A fresh crisis may be brewing in the public transportation sector in Lagos State as the newly-signed new traffic law takes effect throughout the state Monday.
The state chapter of the National Union of Road and Transport Workers (NURTW) Saturday declared that the state government had no right to sack its members from operating in the garages and motor parks as stipulated by the law without proper consultation with the union, saying there was no dispute between it and the government.
The Lagos State Government had on Friday restricted the union from operating in the various parks and garages in the state, directing the union to find offices outside the garages for its activities.
But speaking with THISDAY in an interview yesterday, the chairman of the NURTW in the state, Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede, said his union had not been sacked and will continue to carry out its operations in the various motor parks and garages scattered across the State as a registered union.
The state's Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, who made the pronouncement at a joint media briefing at the Balgauda Kaltho Press Centre, Alausa, Ikeja, where the state's Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, interpreted the law, said the transport unions are free to operate but not within the garages.
He said the intention of new law was not to punish anybody but was hinged on the need to ensure safety and security of all in the state. Ipaye also said that all commercial vehicle operators would be given 30-day grace to re-certify their papers and be properly registered to operate commercial public transportation business in the state under the new law.
"All operators - owners, drivers and conductors - must now be registered. Twenty-one centres have been opened for the registration where they will be issued with drivers and conductors badges as well as the hackney number of their vehicles," he had said.
The commissioner, who also added that the government would soon commence the re-recognition of motor parks, maintained that all illegal parks would no longer be allowed.
The NURTW chairman said: "We are law-abiding citizens of Nigeria and are contributing our quota to the transportation system in Lagos. NURTW is a registered trade union which has the backing of the law.
"It is not an illegal union. We are not banned and we have not done anything to warrant being sacked from the garages. If you are sacking us from the garages, where do you want us to go? The garage is the home of vehicles unless you are telling us to move our vehicles from the garages."
Agbede asked rhetorically: "When the government started the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), did they move the operations of their staff from the BRT parks?"
Maintaining that NURTW had not done anything to warrant the decision of the government, Agbede said the State Government ought to have consulted with the union before going ahead to make the pronouncement which he described as misleading.
"I've been receiving numerous calls from people everywhere since the pronouncement was made Friday afternoon in Alausa by the commissioner. I am confirming now that we are not banned and cannot be sacked from the garages just like that. We are meeting with the commissioner on Monday over the matter after which we shall make our position clear on the matter. But I'm appealing to our members to remain calm and go about their normal business while assuring the public that there is no cause for alarm," he said.
Ipaye, who gave an interpretation of the law at the media briefing on Friday, had advised residents of the state not to be afraid of the law, which, according to him, was meant "to protect our lives."
He disclosed that the law that was signed by Governor Babatunde Fashola last Thursday replaces the old traffic law of 1949 which was last amended in 1994.