By Evelyn Usman, Bose Adelaja and Idowu Olaide
The Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) is again in the news on a sad note, following the death of a bus conductor last Thursday at old toll gate along the Lagos/Ibadan expressway.
The conductor identified as Rasheed Alabi met his unprepared end about 9am, after he was allegedly pulled down from a moving commercial bus with plate number XZ 78 AGL by LASTMA officials, for refusing to part with N50. In the process, Rasheed was crushed by an oncoming vehicle.
The incident sparked off violence at the ever- busy area as aggrieved commercial bus drivers took to the streets, protesting the death of Rasheed. One of the LASTMA officials would have been lynched but for the timely intervention of policemen.
Investigations by Crime Guard showed that the old toll gate incident was not the first of its kind in Lagos. A similar incident occurred on March 25, 2010, at Jakande gate in Ejigbo area of Lagos,where life was snuffed out of a commercial bus driver, Benjamin Igbokwe.
The late Igbokwe who was in the company of one of his sons, Somtochukwu , who served as the bus conductor, had worked as a bus driver for two years before tragedy struck.
On the fateful day, reports said on reaching Iyana-Ejigbo, the bus driver was flagged down by a LASTMA official. But his son was quoted as saying his father was not aware. Immediately, LASTMA officials reportedly chased the vehicle on a motorcycle and on reaching Jakande gate, one of the officials was said to have hit Benjamin repeatedly on the head from the motorcycle.
Eye witnesses alleged that Igbokwe was hit with a fetish ring, over claim by the LASTMA official that Benjamin left his door opened. Mr Igbokwe reportedly bled from the nose and mouth and to the shock of all, gave up the ghost on the spot.
Reacting to his death, a mob descended on the LASTMA officials on sight, beating one of them to a state of unconsciousness. Few days before the incident, another reportedly occurred at Pako junction, Oke-Afa which also sparked off another round of reactions from bus drivers and motorcyclists.
Although management of the agency had several times claimed it had trained and retrained its officials . Sadly, the impact of the training seem not to be displayed by some over zealous LASTMA officials who are accused of taking cover under the fact that the agency is government owned .
An interview conducted by Crime Guard showed a conspicuous resentment and deep ill- feelings by commercial bus drivers towards LASTMA officials . In fact, some members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers(NURTW) said actions and duties of some of the officials did not conform with its stipulated functions and therefore called on the state government to call the agency to order.
According to one of the commercial drivers, Mr. Babatunde Kasali, “What the officials of LASTMA did to that very conductor at old toll-gate last week, was not right. It was wrong for a human being to drag his fellow being from a moving bus just for another vehicle to smash him to death.
It is very bad because government did not direct them to go and kill people. We want the state government to investigate the incident and the assailants dealt with. Some of the officials are thugs in the society without good training. But we, commercial drivers and conductors, are begging government to embark on proper investiga
tion over the matter and remove thugs from the agency.
The officials should be mandated to do the right thing at the right time because this case of killing by LASTMA is getting too much. Imagine, there was a day at Ikeja along, I saw LASTMA officials engaging in a fight with an okada. Does that project the agency in a good light?
Another driver, Mr. Taiwo Odunbanjo said: “Some LASTMA officials are simply over zealous. At times, they stop buses on motion when they are in need of money. And when they stop us, they find every avenue to nail us. That was how they killed the conductor. They are also too much on the road without meaningful impact”.
Mr Jelili who claimed to have been in transportation business for long could not hide his displeasure over the action of the the officials last Thursday. Without mincing words, he said, “ I think the agency should be scrapped. LASTMA is a problem to us.
I don’t know the kind of power Lagos State government gave to them that makes them behave in such manner . I want government to abolish the agency because when there was no LASTMA, we were living in peace. But since it started operation, it has been hell for us commercial bus drivers.”
Mr. Ibiloye Olowe, a bus conductor lamented the dehumanizing way they were being treated by the officials. Commenting on the death of his colleague, Ibiloye said , “ I never got to know about the incident until the following day. My question is, how long will this continue?
We go through hell on their hands. At times, most of them leave their posts to other places simply because they want to extort money from us. At times some of them would be posted to Oshodi, for instance, but you end up seeing them at Iyana-Ipaja.
That is not even our business. But our pain is that they arrest us anyhow and anywhere. In fact, the fear of LASTMA is the beginning of trauma for all bus drivers and conductors in Lagos state”.
Another bus conductor, Mr. Razaki Ajumobi , condemned the alleged killing of the conductor by officials of the agency. According to him,“My concern about the incident is that government should not allow those concerned to go scot-free. They should be charged to a competent court of law.
All they do is just to extort money from us as if we are their moving ATM machines. We also hear some of them are into daily contribution. Some contribute as much as N10,000 daily from the money they extort from us. They do not consider the fact that we are apprentices. Whether you park right or wrong, they do not care to know. All they do is to collect N5,000 and above from anyone arrested.
Also airing his view on the death of the bus conductor, Mr. Gbenga Lawrence, owner of some buses at one of the garages in Iyana-Ipaja said, “ what more can you expect from hoodlums? It is obvious that majority of LASTMA officials are hoodlums.
We want government to review their activities so that responsible people who can really do the job and understand the duties would be recruited into the agency. This is because most of them are discharging their duties wrongly.
One of the duties of LASTMA is to control traffic-jam but now If a vehicle develops fault on the road, LASTMA would impound the vehicle without first helping the stranded driver out of the road. LASTMA is cancerous, the agency should be disbanded or the officials made to undergo good training”.
For Kehinde Ajala, a graduate who said he opted for a conductor job after several years of fruitless search, “ it is a pity one of our colleagues is gone. I believe the state government had a good intention for establishing the agency. But like every organization which has bad egg, LASTMA is no exception.
My contention here is the presence of armed mobile policemen who usually accompanied LASTMA officials. Sometime last year, one of the policemen shot a fellow policeman at Ijesha bus stop simply because he tried to intervene when the vehicle he was in was impounded by LASTMA officials.
Why take to violence when other measures like taking down the plate number of erring vehicles could be a better option? I would also want to suggest that the arrest and subsequent court hearing into the murder of the conductor be made public as that would go a long way to show that the state government is against their excesses.
For example, we read that only one LASTMA official was handed over to the police as against three
earlier claimed. Even though I appreciate the fact that they have helped in controlling traffic, I condemn the act of the officials taking laws into their hands and sending people to their early graves.”