How lack of proper regulation of yellow buses is subjecting residents to rights violation

How lack of proper regulation of yellow buses is subjecting residents to rights violation

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Lagos residents can no longer bear the torture, and rights abuse they suffer from the hands of Yellow Bus operators in their daily commuting activities within the state, so, they are calling on the government to step in with a regulatory framework for Danfo operators.

The transportation system in Lagos State is largely dominated by the unregulated yellow buses popularly called “Danfo”, arguably the most popular commercial shuttle in the metropolis after ‘Molue’, its counterpart, phased out.

While it is difficult to track the financial contributions to the state’s GDP, Danfo buses have been in operation long before the Rapid Bus Transport (BRT) surfaced, and have been helpful, but the modus operandi of the operators continue to pose grave threats to life.

Many residents who spoke with BDSUNDAY, expressed concerns over rights violations, dropping of passengers at unsafe locations, attitudinal issues, and criminal acts such as robbery. They want the government to regulate the sector not only to prevent these incidences, but to monitor and track their operations.

Precious Okpara, a factory worker, told BDSUNDAY that many of the drivers and conductors lack proper communication ethics, and complained of high rates of verbal abuse. “There is verbal abuse from the drivers and they also lack a moral standard of communication.

“Then, there is something they do, they tell you that they are going to Oshodi, and they drop you at nearest convenient bus stop for them, and not for you as a passenger. So you might sometimes have to take extra money for transportation,” she adds.

Speaking on how the lives of citizens are endangered, and people dropped off at unsafe locations, Okpara said two of her colleagues have been robbed and both robberies were carried out by Danfo bus operators.

“Where they dropped her was not safe for her,” Okpara recounts her colleague’s ordeal. “She was dropped somewhere around Ogudu-Ketu axis leading towards Mile 12. Trekking down from there to board another bus, she was robbed of her belongings. She fought, but she was hit in her lower abdomen so she could be weak for them to collect what they want,” she said.

She said ‘junction-marriage’ was another problem that is common among Danfo operators, as it leaves passengers stranded most times. Junction-marriage, according to her is “when you alight, they pair you with different people, to go and sort yourselves out [on change]. Intentionally, they do those things because they reserve the change for other people, and keep others stranded.”

Okpara who has been living in the megacity for 12 years has had many ugly tales dealing with conductors and Danfo drivers. Her story corroborates with an Air Peace staff, who gave her name as Blessing.

Blessing said her worst experience with yellow bus operators was on change (balance). She narrates that her change was not given to her when she arrived at her bus stop despite persistently asking for it while still onboard the bus.

“I’ve been asking for my change. They didn’t answer me; he kept saying there was no change. He actually had change, but he did want to let go. So when I got to where I was going to, he said he was looking for change. The driver came down and said they were looking for change. But before I knew it, I couldn’t find them again. He was gone, and the bus was gone,” she said.

Blessing admitted to BDSUNDAY that she has many bad experiences with them. Apart from not being given her change, a conductor on another occasion verbally abused her, and attempted to beat her up. “But the people that were there didn’t allow him to. I don’t know what would have happened if they were not there,” she said.

“Most of them are very rude. Most of them are criminals, they are thieves. If they have a way of cheating you, or running away with your money, they will do it. If they have a way of bullying you, they do it,” she adds.

As a Lagos resident, a necessary skill for survival is the ability to jump in and out of a moving bus as the drivers are sometimes never patient enough to stop for passengers to either enter or alight, said Anuoluwapo Thomas, who got injured when she was forced to jump out.

In a situation she described as tug-of-war, it is perilous for anyone who is not skilled enough. “There was a time I got injured from a bus when I wanted to get down at Oshodi. When they want to drop passenger, they hardly wait. To alight from a bus is always a tug of war. Sometimes you are dragged out, or forced to jump out of a moving bus because the drivers are not always patient enough to stop for you to get down well,” she told BDSUNDAY.

Exploitation is part of the game, and it is done better in the area of fares. Thomas said the government should make rules and regulations especially in the area of the fare. She said they [drivers and conductors] increase the fare at will, especially when there are a lot of people at the bus stops.

“They just increase and nobody can say anything about it. There is nothing you can do because you have to get to your destination. Many of them behave like touts,” said Thomas.

Narrating another incident, Prosper Onos, an IT expert, said they compelled him to wear a seatbelt that was not working. “This happened with several of the yellow buses on the way to Oshodi not just one, so it’s a culture,” he said.

“They tell you to get down from their bus or go to the less comfortable metal constructed back seats if you can’t pretend to wear the seat belt to fool traffic law enforcement agents. If you refuse, you will either get beaten or forcefully thrown out halfway. This is your fate as a passenger unless you can exercise some superiority in physical combat,” he said.

Onos further revealed that the seat belts on the drivers’ side seat are sometimes working, but they leave those of the passengers’ in disrepair.

A human rights expert, Abiodun Baiyewu, Executive Director of Global Rights Nigeria, who spoke to BDSUNDAY, confirmed that failure of the government to regulate the sector exposes citizens to human rights violations; stating that most of the issues that arise in transportation are largely contractual issues and the failure of the government to force the rule of law.

“For example, a transporter having agreed to ply your route should not be able to decide halfway that he is no longer interested and wants to pick another passenger instead, or charge arbitrarily when there is a scarcity of buses,” she said.

