By Adekunle Adekoya
TODAY, I continue my exploration of the activities of non-state actors in our dear country and how they have contributed to making daily experience “nasty, brustish and short” for the masses of our people. Such non-state actors include the labour unions, but my radar is on the transport unions.
To be realistic, the Nigerian state has been very remiss in its responsibilities as it regards the movement of people, goods and services from one part of the country to another. Transportation is still mainly by road and except in the riverine areas, not much transportation is done by water, despite abundance of inland water bodies and existence of inland waterways authorities.
The power elite, from one government to another, has preferred to focus attention on the development of air transportation, witnessed by unending airport projects embarked upon by many state governments. Many more are still in the pipeline, including those that are just not economically viable.
We were making progress in rail transportation and people had begun enjoying train rides until terrorists took over, started derailing trains and kidnapping passengers. With aviation fuel shooting up the cost of air travel, going by road now remains the only option. In the towns and cities, commuting from one part to another involves the use of mini-buses (danfo in Lagos), tricycles (keke), and motorcycles (okada).
The only intervention done by government in this very crucial sector, apart from road construction, is the building of motor parks in various parts of our towns and cities. After building the motor parks, governments retreat and leave the running of the parks in the hands of transport unions.
In no time, the parks become depots of drug use, abuse, and other anti-social activities and are places where people who value their safety keep their distance from. Do a check in your town or city, and see just how friendly the motor parks are. If you are not “one of them”, or are not wise to their ways, you’ll discover in no time that you’ve just entered a different world where people operate by a code of conduct that is completely at variance with what we desire in a good, functioning society.
From Lagos to Lafia, Kano to Calabar, Abuja to Ibadan, they are in evidence, making life uneasy for their fellow citizens as they pursue their own means of livelihood. At every junction or bus stop, these actors enable street traders to display their wares on the paved road, thereby shrinking the space for motorists.
The shrunken space slows down traffic, which in time develops into a long stretch of vehicles backed up and traffic is jammed. At the head of the line are men of the transport unions demanding and collecting money from drivers of passenger buses and tricycles. The display of antics by the drivers to avoid paying worsen the traffic jams.
While the traffic is crawling, people hawking anything from edibles to wearables move in-between the stranded vehicles, shoving their wares in the faces of tired passengers. In no time, other beneficiaries of this undesirable situation came up- — the traffic robbers.
Pairs, trios, or quartets of traffic robbers move from one car to another, robbing motorists trapped in unmoving traffic of their possessions. The gall in all of these is that uniformed security men, when present, do not seem to know what their compatriots are going through as they too have found ways to benefit from the chaos created by men of the transport unions on our roads, in our towns and cities.
Lagos, the centre of excellence is where these scenarios play out most. In the wake of the crisis in the Lagos chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, the state government weighed in by setting up a Parks Management Committee headed by one of the parties in the NURTW crisis.
“Give them an inch, they take a yard,” sang the late Bob Marley in one of his evergreen albums. That committee has since distributed reflective flyers to its members, and they have spilled onto Lagos roads, creating traffic jams where none existed, and worsening already existing ones. Now, all roads are parks! Every truck is made to pay sums ranging from N500 to N2,000, within a distance of just one or two kilometres.
The truck drivers, most of who can’t understand why they should pay for using roads built with funds from their taxes, stop in the middle of the road while they engage the collectors in an altercation. Soon, traffic backs up behind them, and traffic robbers prey on other motorists trapped in the traffic hold-up Is this governance?
Is this what the people of Nigeria, especially those in Lagos, voted for? This is already on-going for months in parts of Lagos like Apapa, Old Ojo Road, and others. On the Isheri-Iba-LASU Expressway, in the Igando area, they are even bolder. They mount roadblocks, at which they extort money from truck drivers.
In which country of the world do transport unions mount roadblocks? This MUST not continue. Now that we can’t fly, boats are capsizing on the waterways, terrorists are blocking highways and kidnapping people, are we just going to remain in our houses and wait for food to come to us? Let somebody do his/her job, PLEASE!