state, two residents lost their lives when two factions of tricycle operators fought for supremacy. The catalogue of crises involving transport unions in the state has been a recurring issue.
In April 2015 for instance, the killing of one Baba Esi, a transport union worker, by a fellow transport union worker caused immense unrest in and around Oshodi. Still in Oshodi, one Olayinka Mamowora, was killed around September of that year in what was described as a supremacy row.
In 2016, there were not less than six transport unions-related fracas in the state. In March of that year, one Akeem Lawanson, a member of the NURTW was killed over ticketing fee collection.
In July same year, there was also a clash between the NURTW and the RTEAN in Ita-Oluwu, the boundary between Lagos and Ogun states. Another incident was recorded in October around Igando, and it led to 12 people being seriously injured. The year ended with the November 22 and 23 factional battle in Oshodi.
One of the major sources of discord between drivers/vehicle owners and union officials has been ticketing and collection of illegal fees. According to a commercial tricycle operator, who plies Cele-Ago Palace route, he pays N1, 400 daily (for booking and loading) to NURTW officials. Of this amount, he gets a receipt for only N300. He pays another N100, which is meant for the state chairman of the union (owo chairman).
The total of N1, 500, he pays to the union is different from the N500, which he claims he pays for disbursement to the Nigerian Police and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).
A commercial bus driver, who plies the Oshodi-Egbeda route, told The Guardian that he pays a minimum of N2, 650 daily. According to him, before embarking on his first trip in the morning through Oshodi, he pays the union the sum of N700, and “every other trip before noon attracts N100 each. Once it is 12pm, I am expected to pay another N200, and N100 for any other trip, and N50 at any bus stop, where I pick up passengers.”
He also disclosed that at the Egbeda end of the trip, he pays N800 in the morning and N500 in the afternoon. He further pays N250 at Ikeja-Along Bus Stop in the morning.On Oyingbo-Bariga route, a driver revealed that he coughs out conservatively N3, 600 daily at different times, and at different spots along the route. But in all of this, the amount that gets receipted for by NURTW officials is just about N1, 000.
For long buses popularly called molue, those that ply the Mile 2-Oshodi route, pay to the union, as much N8, 500 daily. As is the practice, the drivers never get receipts for the bulk of the payments they make.
It was reliably gathered that the reason tickets are not issued in most cases is because union officials that mount the respective “cash points” on different routes are given targets to meet by their superiors, who would in turn render account to those higher than them in the hierarchy.
For instance, officials who take charge of the Mile 2-Ago Palace route are expected to remit daily, the sum of N52, 000 to the union through their unit heads. Whatever is left after this becomes their take home.
The source equally maintained that any day the affected officials fail to meet the target, they have to make up the amount from wherever they can, including borrowing as failure to do so attracts outright ejection from the park.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Ozekhome, is of the view that transport union activities have not been put under check because government is either being insincere, hypocritical or outrageously weak in dealing with the excesses of these groups.
“How can any serious and responsible government say it cannot control forcible collection of dues by motor park touts from drivers that are plying the routes on legitimate business? Why should innocent drivers and vehicle owners be subjected to multiple taxation in the presence of a government, whose first and primary duty is the security and welfare of its citizens in accordance with section 14 of the 1999 constitution?
“There is freedom of association and also freedom of movement. No one can be forced to belong to a union it does not want to belong to. Any exertion of force to actualise such by a union borders on criminality, for which the culprits should be brought to book. We cannot afford to have a government within a government,” the legal practitioner stated.
Ozekhome also supported calls for the banning of transport union activities across the state to prevent further bloodshed. For Lekan Alabi, another legal practitioner, all must be done to rein in the NURTW, as there is serious contradiction in the legal framework of labour unions in the country.
According to him: “NURTW is a labour union, reason it is affiliated to the Nigerian Labour Congress. The current President of the NURTW, Najeem Yasin is a member of Executive Council of the NLC by virtue of his membership and leadership of the NURTW. Labour issues are under exclusive list of the constitution. It follows that the NURTW activities fall squarely under the exclusive list, which is directly under the Federal Government.
“So, the contradiction is that the local government is exercising its control over the NURTW by allocating motor parks to it. The state is also controlling NURTW by placing its operation under the Ministry of Transportation. What can be inferred from the contradictions above is nothing but crises of authorities in their struggle for power and control over the soul of NURTW.”
Alabi further said that there must be a clear cut legal framework for the operation of private transportation system, while labour related issues should be placed under the concurrent list so that the state would have full powers to exercise control over NURTW activities.
“Above all, we all have a responsibility to curtail the excesses of irresponsible governments and mindless unionists who loot, kill and perpetrate all sorts of evil for economic gains and manipulation,” he added.
On whether government can regulate dues and sundry charges paid by drivers and car owners in order to ensure probity, accountability and transparency, Idris Faro, a legal practitioner said no government, be it state or federal level can fix, or regulate dues paid by members of any association or union. “This is because unions and associations are independent entities registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, with their own constitutions providing for payment of dues.
“However, government has a duty under the laws of the land to regulate the activities of bus operators and conductors on the roads and in motor parks.”Faro nonetheless stressed that motor park touts or NURTW officials, have no right to molest anybody, including their members while on the road, as this does not only impede smooth traffic flow, but also endangers the safety of other road users.
So, “I support the removal of agberos (touts) from all Lagos roads. They should be made to pursue any legitimate business that they have in motor parks alone.”Ayo Oso, is really pained that, “In all 36 states of the federation, including the FCT, it is only in Lagos State that members of NURTW run after vehicles to collect dues, or extort money as the case may be, and this phenomenon is an embarrassment to the peace-loving inhabitants of the state. It is also an indictment on the state government, which boasts that Lagos is a mega city. Besides, why is only Lagos State the exception?”
Oso, who deplored the resort to violence by top members of NURTW in the state, noted that this violence has consumed the lives of not only members of the union, but also that of several innocent citizens.
“The governor as the chief security of the state has inherent powers and duty to call the members of the union to order. And banning their activities in Oshodi is lawful because their right to associate has been misused as it has contravened the rights of others to live in peace.”Oso called for the law that limits the activities of the unions to the parks to be strengthened, while any union member running around the streets in pursuit of vehicles should be punished.