Regulation: Nairobi and Kumasi experience

Yellow buses are to Lagosians exactly what the matatu is to Kenyans in Nairobi. Just like Danfo, in addition to a driver, matatu may be staffed by a conductor known as a makanga. In Kenya, the matatu had been linked with criminality or reckless driving, and were viewed by Kenyans as thugs who exploited and mistreated passengers and participated in gang violence. Kenyans also experienced mistreatment such as verbal and physical abuse, theft, hijacking, sexual harassment, beatings, and rape were also reported.

Today, Kenya is said to have stricter and extensive regulatory controls, such that a matatu worker can be pulled from the streets and handed over to the police. Also, an individual matatu operator must be associated with one of the over 600 independent, government-registered matatu savings and credit co-operative societies (SACCOs). Seatbelts and speed governors are also serious requirements.

Christopher Wajurungu, a retired matatu operator, now working with a radio station in Nairobi, told BDSUNDAY that makanga these days behave themselves, look corporate, respect people and are well respected too, unlike what was obtainable during their days as matatu operator where commercial drivers and conductors usually had a field day in whatever they did.

“Every bus conductor is well known by the government and no one can misbehave,” Wajurungu said during a telephone conversation with BDSUNDAY.

In Kenya, matatu operators and their conductors (makanga) are usually certified by the government through SACCO society they belong.

Both drivers and conductors have their unique codes largely visible on their identity cards they must carry about all the time. They are equally neat and courteous in addressing their passengers, a good memory one of these reporters had while in Nairobi.

“Government can withdraw the operating licence of any SACCO whose matatu staff misbehaves”, Wajurungu said.

In Kumasi, Ghana, similar bus is operated, referred to as “trotro”. Like matatu and danfo, trotro conveys more commuters around the city than any other transport facility available.

Similar to what is obtainable in Nairobi, trotro are regulated and monitored by the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU), which collaborates with the government to keep sanity in the system. In conjunction with the government, GPRTU sets parametres for attitudinal behaviours, fares to be charged by trotro operators across different routes, and other things.

“Yes they are regulated in a way but not totally,” said Korsi Asiseh, a Kumasi-based veteran journalist.

Although there level of tolerance and courtesy might not match what is obtainable in Nairobi, trotro crew members are equally disciplined, respectful and courteous.

“You can report bad attitude by drivers and mates [conductors] to the GPRTU for disciplinary action to be taken” said Asiseh.

But danfo operators in Lagos seem to be pampered as there are no regulations governing their operations. This empowers them to the disadvantage of citizens’ vulnerability, as efforts to regulate the sector by previous administrations failed.

Baiyewu explains that in this situation, citizens’ right to dignity, right to bodily integrity, and freedom from discrimination are violated. “Right to dignity would suggest that the use of insulting language is completely forbidden and that people get treated with some respect. Right to bodily integrity also suggests that you cannot manhandle a passenger like a lot of transporters do.

“Right to discrimination suggests that a transporter for example cannot decide that a person cannot sit on a type of seat based on their gender, age, socioeconomic status, etc., or that they can refuse to transport you simply because they do not like your face or something about you or your destination,” Baiyewu explained.

What the constitution says

As stated earlier, it is no longer news that criminal activities have been linked to Danfo operators, most notably is the ‘one chance’ which many Lagos residents have fallen victims. Hence, the citizens demand for protection. “If the government can come in with some regulations, things might be easy for us,” said James Onaji, a Lagos resident.

“The Nigerian constitution in Section 17 states clearly that the policies of government must be humane. The failure to institute laws and regulations to protect the rights of citizens therefore may be interpreted as being inhumane and may result in mayhem in the sector. Government therefore ought to institute laws and regulations that protect consumer rights,” said Baiyewu.

John Chukwudi, an Ogun State-based legal practitioner, said the only case that can be conveniently taken against a bus driver or conductor is when such individual assaults their client. But that a case of verbal insult, dropping off a passenger at a different location cannot be adequately established.

According to him, the driver may deny any verbal insult, claims dropping off a passenger at another location were the other viable option left after series of vehicle challenge and it was not done with bad intention or the ‘forced marriage’ was the only option left. The bus operators may equally claim they had warned the passenger before boarding the vehicle of his inability to provide change.

“If there is no criminal intention for dropping a passenger at a different location, it is a breach of contract and law of contract will come in”

The law is more technical than we think. The driver may claim his action was the last resort, and so his lawyer will bring in the doctrine of necessity.

“But if it is a physical assault, the general law of assault comes in irrespective of who is involved,” Chukwudi said on a telephone discussion with BDSUNDAY.

The Nigerian Consumer Protection Council is the only body that protects consumers in Nigeria, but it is unclear whether its jurisdiction covers the informal sector which the yellow buses fall under.

Asked if residents are protected by the council against physical abuse, verbal abuse, a source from the council said such cases are not within the council’s purview. “Those are not within our purview,” she said. “Our purview is in receiving service for what you have paid for. So if you didn’t get a service, you can report that.”

When these journalists reminded her that passengers don’t sometime get dropped at their destinations after payment, she said: “The person that is complaining should be able to complain, and we’ll look at it and know what it is. You say drop somewhere and not drop somewhere, is the place a bus stop you want to drop? So there are so many things to look at. When the person complains, there are ways we go about it. So I really cannot answer this thing you are saying by that.”

While there is a lack of data on the activities of danfo drivers and conductors in Lagos, efforts made towards finding out if arrests have been made after a crime by these operators were reported; if they get licenced before commencing operations, were not fruitful.

“Government does not pay attention to public transport sector at all. Because in other countries, drivers are educated, even if they don’t pass through the walls of an education system, there are schemes provided to train them on how bus drivers should behave,” Okpara said.

 

Desmond Okon & Joseph Maurice Ogu



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