Some commercial drivers plying the Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos State and its environs, on Tuesday, protested alleged harassment and extortion by personnel of the Lagos State Task Force on Environment and Special Offences Unit.
The drivers, who carried placards with various inscriptions, left commuters stranded for hours.
The drivers noted that over 30 buses were impounded on Monday by the agency in the Ojodu-Berger area of the state.
While urging the Lagos State Government to scrap the agency, the drivers alleged that personnel of the task force usually extorted between N40,000 and N50,000 whenever their buses were impounded.
One of the drivers, Abel Ayoade, told PUNCH Metro that the agency’s illegal operation had made life unbearable for the commercial motorists.
He stated, “The officers usually come out as early as 5am and start impounding vehicles, which they take them to their office in Oshodi, and we have to pay between N40,000 and N50,000 before each bus can be released.
“So, we decided to withdraw our services today (Tuesday) to protest the illegal activities as well as bring them to the attention of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the relevant authorities so that they caution the task force men.
“The harassment and extortion must stop; they are getting unbearable. We have families to fend for. We are not armed robbers; that is why we are doing legitimate work.”
Another driver, Tajudeen Owolabi, told newsmen that one of his colleagues, who took off from Ojodu Berger and was heading for Sango, was stopped by the task force personnel in the Agege area of the state and had to pay N5,000 before his vehicle was released.
He said, “The bus was later released to him after he parted with N5,000; this is what we are battling with on a daily basis; most of the money we make goes to the task force personnel, who arrest and impound vehicles indiscriminately.
“It was like a war on Monday when the task force men stormed our park despite that we are not on the road; we were in the garage built for us by the state government. Some of my colleagues have relocated to their states of origin, because of the stress of the transport business in Lagos, while some have taken to other businesses.
“It was after the task force officials had left that we were able to bring out our buses, and we decided to withdraw our vehicles from the road, so as to send a warning to our national Chairman and the state Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers to see to our plight on a.”
One of the drivers, who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “I am tired of the harassment; we are all Nigerians and we contribute to the development of the state; we don’t have another business to carter for our family members.
“I am begging the state governor to save us from the constant harassment, because we don’t drive against the traffic and we are not parking on the roadside.”
Reacting to the allegations by the drivers, the Public Relations Officer for the task force, Adebayo Taofiq, stated that the drivers were responsible for the gridlock being experienced in the state.
He said, “In as much as the drivers are not ready to comply with the state’s traffic law, they will continue having problems with the state traffic law enforcement agencies, particularly the task force.
“The drivers cannot differentiate between a garage and a bus stop; most of them will line up at designated bus stops and turn them to garages, which the state government will not tolerate.
“If drivers are arrested, they are always arraigned before the mobile court; there are instances of some persons impersonating the task force personnel, but we use to tell them that our men have their jackets with their names inscribed on them.
“If the drivers are ready to comply with the law, then, the government is ready to allow them to work. There is no room for extortion and nobody is harassing them unnecessarily. What we are telling them is to comply with the law and if any one of them feels that they were unduly harassed, they have the right to approach the chairman of the task force at our office at Bolade, Oshodi, to lodge a complaint.”