By Bose Adebayo, Chioma Obinna & Nwakanma Chukwuma
â€˜We no go gree ooh, we no go greeâ€™ LASTMA must go, we no go greeâ€. This was the resounding chant that was heard at almost all major bus-stops in Lagos Monday as commercial bus operators protested against their victimisation some government officials.Â Commuters who were caught unawares by the development found themselves stranded at various bus-stops as the protest later took a violent turn with buses being forced off the roads. It took the spirited intervention of the Police to calm the situation.
But justifying their decision to embark on the protest, the commercial bus drivers complained that it has been a continuousÂ Â tale of woes for them following constantÂ harassment and extortion by officials of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority, LASTMA who are usually found at various bus-stops.
To this end, they had decided to withdraw their vehicles from Lagos roads, at least to press home their demand for an end to the frequent intimidation and abuse of their fundamental right by LASTMA officials.
However, some ofÂ danfo drivers had ignored the agreed decision and gone ahead to put their buses on the road. It was in a bid to call these erring drivers to order that a fracas ensured, resulting in many commercial buses being smashed in the process.
The violence affected popular bus-stops such as Oshodi, Cele Express, Mushin, Agbara, Orile, Airport Road, Ikeja, Alagbado and other areas heavily plied by danfo buses. It was a development street urchins seem to have been praying for as they quickly capitalised on the situation to extort money from innocent commuters.
At the peak of the violence in Mile Two , a middle aged man was knocked down by a speeding vehicle at the Festac side of the bus-stop when his legs slipped in an attempt to board a vehicle.
The absence of the danfo buses paved the way for commercial motorcyclists popularly known as Okada to make hay by increasing their fares by 200 per cent.
When Vanguard Metro went to town, there were only few yellow buses on the roads, with noÂ LASTMA officials on duty, though some police men were seen discharging their duties at various bus-stops.
But a LASTMA official who pleadedÂ anonymity said some unscrupulous elementsÂ within the Authority and Mobile Police men usually go about in buses to extort money from commercial drivers for their selfish interest. â€œIt is an illegal business. Some policemen usually go out in company of LASTMA officials to extort commercial drivers but people will think they are carrying out an official duty not knowing they are only doing this to make money for themselves,â€ he said.
Some of the commercial drivers also stormed Vanguardâ€™s corporate office on Monday to narrateÂ their plight and the reason for their protest.Â According to a statement read by one Linus Akubiro: â€œThe intimidation and abuse of our fundamental rights by LASTMA officials can no longer be tolerated.
The LASTMA officials have deviated from their main job which is controlling traffic to pursuing of danfo(buses) and collecting N7,000 or they will give you a ticket of N30,000. We want to know why there are no bus-stops from Oshodi to Wharf and Agbara to Orile where we can freely stop and pick our passengers without being intimidated by LASTMA officials. There is a group of Mobile Police(men) who go about arresting danfo buses and making the work most unprofitable by collecting an amount ranging from N10,000 to N15,000 from danfo drivers…â€.
Among other things, they said â€œwe want the government to approve designated bus-stops and parks for us so that these people will leave us alone. The money being collected is illegal and it doesnâ€™t get to the government. We are not saying government should sack LASTMA(officials) but must train them so that they will stop all these illegal extortions. Government should tell these people to give us peace, we cannot be working with fear when we are on the wheels…â€.
Meanwhile, Special Adviser to the Lagos State government on Transport, Mr Kayode Opeifa has debunked the claim that LASTMA officials collect bribe just as he dismissed the protesters as hoodlums and not genuine union members. â€œWe have called the State Chairman for NURTW, Alhaji Olorunwa and M.C. Oluomo in Oshodi who have arrested some of those boys; they were hoodlums and not union members.
The job of LASTMA is to arrest anybody who breaks the law, even if you drive danfo or molue and you break the law, you should be arrested. LASTMA is doing its own job, that LASTMA is collecting bribe is a lie. If LASTMA arrests them, it will bring them to the office and we have been prosecuting officials that take bribe,â€ he explained during a radio interview.