THE recent violent clash between warring factions of a road transport union in central Lagos strikes a chord. Gangsterism, racketeering, violence and robbery have long plagued the public transport sector in Lagos State, fueled by impunity by transport unions and neglect by authorities. It’s time to stop the anarchy. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the new Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alabi, have a duty to Lagosians and the country to uproot these deviants from the roads.
The incident sounded familiar. Armed with guns, machetes and clubs, rival factions of the National Union of Idumota Road Transport Workers fought a street battle in broad daylight in the bustling business district and market. At least two people died in the crash. Typically, the war would have erupted over disagreements over the collection and sharing of levies extorted from commercial bus drivers. One person was reportedly shot, another bled to death following machete blows. Traders in nearby markets had to hastily close their shops and move to safety. The same was true for bank branches and other businesses. This is unacceptable in a civilized society.
For many years, union members, commonly known as agberos, have become a malignant threat. Once operating in main garages and bus terminals, they are now present at nearly every bus stop in the state, forcibly collecting tolls from bus drivers. They engage in incessant bloody clashes with each other and/or with bus drivers and vandalize commercial buses whose drivers refuse to part with illegal levies. They show a brazen disregard for the public peace by causing disturbances and traffic jams on the roads. They wield excessive and illegal powers in parks and bus stops. They openly use illicit drugs, especially marijuana, polluting the air with their smoke. Much to the dismay of residents and shopkeepers, they are generally not challenged by law enforcement. Their tolls have made transport fares in Lagos unbearably high.
Notably, many stakeholders allege the active collusion of security agencies, the political elite and some state government officials. Politicians have also been known to hire them as enforcers. Sanwo-Olu and Alabi must demonstrate that the government and the police are not responsible for the impunity of the unions. There are enough laws in the statute books that prohibit the activities of these touts. There are laws against solicitation, extortion, fighting, possession of weapons and drug use. They should enforce them.
Lagos is the commercial, industrial and financial powerhouse of Nigeria. It is home to 65% of its industries, its busiest ports and contributes 26.7% of the national GDP, including more than 50% of non-oil GDP and represents 80% of the country’s foreign trade flows. Home to 23 million people, it aspires to be a megacity, with 14 of its 20 local government areas forming part of a sprawling metropolis. It doesn’t deserve thugs hiding under the guise of transport unions terrorizing the locals.
Until the agberos were spoiled by civilian governments, the outgoing military administrator, Mohammed Marwa, then a colonel, had driven them off the roads of Lagos, bringing welcome order and a significant drop in fares. Such a brave and effective solution must be quickly re-enacted by Sanwo-Olu. He must show more courage than his predecessors in prohibiting the Agberos from bus stops.
The suspension of union operations in the Idumota area announced by Information and Strategy Commissioner Gbenga Omotoso in response to the latest clash is not enough. Unions should be strictly prohibited from violently collecting tolls in car parks and bus stops. It is extortion; similar to the “protection racket” characteristic of organized crime.
A new initiative by the state government is an opportunity to restore order to the public transport system and eradicate crime. The newly introduced consolidated informal transport sector tax on bus drivers, where each bus driver is expected to pay 800 naira per day from February 1, is expected to not only harmonize taxes paid by drivers to the state, but it should also be designed to include union levies. on its members. Henceforth, the agencies designated by the State or the GL should be the only authorities empowered to collect fees in the car parks; they will then remit the pre-agreed percentage due to the registered transport unions to which the drivers belong. The barbaric practice of forcibly collecting fees at bus stops by wild-eyed union enforcers should end. High transport fares would also be addressed if the state was acting in the public interest.
A report by the International Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that road transport unions in Lagos generate N123 billion annually from commercial buses, tricycles and motorbikes. That’s way above what most states generate in a year. According to the report, each bus pays about 3,000 naira per day, or about 82 billion naira per year, implying that the union generates more revenue from the drivers than the state. This prodigious wealth is only reflected in the increasingly ostentatious lifestyle of union leaders.
The Chairman of NURTW in the State, Musiliu Akinsanya, said, “I would like to clarify that the daily levy of N800 only covers all money collected by MDAs; it does not affect the NURTW ticket. This is not only bold, but also makes a mockery of the consolidated levy gains previously cited by Finance Commissioner Rabiu Olowo. He said the tax should cover bus drivers’ income taxes, environmental levies, LG tax, as well as reduce the multiplicity of taxes, fees and levies. The state must assert its authority, including union dues, and retain its monopoly on tax collection.
Going forward, Lagos needs to move quickly to upgrade its transport system to the intermodal format. Wider roads, efficient rail and river transport systems and partnership with the private sector to introduce modern buses are essential. The ubiquitous and poorly maintained minibuses, danfo and commercial motorcycles (okada) should eventually be phased out. They are unsuited to a megalopolis.
In more organized climates, the public transport system is well organized; the disbelievers are not the lords of the public way. It is a critical sector that the government directly monitors because of its central role in the economy and to ensure public order and safety. The Lagos State government should use this levy as a starting point to reform this sector. A government should never submit its authority over public transport to non-state actors. Sanwo-Olu must act quickly.
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