Some commercial bus drivers along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway on Saturday stayed off the road, alleging extortion and constant manhandling by touts (Agberos).
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that no commercial buses were seen plying the roads, while passengers were seen stranded at various bus stops.
Meanwhile, commercial motorcycles are having a field day conveying passengers at rather high costs.
The commercial bus drivers had embarked on a “cease commuter operation” along the Lagos-Badagry axis up to Mile 2 area of the state, following what they termed an unbearable increment in their ticket fees.
Some commercial bus drivers, who spoke to NAN, said they would not return to work along the axis unless government intervened to address an outrageous hike in ticket fees by transport unions in Lagos.
The drivers said that unions under the aegis of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) are responsible for regulating the affairs of commercial buses in the axis.
They said that members of the unions are allegedly extorting bus drivers by collecting exorbitant ticket fees, as well as allegedly brutalising drivers who failed to cooperate with them.
According to them, the union has indiscriminately increased the price of their ticket from N500 to N800 without a warning notice.
They described the situation as unbearable especially considering the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had left a majority of bus drivers in want.
A commercial bus driver, Mr Kehinde Solomon, said that the ticket fees collected by those he described as “agberos” had become outrageous.
According to him, drivers pay different exorbitant amount of money at every bus stop, adding that members of the union collect these monies by coercion and without empathy.
He said that they often beat up drivers and conductors who delay or refuse payment and even vandalised their buses.
“Commercial bus drivers usually pay N500 at every bus stop but we are now compelled to pay N800.
“We wake up in the morning to begin to hustle for our daily bread, but at the end of the day we have no reasonable amount to go home with because it will all be spent on “agberos” at every bus stop,” Solomon said.
Another driver, Mr Felix Nwanyawu said that commercial drivers are now compelled to pay N800 at each bus stop as against the initial N500, notwithstanding whether they have conveyed passengers or not.
He said that where any driver hesitate to instantly produce the money as demanded by the union, they go as far as cracking windscreen, removing wipers, deflating tyres and even gang beat up against such driver and his conductor.
Nwanyawu described this as very oppressive and unacceptable to any right thinking citizen, and urged the Lagos State Government to come to the aid of commercial bus drivers in the state.
Another commercial bus driver, Mr Henry Anyawu said that at each bus stop from Badagry to Mile 2, he spends between N600 to N700, adding that there are about 20 or more bus stops from Badagry to Mile 2.
According to him, the recent cease commuter action was unavoidably embarked on by drivers, because the union has now introduced a new ticket of N800.
He added that drivers now spend up to N1, 000 at every bus stop.
He said that apart from the ticket fees, they also extort other amount of money, ranging from N50 to N200.
Anyawu said that after paying all these monies to “agberos” and also buying diesel for their buses, they are left with “peanut” to fend for their families.
“We work and work and at the end of the day we get nothing, so we decided that instead of continuous suffering we go on strike.
“Even when we confront and try to negotiate with these “agberos” they gang up and beat us up, and even discharge our passengers; so we need government to come to our rescue.
“We are not quarelling or fighting, we only need help; we can’t be working tirelessly and still gain nothing; it is like suffering for nothing,” he said.
He said that the strike action was also for the benefit of passengers because if there was hike in the ticket fees, there would be a corresponding hike in the cost of transportation.
He, consequently, beckoned on government to come to the rescue of commercial bus drivers in the state.
Meanwhile, some commuters who spoke with NAN described the unavailability of commercial buses as frustrating, adding that the situation had affected their businesses.
Mr Chika Nwosu a trader at the Alaba International market told NAN that he was unable to proceed to work due to the absence of buses.
He urged the authorities to wade into the issue and find a lasting solution, to enable transport activities return to normal.
Another trader Mr Peter Paulinus urged that the welfare of commercial bus drivers should be taken into consideration as a majority of workers in Lagos rely on public transport.
According to him, the absence of these means of transportation will greatly affect workers since not all workers are car owners.
On her part, Mrs Chinyere Obi, a trader also said that the strike action had affected her work as she had to trek some distances in order to meet up with her engagement.
She urged the government to quickly intervene and address the issues.
Efforts to reach the RTEAN Secretariat on phone proved abortive as there was no response to repeated calls and text messages.