Metro & Crime

Commuters stranded as drivers protest task force, LASTMA extortion

Commuters were stranded at different bus stops in parts of Lagos metropolis yesterday as bus drivers embarked on a strike. The impact of the strike was also felt in communities in the fringe of Lagos and Ogun states. The drivers were protesting alleged extortions by the Task Force and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).

The drivers, for long, had been complaining about how they were continually being extorted by these uniform personnel, but nobody had paid attention to them. The situation came to a head on Monday after the policemen attached to the task force stormed the Ijodu-Berger area of Lagos and impounded 30 buses.

They were also said to have carried out a similar operation at Igando area, leading to clashes between them and the drivers. The protest came less than a week after the same task force policemen were alleged to have clashed with drivers at the Abule-Egba axis, leading to two persons being killed. A few weeks ago, task policemen were also alleged to have stormed Egbeda and took away as many buses as possible. Each of the drivers was said to have parted with N25,000 before their buses were released to them.

Yesterday’s protest left many commuters stranded. The drivers, who attempted to work, were attacked by other drivers and conductors. At Egbeda, some of them were sighted with placards. Our correspondent learnt that some bus drivers, who used to come into Lagos from Mowe and Ibafo areas of Ogun State, had limited their movements for fear of becoming victims of the task force officials. A commuter, Mrs. Muibat Ajibola, said she waited at Mowe bus stop for close to four hours before getting a bus to Ketu. She added: “I go to Mile 12 Market twice in a week, to buy foodstuffs, which I sell.

What I experienced at the bus stop today (yesterday) was sheer hell! While waiting at the bus stop, other commuters came to meet me there. We were many, but there were no buses to take us to our destinations. “Some commuters flagged down private car owners, but those ones immediately inflated the fares. We heard that policemen and LASTMA officials were disturbing bus drivers. I’m appealing to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State to intervene in the matter.” A driver, Mr. Tajudeen Owolabi, explained that one of his colleagues took off from their park at Ojodu Berger, heading to Sango. But on getting to Agege, he was stopped by a team of LASTMA officials for no reason and his passengers were asked to disembark. The bus was then impounded. He said: “The bus was later released to him after he paid N5,000.

That is what we battle on a daily basis. Most of the money we make goes to these officials, especially the task force officials, who carry out indiscriminate arrests. “It was like a war on Monday when the task force officials stormed our park. This was in spite of the fact that we are not even on the road. We were in the park, built for us by the state government when they came.

“Some of my friends had relocated to their states because of the stress of this transport business. Others had taken to other businesses. It was after the task force officials left that we were able to bring out our buses. “We decided to withdraw our vehicles from the roads today (yesterday), to send a warning to our national chairman and the state chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), to see to our plights.” Another driver, who gave his name as Abija, said his bus was impounded on Tuesday last week at Seven-Up bus stop by LASTMA officials, who told him that his bus was not well parked. According to him, the LASTMA officials impounded his bus and booked him for N10,000. Abija said it took him two weeks before he was able to raise and pay the money. According to the man, the same thing happened to him at Ijaye, Kollinton and Alakuko.

He said: “Personally, I’m tired of the harassment. We are all Nigerians and we contribute to the development of this state. We don’t have another business, other than this transportation business. We’re begging the governor to come to our aid. No matter what we do or do not do, these officials will always accuse us of a crime. We’re always arrested and our buses impounded without any reason. We’re just tired!”driver, who introduced himself as Sir K, said the task force officials were fond of using their vehicles to block commercial buses.

He said: “You know that Ojota is a legal park. But task force officials will come with their vehicles, loaded with thugs and block the roads from back and front. The law enforcement agents are accompanied by their touts and they use other people’s commercial vehicles to stop our own means of livelihood, harassing and extorting us daily. “After our buses are impounded, we will pay for the buses to be towed back to our park. Most of these task force officials do not even have means of identification. “They collect between N20,000 and N30,000.

They do not ask for our driver’s licences or any relevant documents. Just because we respond to them whenever they come to our parks, they then turn us to their Automated Teller Machines (ATMs).” Another commuter, Mr. Adekunle Bayo, while complaining about the excesses of these officials, recalled a day he was in a bus and it was flagged by some LASTMA officials at Ojota. The officials said the driver didn’t park well. He said: “Every passenger in the bus came down, knelt and begged these officials.

The driver had to give the officials some money before we were allowed to go.” In his reaction, the Information Officer of the task force, Mr. Taofeek Adebayo, argued that the drivers used to cause major gridlocks on Lagos roads. He said: “The position of the Lagos State Traffic Law is clear. When they are arrested, they are charged to court. If the drivers feel we’re harassing them, they should do the needful. “We’ve also held a meeting with the NURTW and RTEAN (Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria), on the need to educate their members to comply with the state Traffic Law. We will continue to arrest them until they comply.”

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