By Ebele Orakpo
I couldnâ€™t believe my eyes last Friday when I went to the market to buy tomatoes and pepper to make some stew,â€ Eno told her friend, another commuter in the commercial bus.
Continuing, Eno said: â€œTo my utter surprise, the whole tomato and pepper line was empty and I asked a young man standing there where I could buy tomato and a group of women who had gathered discussing in low tones suddenly turned to me and began to laugh as they addressed me in the Igbo language.
Unfortunately, I do not understand the language and I told them so; so one of them asked if I just came into town. â€œMadam, just go home. There is no tomato in the market and where you see any, it costs an arm and a leg.â€ According to her, tomatoes, pepper and beefÂ had been so scarce in the past few days as a result of the strike action embarked upon by the Hausa people who bring these products from the North.
â€œAh, are you just hearing that? Itâ€™s been in the news for sometime,â€ said Amaka, to which Eno replied: â€œActually, I heard it in passing and I did not know the gravity of it. Anyway, I had to make do with just canned tomato and you know itâ€™s not just the same as the fresh one. By the way, what did the strikers say is their grouse?â€
As expected, every attention was turned to Eno now, all other discussions were put on hold as it were. Everyone wanted to contribute to the discussion. Replying to Enoâ€™s question, another commuter by name, Henry said: â€œI heard they embarked on strike because of the alleged molestation and extortion by the police and men of Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA). And do you blame them? Why should Police and LASTMA keep harassing innocent people going about their legitimate business? I have always said it, we donâ€™t need the police on our roads and LASTMA guys should receive training on how to handle the public. The police is not there to protect anyone or to control traffic but to extort money from motorists and cause traffic jam while at it.â€
â€œNo, I think we still need the police on our roads to maintain law and order. There are still some decent ones among them who are conscientiously doing their job,â€ Amaka said.
â€œYes, those are not found at the check points. These ones on the roads are so aggressive that they are ready to shoot and kill you if you donâ€™t give them money,â€ countered Henry.
â€œTo be honest, I like what these people have done. It is a way of saying, Hey! Enough is enough. I wish commercial vehicle drivers will do the same to stop all the numerous levies they pay to touts and police.
Some drivers pay as high as N1,000 to the touts just to pick passengers from a park and then at every bus-stop where he stops to let passengers alight, he pays between N40 and N100. Also the police collect theirs at every check point. Meanwhile, it is the commuters who bear the burden as fares are hiked arbitrarily,â€ said Udoh.
Stated Henry: â€œIâ€™m sure they will call off the strike soon because they too are suffering. They need buyers for these products so they could use the money to buy other things they need. I think they have driven home their point. Over to the relevant authorities. People have complained so much about LASTMA. I know the government will do something fast to address the problem.â€
â€œOn a lighter note,â€ said Fidelis, â€œI was coming back to Lagos one day when the police stopped me somewhere after Benin. I was angry at the way one of them jumped in front of my car out of nowhere. I would have hit him if I didnâ€™t apply my brakes suddenly. I made up my mind not to give them anything. He asked for my particulars which I gave him. For sure, he was not interested in those. He saw a Bible on my dashboard and asked if I was a pastor to which I replied in the negative.
He said to me: â€˜Even that Bible you are carrying says you should settle with your adversary while on the way to court, otherwise he will hand you over to the judge.â€™ I asked him if he was the devil because the Bible says the devil is my adversary.â€ At this, everyone began to laugh.