The serene business environment which characterizes the popular Iyana-Iba bus stop on the Mile 2-Badagry Expressway was, on Monday shattered by sounds of multiple gunshots and cries from trapped pedestrians who were probably on their way to their respective places of work around 9am.
Unknown to most of the trapped victims, violence had broken out that Monday morning between suspected members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) operating at different parks in the area and commercial motorcyclists, also known as okada riders.
As stones and broken bottles flew like missiles, all trapped victims scampered to different directions, while the riders, who were not ready to shift grounds, went after members of the road transport workers, who, at 10am, an hour after the fracas started, were seen brandishing different types of weapons.
At the time the dust settled hours later, two persons were discovered to have been killed, many injured and several properties destroyed in the mayhem, which many said would have been avoided by a timely arrival of security operatives to the scene.
Our correspondent discovered that the fracas lasted for six hours and 45 minutes before normalcy returned to the area.
Source said the ever-busy Iyana-Iba became a nightmare between 9am and 4pm on that fateful Monday.
Different versions of what led to the bloody fracas had gone viral on the social media minutes after the area degenerated to a warzone before the arrival of joint security forces, compromising soldiers and policemen.
Windscreens of several vehicles were shattered while shops were also looted by criminal gangs hiding under the guise of the fracas.
Some were seen snatching bags from passersby while others collected phones from their owners.
How the fracas started
Some said the fracas started as a result of the refusal of an okada rider to pay the mandatory stipend to the union, while another version was that the riders, majority of who are from the North, challenged the sudden hike in the amount meant for the purchase of union tickets.
They alleged that the union increased the amount from N200 to N500 without considering the colossal amount they (riders) paid to motor park touts at the different bus stops on the same route.
It was learnt that the touts had descended heavily on a rider, who had allegedly appealed to them to be allowed to make more trips before payment for the day. It was gathered that all pleas fell on deaf ears as they unleashed terror on the poor rider in their numbers. The sight of the attack on the helpless rider attracted other riders, who used the opportunity to resist any further hike in toll collection.
A commercial bus driver, who identified himself as Emmanuel, confirmed to our correspondent that the touts resorted to the use of sticks to beat up other riders, who later joined in the free-for-all fight.
He said the situation got out of hand when one of the riders stabbed a member of the transport union.
“I heard that the union member who was stabbed later died as he was left by the side of the road,” he said.
Another commercial bus driver, Ramon Saheed, said the union members used guns when they heard that one of their members had been killed.
“In retaliation they shot dead a rider. This attracted the attention of Hausa riders from Alaba Rago, who rushed to the scene and started attacking the union members,” he added.
Soldiers from Ojo cantonment were drafted to protect their facility, while policemen from Ojo and Okokomaiko stations were drafted to restore normalcy.
Security money, multiple tickets
Many blamed security operatives saddled with the responsibility of ensuring the protection of lives and property of residents of the area.
They alleged that rather than do the job they were sent to do, they were busy extorting money from both commercial bus drivers and okada riders in the area.
They alleged that policemen on traffic duty contracted the services of union touts to collect what they term “security money’’ from operators.
Taiwo Afeez, a commercial bus driver in the area, alleged that when the fracas started, policemen at Iyana-Iba seemed not to be concerned.
“They stayed back while the crisis was raging. They couldn’t douse the tension because they also used the touts to collect money from riders,” he said.
Our correspondent who visited the area also gathered that local government officials also sell tickets to riders on a daily basis before they are allowed to work.
“On the event of an attack, riders are left to defend themselves. Local government officials increase money for the sale of tickets at will without considering the hazard of the job. This time around, the riders decided to take laws in their hands,” a witness who did not wish to be named said.
Despite the multiple tickets and money paid, their motorcycles are occasionally seized for allegedly violating the state traffic law.
“Why sell tickets to them if they are operating on illegal routes. The government empowered these union touts, who have now constituted an authority by themselves,” he added.
Seriki working for peace
Sources in the area said the Seriki Hausa of Alaba Rago had, on several occasions, brokered peace between the riders and members of the different transport unions. He also warned Hausa riders to always respect the laws of the land.
It was also learnt that the Seriki owns a good number of the motorcycles, which he gives out to the riders on hire-purchase basis.
The Lagos State police command said it had restored normalcy to the Iyana Iba/Alaba Rago and Ojo areas of the state.
Muyiwa Adejobi, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, said the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, ordered for an immediate deployment of additional police personnel to the area to maintain law and order and directed the area commander, Area E, Festac, to personally be on ground to monitor the situation and invite leaders of the affected okada rider’s unit for an urgent meeting.
“Without mincing words, the incident has no ethic colouration whatsoever, but a mere conflict between transport unions and their okada units on ticketing and increment in tariff.
“The command, therefore, enjoins members of the public, especially those around the areas, including students of the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, to go about their lawful businesses and studies respectively as adequate deployment has been done to fortify security in that axis and Lagos State in general,’’ he said.