By Brown Chimezie

The sit-at-home protest embarked upon by transport bus owners along the Mile 2-Seme-Badagry Expressway axis in Lagos, yesterday, claimed the life of a junior secondary school student of Oko Afo Ilogbo Eremi School, in Olorunda Local Council Development Area of the state.

According to a witness, the young boy in JSS1 and his mates were waiting for a bus after school but, because of the strike, there was no bus in sight. So, some of the pupils begged for a lift from private car owners while others crowded into a rickety Dyna truck carrying bamboo. The student, who couldn’t find space in the vehicle, decided to stay on the tailboard of the mini truck.

A passerby, who identified himself simply as Koleosho, said that when the truck got to Pure Water bus stop, by Area K Police Command, along Badagry Expressway, it ran into a pothole, which made the little boy to lose balance and his hand moved from the iron bar he was clinging on to. And he fell off the van, hitting his head on the ground.

It was further gathered that some good Nigerians rushed him to the school but before they could get medical attention, he gave up the ghost.

When Daily Sun got to the school yesterday, a pall of sadness hung over the premises as pupils and teachers discussed the bad news in low tones. No one was willing to talk to the reporter.

Some of the commuters who spoke to Daily Sun explained that the crisis has brought hardship on them as they pay exorbitant fares to motorbike operators to get to their destinations. Other residents, who could not afford the motorcycle fare, were left with no option than to trek several kilometres even under the scorching sun.

A stranded commuter, who identified himself as Emmanuel Onyeisi, said: “We, the masses, are the people suffering whatever argument and disagreement between the union and the commercial bus drivers. Those people who use their personal vehicles are not experiencing what we are passing through at the moment. We are pleading with all parties involved to sheathe their swords for our sake.”

The yellow bus owners had withdrawn their buses from the road since Thursday last week to protest what they described as increase in the levies to road transport unions in the state.

In a related development, okada riders and bus owners clashed in the Oko Afo area of the expressway yesterday. The bus owners, it was gathered, were trying to force okada riders to join the strike when the problem started.

Mr. Babalola Ogun, who spoke on behalf of the commercial bus owners, said that the N1,000 levy imposed on them by officials of the road unions, instead of the N500 they used to pay, had become unbearable.

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He said that, besides the levy, the deplorable condition of the busy international route, particularly from the Agbara end, was an eyesore. He lamented that the failed portions have gravely affected their vehicles, forcing many of them to visit the mechanic workshops almost on a daily basis.

“Every day, our vehicles break down and we use all our proceeds to fix them, yet government, which has failed over the years to fix the same road, will allow road unions to lick us dry. This is unacceptable because the drivers sometimes go home without any money to feed their family members,” he complained.

Ogun warned that, unless the hike in levy is reversed to what it used to be, members of the bus owners’ association would not return to the roads to resume their trade.
He further appealed to commuters to exercise patience as the matter would soon be resolved.

“We know that millions of commuters are going through pains as a result of the exercise. We need to take these steps to resolve the matter once and for all,” he said.

Giving further insight into why the commercial bus drivers revolted, Ogun said it was an operation carried out to liberate their members from extortion by road unions, police, Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) and other security operatives who mount multiple checkpoints on the route: “Every day, we pay up to N600 per trip. What actually triggered this protest was increase of the ticket and other levies from N500 to N1,000. This is apart from other amounts we pay to police, LASTMA officials and other security operatives on the road. Most times, we go home with nothing. We have decided that we cannot continue to work for these officials, who are supposed to be guiding us,” he said.

On the way forward, Ogun called on Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to address the matter urgently by restricting tickets to motor parks. He said it amounts to extortion when commercial bus operators pay for ticket at motor parks and at the same time pay at every bus stop along the way.

He said: “After paying at Badagry central motor parks, we also pay at Muwo, Aradagun, Ile Epo, Oko Afo, Church Gate, Iyana Ibiye, Agbara, Vespa, Iyana Era, Okoko and so on. By what we pay at these various points, how much will be our take-home?”

Zonal chairman, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria  (RTEAN), Okon Afo, Alhaji Arigbabowo, told Daily Sun that the new ticket tagged Lagos State Development Levy was introduced by Lagos State government to replace the tickets issued by local governments in motor parks within the state.

Arigbabowo said, contrary to speculations that the ticket costs N1,000, it is for only N800, and it covers the bus throughout the state for the whole day.

Arigbabowo called on transport operators to return to work in order to assuage the hardships being faced by commuters.