As a leader presiding over an aspiring mega city, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu should take more than a cursory interest in the recent strike embarked upon by commercial bus drivers in the state, who were protesting extortion and harassment by both state and non-state actors.
While the strike lasted, it threw commuters in the state into undue suffering and discomfort, caused long delays and frustration in reaching destinations, and occasioned a huge loss of time and money. It is not an experience that Lagosians deserve, but it may be replicated unless government looks closely into the complaints of the drivers and make necessary amends to ameliorate them.
From miscreants popularly called agberos fighting for supremacy over the soul of Lagos motor parks to strike by commercial bus drivers over unbridled extortion and harassment by the same agberos and all manner of traffic enforcement personnel, commuting in and out of Lagos has become a nightmare.
The chaos has reached crescendo as the Lagos State Government appears helpless and even complicit; unable or unwilling to take charge of the situation. Lagosians are bearing the brunt of the excesses through avoidable delays and fare hikes that are passed onto commuters.
It is shameful that transportation in Lagos, a bustling megacity, with no mass transit system, is dominated by private operators using rickety minibuses. The time has come for the Lagos State Government (LASG) to rise up to the challenge and control the unbridled activities of the agberos as well as check the excesses and extortion by numerous traffic personnel on the roads. LASG must enforce law and order if Lagos must be a smart 21st-century city like others in other climes.
For three days, many commuters were left stranded on Lagos roads as commercial bus drivers in the state began a seven-day strike against alleged extortion and harassment from motor park thugs. The protest comes with the lingering excessive levies imposed by the management and caretaker committee members locally known as agberos on buses at almost every bus stop across the state.
The bus drivers, under the aegis of the Joint Drivers’ Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN), decided to express their grievances from October 31 to November 6, 2022, over the inability of the state government to tackle the excessive levies on commercial bus drivers. The national leader of JDWAN, Abiodun Akintade, in a statement, lamented that drivers and commuters have had more than enough extortion and harassment from the motor parks management and caretaker committee members popularly known as agbero.
He bemoaned that it is also visible that the high cost of goods and services in the state is a consequence of thug extortions, adding that: “No goods would be delivered, and 95 per cent of working-class residents can’t be transported without the service of commercial drivers. “The unfettered and violent extortion by the Lagos State Government agents has not only increased transportation fares beyond the affordability of workers but also made every good and service out of the reach of the poor Lagosians,” he observed.
Many Nigerians who are conversant with the complaints of the drivers sent solidarity messages to JDWAN and called for an end to the “unjust levies” Lagos commercial bus, taxi and tricycle drivers are subjected to.
Certainly, the extortion of commercial vehicle drivers in the state has wider economic implications, being one of the most critical drivers of inflation; the throttling levy imposed on the drivers has a direct effect on the supply chain of goods and services and consequently hiking the price of essential goods, commodities, and services in Lagos relative to other states.
The drivers’ union emphasized that “putting an end to this state-approved extortion of drivers would bring down the high cost of living in Lagos and ensure that profits made by the drivers are not streamed illegally into the coffers of a rent-seeking state.”
The Lagos state government has said it is looking into the demands of JDWAN, with a view to finding solutions to the issues raised by the association.
The government should have acted to prevent the strike, given that the constant violent interface between commercial drivers and the unions’ tax collectors or agberos is a disaster waiting to happen. Harassment and extortion by motor parks and garage management have simply been taken too far.
The Lagos public transport sector is shameful as Lagos, the commercial capital of the West African sub-region, has been turned into a chaotic city by virtue of mismanaged transportation system. People under one guise or another set up illegal roadblocks waiting for commercial buses and motorists to extort; and the government’s absence is conspicuous.
Undoubtedly, a lot of money is collected on a daily basis. Who are the beneficiaries? Lagos State Government also needs to streamline the operations of their agencies such as VIO, LASTMA, state and local government taskforces, agbero, and Neighbourhood Watch, among others, all waiting for the same vehicles, and often harassing and extorting from them freely. Tricycles, motorcycles and even handcart pushers are all extorted by all manner of people on the roads.
The onus is on the state government to show that it is not somehow complicit in these acts. Importantly, it should work to instil sanity in commercial transportation, in the interest of the masses.
The reputation of Lagos as being among the most stressful cities in the world can be erased through better city management. Importantly, the state government must exercise its power over all persons and unions, and make them conform to the law, due process and decency.