Taxi drivers in Lagos State have kicked against the state government’s “exploitative and repressive policy to emasculate the regular taxi operators” in the state.
At a press conference organized by the Joint Action Front (JAF), Wednesday, the drivers maintained that a full scale implementation of the policies would deprive them of their means of livelihood.
The taxi drivers also accused Kayode Opeifa, the Commissioner for Transportation, of forcing the new taxis – referred to as mega city taxis and which the state valued at N4.1 million – down their throats.
Text messages to Mr. Opeifa were not replied.
Taofiki Oladokun, who spoke on behalf of the taxi drivers, said that government officials began arresting taxi drivers, last year, for “illegal operation by using ‘tokunbo’ as taxis.”
Mr. Oladokun stated that after banning the ‘tokunbo’ cars (imported fairly used vehicles); the state government mandated them to buy the mega city taxis imported from China and Korea.
“We went to the House of Assembly, they (government officials) denied that they were arresting tokunbo cars.
“The Speaker told them that if we buy any tokunbo, they should inspect it before licensing it which the VIO (Vehicle Inspection Office) agree.
“They (VIO) will give us ‘Okay’ paper and it’s what we will use to collect all the papers,” said Mr. Oladokun.
While they began issuing licenses to ‘Okayed’ tokunbo taxis last year, when Mr. Opeifa was the Special Adviser on Transportation; when he was elevated to a Commissioner, he stopped issuing the licenses, the drivers say.
“He wants to use his power now that he is a commissioner,” said Mr. Oladokun.
“We have various meetings with him. At the last meeting, he walked out during the meeting.
“He was telling us ‘what do we want’?
“Then we told him that we want him to leave our work as we are doing it – when we buy tokunbo (car), inspect it with your VIO, if it is not road worthy, you should not allow painting of it.”
Mr. Oladokun said that the commissioner insisted that he does not want the use of tokunbo as taxis in Lagos State.
“He (Mr. Opeifa) told us during the meeting that in America, there is no (taxi) owner there. They are all drivers.
“If we cannot have money to buy the new one, we should all come back to him as a driver, to come and drive for him,” said Mr. Oladokun.
The problem with driving for the government, according to the drivers, is the exorbitant daily ‘deliver’ (money returned to the owner of the vehicle at the close of work) they charge.
“The deliver they are collecting from the mega city (taxi) is N5,000; while with the tokunbo we are buying, the highest deliver is N3,000.
Mr. Oladokun added that from the “daily deliver,” which is sometimes as low as N2,000, they also deduct money for the maintenance of the taxi.
“This one (the mega taxi) didn’t give us chance to do that (deduct). Then we told him (Mr. Opeifa) that we don’t want it again,” said Mr. Oladokun.
“Mr. Opeifa said that if we don’t want that, that means we are no longer driving taxi in Lagos.”
In condemning the actions of the Lagos State government, JAF demanded that the government compel the Licensing Authority not to deny any taxi operator the rights to legitimate business operation.
They also demanded that the state government should make a “clear” pronouncement on the “illegality” of banning tokunbo taxis.
Failure by the government to accede to the demand within 14 days, according to JAF, would attract a mass action.
Abiodun Aremu, JAF’s Secretary, expressed worries that the government have “bought over the leadership of the taxi drivers.”
“Government cannot create jobs for people and they are now saying that people should not operate taxis,” said Mr. Aremu.