Forced to stay at home during lockdown occasioned by outbreak of coronavirus pandemic last year, residents of Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State have commenced another lockdown, but this time, influenced by the decision of commercial bus drivers who suspended operations across the axis.
Though the pandemic was unpredictable, perhaps unexpected, the second phased lockdown being experienced by Lagosians in an atmosphere of panic in the axis was said to have been connected to increment in levies collected from the commercial bus drivers by the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) which degenerated into protest.
As learnt, the suspension of operations by commercial bus drivers that affected the movement of Lagosians in Agbara, Okokomaiko, Iyana Iba, Ojo, Alaba International, Volcs, Alakija, Shibiri, Ajangbadi, and other areas along Lagos-Badagry Expressway, followed 300% increase on the levies being paid to members of the union in the area.
The Guild reliably gathered that troubled started when the union, without prior notification or proper consultations with the commercial bus drivers and owners, increased the levy payable from bus-stop to bus-stop along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, from N200 to N800 amid the dwindling economic fortunes being experienced in the country.
The increment, our correspondent learnt, along with other levies payable to faction unions, was said to be the last stroke that broke the camel’s back for the drivers who had been groaning under the previous levies regime which they claimed was reaping them off and that such informed their decision to down tools since last week Thursday in protest against the N1000 increment.
As stated, residents who traveled miles from the axis to their place of works and office have been forced to stay back at home while others who could not afford the lockdown resorted to commercial motorcycles charging exorbitant rates in commuting passengers to their destinations.
Meanwhile, the demonstration degenerated in face-off yesterday when activities in Badagry Local Government were halted for hours following clashes between NURTW members and commercial bus drivers protesting against the increment in levy and other alleged extortion by union officials on Lagos-Badagry expressway in the state.
The clashes that were reported to have started at about 3 pm yesterday between both parties lefts dozens of residents and commuters with injuries after the transport union mandated the protesters, who had suspended their operation over the union’s increase in daily levy from N300 to N800 since last Thursday, to leave the road for other motorists.
As gathered, some hoodlums also engaged in the fight, resulting in both parties drawing out their weapons with gunshots sounds renting the air at Magbon end of Lagos-Badagry expressway, leaving motorists caught in the web of the clashes to abandon their car and run for safety.
An eyewitness told The Guild that he was caught in the web of the clash and that he had to run for safety after he realised that the axis was not safe for him to complete the journey.
“They were breaking and throwing bottles at themselves when we passed… shops were closed and people were running up and down looking for a safe place. They said this has been going on for one week now and the government doesn’t want to intervene,” he said.
Another resident added that the demonstration had been peaceful since the commercial drivers suspended their operations but became blood barely a week to its start within the axis.
“I experienced the same around 4 pm at the same Magbon. Gunshots and matchet fights. I didn’t know if I should reverse or move forward. People running helter-skelter. Thank God for safety at the end,” the resident who craved anonymity said.
Reacting to the increment during an interview with our correspondent, a member of the Lagos Drivers Association, Ifeanyi Onya, said that the protest was aimed at making their grievances known and to alert the Lagos State Government on the plight of commercial bus drivers in the state.
According to him, our aim is to chase agbero (union members) away to their garage because the bills they are enforcing on us are much and we cannot make any further payment.
“While we are still complaining about the increment of diesel price, then they (NURTW) introduced other tickets and requested payment of N800 for it. We pay N200 at every bus-stop and there is also a place where we pay N1500 for tickets. After we’ve made all these expenses, we end up going home with nothing. As a family man, we cannot be working and be earning nothing and not able to pay our bills.
“Therefore, we are begging the government to come to our aids, to intervene in the whole situation, so as for us to resume work and earn money to able to pay our bills. We choose not to rob other people’s belongings, which is why we prayed for government intervention,” he said.
Another driver, Ismaila Olatunji, regretted that despite the hours spent on the highways daily by the drivers trying to make ends meet, their profits are being used to offset different levies being introduced by the unions.
“Sometimes after work, we sleep late and wake up as early as 4:30 am. While we are working like elephants, we end up eating like ants. The problem here is that these people are working for us, we are paying them and yet we suffer at the end of it. Upon that, these agberos still disrespect us, they add no value to our development instead they deprive us of our happiness.
“They have introduced different tickets overtime which we complied with them, now they introduced a new ticket which is unacceptable because it seems like they want to use it as a medium of fraud. They asked each bus driver to pay N800 for a ticket that cost N200 before,” Olatunji said.
Another driver, who identified himself as Nurudeen Adegunju, said “we drivers decided to stay off work to see the outcome of it because in a day, we spent almost N6,000 on fuel and it finished in a twinkle of eyes. We buy fuel not less than N170 per liter now and thereafter agberos would also bring ticket in exchange for the sum of N800.”
Nnamdi Okoli, who doubled as bus owner and driver, said “you can see vehicles parked around, we have concluded not to work today so that government can provide a solution to the whole problem that has been happening lately. We are all suffering. We cannot continue to work a whole day and end up giving all our income to a man, without taking tangible money home.
“So, we want the government to intervene and if at the end of the day we are paying N800 for the ticket, then it should be a government order, then we can be assured that we won’t be paying unnecessary money because after paying for a ticket, we usually end up paying more than N5000 in a day.
“We cannot afford to pay the ticket fees that is why we have stopped working, we are, therefore, crying to the government to come to our aid, because we cannot fight agbero. We need government intervention to address the agberos on the amount payable daily with a view to bringing it down so that we can be able to afford it and then resume back to work.”
However, as at the time of filing this report, efforts to get a reaction from the NURTW Public Relations Officer proved abortive as calls to his mobile number were not connecting.