FREE THE BRT LAGBUS 5 CAMPAIGN
FREE THE BRT LAGBUS 5 CAMPAIGN
By Chinedu Bosah, Lagos
Five workers of the Lagbus, one of the two companies that run BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) scheme in Lagos State, have been arrested and detained by the police since Monday, August 17, 2009 for embarking on strike and peaceful protest march for improved conditions of service. The incarcerated workers are Mark Marvelous, Okosi Jeffery, Taiwo Toyin, Olarewaju Babatunde, and Anifowoshe Yusuf. The demands of the workers are: an end to contract staffing, an insurance policy for all operational staff, increment of workers salary by 100%, condition of service for workers, reduction of work hours from 80 hours to 40 hours per week, immediate reinstatement of all workers unjustly sacked etc.
The management (Lagbus Asset Management Limited) has always played games with the demands until workers took independent actions in the face of the reluctance of their union (AUCPTRE) leadership. Immediately the strike commenced the management and the Lagos State Government deployed over 200 armed police men in to break the strike. The police deployed from a special anti-robbery out fit, Rapid Response Squad (RRS) started shooting at workers including hitting the protesters with rifle butts and subsequently arrested 5 of them. Workers who protested along the Ikorodu-Owode Onirin road were over 200 as at when the arrests were affected.
The BRT scheme is a creation of the Lagos State government, but privately run under the public-private partnership. In other words, the government only used public funds, goodwill and landed property for the advancement of private interest creating a scenario whereby certain individuals in government and their private friends become beneficiaries of the profits made. It is one of those things the Fashola-led Action Congress (AC) government in Lagos State is priding itself for. Governor Fashola of Lagos State is often regarded as the only performing Governor on account of so-called developmental projects he has executed and his agenda of turning Lagos into a mega city.
But the BRT transport scheme is one area of Governor Fashola’s “mega city agenda” which epitomizes the ruthlessly anti-poor, anti-worker and profit oriented nature of the Action Congress government in Lagos State. The scheme is marred by massive exploitation of workers, flagrant disregard for labour laws in the employment of workers and abysmal conditions of service. For example, there are about 500 contract staff, with about 300 regular staff, and Lagbus’s 4 contractors are Driving Solution Limited, EXCEL, NURTW and RTEAN. The management started employing workers particularly the bus captains (drivers) on a contract basis from June 2008 when workers who were employed directly started agitation for a better welfare package. This action of management is devised in to drive down wage. RTEAN (one of the contractors) pays its workers N6 per odometer, which has made workers not to earn beyond N15, 000 monthly while other contract staff as well as the regular staff are paid N35, 000. Cleaners are equally employed on contract basis and are paid as low as N10, 000.
LAGBUS WORKERS STRUGGLE SO FAR
Workers had gone on strike for two days on October 17 2008 to demand provision for leave, reduction of the work hours which was 80 hours per week (16 working hours on the basis of 2 days on, 1 day off) to 40 hours per week, condition of service for all staff, increment in salary by 100 % etc. Management was forced to allow workers to go on leave starting from January 2009. After 4 months of waiting for other demands to be met, the workers embarked on another 2 days strike on April 6 2009 and management was forced to reduce the work hours to 60 hours per week (16 working hours on the basis of 1 day on, 1 day off).
The Fashola government has shown its enormous anti-workers’ postures like other state governments and the PDP federal government despite being touted as different. Recently, the Lagos government brutally suppressed agitation and strike action carried out by public sector doctors under the aegis of Medical Guild in May 2009, such that its Secretary, Dr. Maruf Agara, was beaten to a coma by mobile policemen called in by the government. On June 16 2009 3 members of Education Rights Campaign and one other activist were arrested and detained in Lagos over protesting for proper funding of education. At the moment of writing four other workers from Lagbus BRT are still detained at the Ikoyi Prison for the past one year over alleged criminal offences, and their release was one of the demands put forward by workers now.
When the lawyer approached the police on August 18 to get the 5 detained workers on bail, the police said they were acting on the orders of the Lagos State governor not to release them despite their alleged charges being eligible for bail. Constitutionally, a person is entitled to bail within 24 hours of arrest and the workers have been detained since 12 noon on Monday August 17 at the Owode police station before being transferred to Lagos Police Command Ikeja. On Tuesday August 18, 3 branch union executives were arrested and detained at 10am by the police at the Lagos State Police Command and were granted bail at about 9pm. The state officers of the union (AUPCTRE) came to get 3 of them on bail while abandoning the remaining 5 workers.
The situation calls for widespread campaign to free the incarcerated BRT Lagbus 5. Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) are playing central solidarity role to have them released. We have planned to open discussion with other groups for solidarity actions. The Union (Amalgamated Public Corporation, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Service Employees) the workers are affiliated to, particularly at the state and national level has disassociated, itself from the victimized workers and supported the attacks on their rights as deterrents to other workers from taking independent action. Unfortunately the same union has played reactionary pro-state role in the past and is continuing on that line. It is instructive to state that workers, having lost confidence in the union which has practically failed to defend workers interests, resorted to taking independent actions. In this respect, the leadership at the branch is weak while the leadership at the state and federal level has supported the suppression of the workers strike. This has placed the detained workers in a more difficult state and leaves activists with no other option but to campaign for their freedom.
We call on socialist activists and trade union leaders and members to send in protest letters, petitions and TEXT messages to the email and phone numbers below. Internationally protest letters can also be sent to Nigerian embassies. Material donations are urgently requested for the legal and political campaigns for their release.
Lagbus Asset Management Limited email address: email@example.com. Management officials phone numbers: 07041446001, 07041446002, 07041446003, 07041446003, 07041446005.
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mervel Akpoyibo: 08033011052.
Lagos State Police Public Relation Officer (PRO), Mr. Frank Mba: 08038375844.
Lagos State government officials:
Governor’s office email- firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Deputy Governors email- firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner of Information and Strategy- email@example.com