JDWAN’s Historic Bus Drivers’ Strike in Lagos

Independent drivers fight the vested interests of Lagos government & road transport mafia

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On 31 October, the Joint Drivers’ Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN) kicked off a major bus drivers’ strike. The 7-day strike crippled transportation in several parts of the Lagos metropolis.

JDWAN affiliates and their members were protesting extortion and arbitrary charges from the major drivers’ unions and the Lagos State Parks and Management Committee. They resisted ideological and physical attacks and intimidation by police, the pro-government unions, and other bodies in road transport.

The attacks came from both the police and thugs of the unions and management committee that JDWAN was challenging. And these started on the eve of the strike and lasted for days. First was the blackmail that JDWAN’s strike was politically motivated because it supports the African Action Congress (AAC), as if the major road transport workers’ unions’ leaders were not members of and musclemen of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). Then came the laughable claim that the strike would have no effect.

But when it became clear at dawn on 31 October that the strike would have a major impact, dozens of agbèrò (as touts of the pro-establishment unions are called) swooped on local leaders of JDWAN unions in several parts of the city such as Badagry, Ijanikin, Ojodu Berger and Iyana-Era, with buses and on motorbikes.

They beat and tortured the JDWAN activists. At least three of them, which included Comrade Ashimiyu Idowu were also abducted at Iworo, in the Badagry Local Government Area.

According to Akeem Olayiwola, the AAC Lagos state gubernatorial candidate, this fascistic act was carried out by thugs who were led by Telliat Gbadamosi, (Chairman of the Agbara to Seme area motor park and garages management committee). And some of the vehicles they used for the “operation” belongs to Alhaji Sulaimon Adesina Raji, the Oniba of Iba, who is better known by the name of his transport line; “JAFO Authority”.

Some of these despicable acts took place in front of the police. But instead of arresting the aggressors, it was JDWAN members that they locked up! Members of the AAC and SWL swung into action to help secure the release of the unjustly detained unionists.

By the second day of the strike, it had dawned on the state government and their thuggish allies that they could not smash the strike. They reached out for negotiations and were quick to make promises that action would be taken to address JDWAN’s concerns.

Three days into the strike, the union leadership wanted to call it off, based on the outcome of its negotiations with the Lagos state government. The rank-and-file members refused. The union then pushed forward with the strike until it won a concrete commitment to stop the extortion. 

The Lagos State Parks and Management Committee established a task force of stakeholders to enforce this agreement, which includes nine members of JDWAN. While this victory is to be celebrated, JDWAN has to be eternally vigilant.

The forces they are confronting represent deep-seated collaborative interests of capitalists in state power and their brawn in the road transport sector.

JDWAN, which has declared its unflinching support for the African Action Congress at the 2023 polls, is the only union platform that has arisen in years with what it takes to neutralize the oppressive impact of this alliance of greed and power on struggling road transport workers.

It is a federation of independent bus operators’ unions, which include: Ibile Drivers Stakeholders Association of Nigeria (DSWAN), Mega City Drivers Welfare Association of Nigeria (MCDWA), Federal Assisted Mass Transit Incorporation (FAMTI), Owners, Drivers and Conductors Association (ODCA), Commercial Bus Drivers and Owners Operators of Lagos (CBDOP) and Mini Bus Drivers Welfare Association (MNDWA).

Their coming together was an act of resistance. The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, which are affiliated with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) respectively, are the two main unions in the sector. Each of them controls separate parks in virtually all the states.

But across the country, they have been pawns of any capitalist party in power (or fighting to win power), providing muscle for politicians. This includes being at the heart of rigging machines during elections, as thugs.

Their leaders, who are usually members of one or the other ruling parties they serve, get handsomely paid for the thuggish power they provide. And apart from such direct payment, governments also allow them to charge arbitrarily drivers significant amounts of money daily for “tickets” to operate on the road.

These transport unions’ czars never have to account for such monies, which (particularly in Lagos state) run into billions of naira every month. And since they are members of the ruling parties, many people justifiably believe that powerful politicians in states like Lagos also benefit from the largesse of these immense sums of money.

We can see the importance of these transport union bosses to the ruling parties with Lagos state, where JDWAN had to organize its first strike, with a look at the case of Musiliu Ayinde Akinsanya (aka “MC Oluomo”), Chairman of the Lagos Parks and Garages Management body, which is one of the main oppressive machineries that the JDWAN challenged.

MC Oluomo, who is an APC member and close ally of the APC’s presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is Chairman of the newly created Lagos Parks and Garages Management Committee.

The 47-year-old thug achieved notoriety as a major muscle man for the party when he became Chairman of probably the largest and wealthiest branch of the NURTW in Lagos state; the Oshodi motor park. Rival NURTW thugs stabbed him in the neck at an APC campaign rally just before the 2019 elections.

He later rose to become Chairman of the NURTW Lagos State Council, with over 100,000 members in September 2019. This was after serving as a National Vice President of the union, and Chairman of an 18-member caretaker committee set up by the national leadership after dissolving the preceding executive committee.

But his cozy relationship with the state government got to his head. He no longer saw himself as beholden to the national leadership of the NURTW. The national body accused him of insubordination, misconduct, and incitement of members. And in April 2022, it dissolved the Lagos state executive committee, under MC Oluomo’s leadership.

He tried to secede with the branch. But when this failed, the Lagos state government stepped in. With unabashed partisanship, it banned the activities of NURTW in the state and quickly set up the Parks and Garages Management Committee, with MC Oluomo as Chairman.

To maintain full control of the thuggish powers of road transport workers, the Lagos state government also moved in on the RTEAN where its main supporter, Oluwaseyi Bamgbose, the Lagos state council’s Vice-Chairman had unsuccessfully tried to remove the State Chairman, Alhaji Musa Mohammed, who also doubles as National President of RTEAN.

On 29 September, the state government seized the opportunity of violent conflicts in two of the RTEAN branches in the state that same day to unilaterally dissolved the elected association’s executives. By the following day, it inaugurated a Caretaker Committee to oversee operations in garages controlled by the association, including collecting levies. Alhaji Sulaimon Adesina Raji, the Oniba of Iba Kingdom whose buses were used for abducting JDWAN members on 31 October, was made Chairman of the committee, with Oluwaseyi Bamgbose as Deputy Chairman.

This is the sectoral concrete jungle in which the JDWAN has grown as a force for a different approach to unionism rooted in rank-and-file membership. Its successful strike action represents not only a victory for radical unionism in the sector. It will also inspire confidence in its members and other working-class people’s organizations committed to fighting for better conditions for their members and the building of a better society.

The struggle ahead for JDWAN will not be easy. But it has shown itself to be credible, dynamic, and committed to the good fight of the working class against impunity, extortion, and oppression. We will continue to support the JDWAN and the unity of working-class people in our collective struggle for self-liberation.

by Muda OGIDAN

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