Friday, 4 November 2022

Lagos agberos untouchable because of government backing – Drivers’ president

Commercial drivers in Lagos State under the aegis of the Joint Drivers Welfare Association of Nigeria have since Monday embarked on a warning strike and boycott of transport services across the state over extortion by 

the Lagos State Parks and Garages Management. The President of the association, Abiodun Akintade, discussed issues surrounding the strike with SODIQ OJUROUNGBE
Why did you embark on the strike in the first instance?
There is a court order by the Federal High Court, Ikoyi. The order has been out since June 24, 2022, banning these people (agberos) from collecting money from us on the road. The court order also banned them from harassing, intimidating, beating our conductors, and damaging our property.
The court order also said they should stop collecting any money whatsoever from us but the Lagos State Government refused to act on the court order; that is one of our grievances.
The second reason we embarked on the strike was that early this year, the Lagos State Government introduced a ticket of N800. The Lagos Commissioner for Transportation went to a radio station, telling the masses that the government had introduced the ticket and it would be the only ticket they would assume as our tax, and anybody that asked for money again should be arrested.
After the introduction of the N800 ticket, we don’t know whether by omission or commission, the Lagos State Government gave the ticketing job to the agberos. We believe that the ticket should have been given to the local government authorities, but the reason they gave it to them is left to them; our duty is to pay for the ticket.
But after collecting that N800 ticket, these agberos still harass us. For example, where I drive, after loading in their park, while going to my destination, there are 25 checkpoints on the road before I reach where I am going. And I have to drop N100 or N200 at each of these checkpoints.
After loading in their park, whatever they demand, we will give them. Like in my park, they collect three passengers’ money out of our money. Before we load, there is what we call booking money; that is N500. After loading, two to four kilometers, we will start reaching different checkpoints where we have to drop money as well.
By the time you calculate all the money altogether, it is about N6,000. And when you drop passengers, they will still collect what they call offloading money.
With the announcement by the commissioner for transportation, we were all excited that the government has now recognised our predicament and is ready to come to our aid. Unfortunately, that was not the case because they added the N800 to the expenses we incur daily. So, the problem is getting worse every day; they will just wake up one day and create a checkpoint and there is nothing we can do about it.
All these led to the protest. What we are trying to push out is that we agreed that we don’t have parks, so let’s be using their parks to load passengers. We are ready to give them whatever they want; it is negotiable but we want them to put an end to all these illegal checkpoints. We are just trying to be lenient with them because in the court order, it was stated that they should not collect any money from us again.
Why don’t you get an injunction to make them obey the court order?
We do take actions but the judiciary in this country is zero. The government that is preaching rule of law is the one not obeying the court order. They are aware of that court order but they just decided to disobey it knowing that heaven will not fall.
Do you plan to take them back to court or you have lost hope in the judiciary?
Before we can say anything on that, let’s see how our Friday’s meeting with them will go. Then, we will now organise ourselves during the weekend and see the next action to take. We are meeting them around 11am. The outcome of the Friday meeting will decide our own action.
What was the outcome of the meeting you had with the government on Thursday?
We had a meeting with the Lagos State permanent secretary under the ministry of transportation. The meeting was successful in the sense that we expressed our displeasure at the meeting and he promised to look into our predicament. But he said that since those we accused were not at the meeting, he would advise us to be there again on Friday so that we could all be there, and see how to move forward.
Before embarking on strike, what efforts did you make to reach out to the authorities?
Before we embarked on the protest, a letter was sent to governor’s office. It was sent to the Ministry for Transportation and Ministry of Justice. Last week Friday, we held a meeting with their liaison officer, a retired AIG, Akeem Odumosu.
What we have observed is that anywhere we have meetings with these agberos, they will not turn up. We reschedule Wednesday’s meeting because they did not turn up. But the PS promised they will be available on Friday.
The agberos said hunger will force drivers back to the street, how true is this?
We put that into consideration; we know our people. But mind you, our eyes are open. All they are saying are just mere propaganda. During COVID-19, we were at home for more than a month, and nobody died.
If it will take one month to liberate ourselves, so be it. We are aware some people are working; we told our members to leave them because we are law-abiding citizens.
The agberos are just trying to be funny, it is just pure propaganda, but we know what we are doing.
Do you think the government and agberos are working together to frustrate you from getting what u want?
Yes, we believe they are working together. The way the agberos terorrize and intimidate us shows that they have government backing. Government cannot say they are not aware of the atrocities committed by agberos on daily basis.
When agberos assault your drivers or conductors, do you make complaints to the police?
Yes, we have on several occasions made complaints. Some of us are bold enough to take then to police station, but if you don’t know your way, you will be the one the police will lock up, and they will ask the agberos to go and continue his work.
By the time they lock you up, you will start looking for money to get yourself and also to bail out your vehicle, while the person that committed the atrocity will be move freely.
Are you not concerned with what commuters are going through because of the strike?
We are aware of what they are going through. It is just that it is important to put ourselves first. They are our customers; we can’t do without them, but we need to put an end to this modern-day slavery.
By the time we come out and we are able to achieve our aim, the commuters will also benefit because whether you like it or not, we are going to reduce the cost of transport fares. We can’t help it, we need their support; they know what we are passing through on Lagos roads.
Everybody is afraid of confrontation, but we are ready to ensure we put an end to this modern-day slavery. The majority know how these people are treating us, we can’t continue like this.
How have your members been coping with the strike?
It has not been easy, but we are coping. We need to fight this once and for all.
They have been threatening our lives even with the boycott. On Monday, they went to Seme Park and the buses they saw there were destroyed. They also patrolled the area and any of our members they saw were picked.
What are your demands?
When we load in their garage, they  collect transport fares of three passengers, we want them to reduce it to one. We want them to put an end to illegal checkpoints of agberos that extort us on the road after paying in the garage.
The only ticket we are ready to recongnise in Lagos State is the Lagos State consolidated ticket which is N800. Anything after that, we won’t accept it.
We also want them to stop intimidating and harassing us. We believe that once they go back to their garage, that one will stop.

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