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Passenger manifest policy in road transport business in Lagos, elsewhere…

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SEGUN KASALI goes on the trail of issues trailing the passenger manifest policy in the road transportation business. His findings point to a policy shrouded in secrecy and controversies.

 

LIKE the aircraft passenger manifest that is compulsory before a flight can take off, vehicle passenger manifest, too, is compulsory under the National Road Traffic Regulations and the law setting up the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) before any inter-state journey.

But while the procedure is religiously observed for air travellers, same cannot be said of road users. Saturday Tribune’s quest to find out why it is so with the mode of transportation which, by far, has the highest ratio of patronage, showed that a combination of factors, especially the alleged dark cloud over the money being paid the road unions by drivers, had over time, grown “I don’t care” attitude in drivers and passengers who are directly connected to the manifest and should be the beneficiaries of the benefits it supposedly provides.

 

What is vehicle manifest?

A certain Mr Debo, a Vehicle Passenger Manifest Administrator at Ojota Park, said the manifest is usually in two copies, original (white) and the duplicate (pink), adding that the original copy is given to the driver who will in turn give it to the traffic regulators on request.

“The Vehicle Passenger Manifest, as it is called, is titled National Road Traffic Regulation Reg 51. It is given to know the number of passengers on board in case of unexpected happenings. It is usually requested by safety officials on the road to different destinations. Unfortunately, some of the passengers fail to drop their details for reasons best known to them. When such happens and the road safety officials notice that the number of passengers is more than the number of names on the manifest, they usually ask those who refused to drop their details at the park and loading location, to disembark from the vehicle. This has been done a couple of times. There was a time when a call came that three passengers were asked to disembark by the officials but there was nothing we could do because the warning was sounded to them prior to the situation they found themselves”, Mr Debo said.

He explained further that they (manifest administrators) are basically employees under the control of a supervisor who works directly with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), adding that duplicated copies of the manifest are usually pooled together and delivered to the supervisor who, in turn, will deliver them to the secretariat of the NURTW.

Divergent views?

Debo’s story on how culprits are punished does not align with the position of the Lagos State sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Hyginus Omeje, who also says the manifest  is just a way of having the data of road transport travellers in the state. According to him, the manifest allows road safety officials to contact relatives of victims of accidents.

He, however, blamed drivers as the culprits when the code is violated, while denying that that there had been laxity in the implementation of the policy.

He said the agency reserves the right to prosecute any driver who fails to compel his passengers to fill the manifest.

“I don’t agree that there has been laxity in the enforcement of the passenger manifest. I don’t know how you came about that but I can tell you that we still ensure that drivers compel their passengers to fill the manifest. Those who don’t comply are deviants and they are minimal.”

He added: “Most of the drivers still comply with the passengers manifest guideline. The corporate class drivers ensure that their passengers properly fill the manifest. They all know the implication of not ensuring that the manifest is properly filled by the passengers.

“The law allows us to prosecute any driver who fails to comply with the manifest directive. He can be charged before a magistrates’ court. There is, however, an option of N5,000 fine, if he is not charged to court.”

Although he denied the agency being a part of any sharing formula of millions of Naira daily raked in from various trips by inter-state vehicles, he didn’t provide any details on the amount made from imposing fine on defaulters. He also didn’t accede to Saturday Tribune’s request on the number of defaulters at least in the last two years to enable an acceptable gauge of the level of enforcement.

“We don’t go out mainly because of the manifest. We go out to ensure strict compliance with every road safety guideline. The manifest is just one of the 42 bookable offences. A driver can be stopped for speeding or wrongful overtaking and in the course of checking his particulars, you may find out that his manifest has not been properly filled,” Omeje said.

 

Only union can account for levy –Drivers

Commercial vehicle drivers expressed mixed reactions as to whether the manifest should be stopped or not. They desire that the information usually provided by the manifest be sustained but want the levies to be reduced.

The drivers stated that the manifest becomes useless after every trip with one of them, Agarawu, telling Saturday Tribune that “the papers (manifest) become useless when you return from the trip. Nobody will ask for it again. You will find all of them in the dustbin at the motor park.

“Now we don’t pay separately for the manifest and even and if they stop issuing it, the money will still be part of the levies that we pay daily.”

Another driver who identified himself simply as Rufus stated that “it is important to get the contact information of the driver and his passengers but it should not be at any cost. The government and the relevant agencies should find a better way to get the data of road travellers.”

On how the manifest is issued, Rufus disclosed that “it comes in three copies. One is for the driver, another one for the union and they say one is for the road safety. What they do is that the one for the union is always disposed of in the wastebasket at the motor park. The drivers also dispose of their copy at the end of the trip, because it is not useful after that.

“You cannot even say whether you want it scrapped or not. When you look at the stress from road safety officials when you are caught, you will want it scrapped, but when you look at the importance of the information, you want it sustained.

“It is the unions that can say whether we are paying for the manifest. At a time, you know for sure what you paid extra money that is being added to the levies for, but now, we don’t know how it is done,” the driver lamented.

 

Inside details

Saturday Tribune’s investigation, however, revealed that the manifest, apart from being  a way of contacting relatives of  accident victims, has become a mere formality to commercial bus drivers  who see it as a means of extortion designed by the transport unions and road safety officials.

It was also revealed that some transport union members, especially in borderline Ogun State, where the manifest is called “Rama,” give blank manifest to some commercial vehicle operators at N600 per copy, per trip.  Saturday Tribune noted that these commercial bus operators, most of the time, don’t bother to give the manifest to their passengers to fill.

Our reporter, who joined an inter-state trip, also discovered that reasons ranging from relaxation in the implementation of the manifest law by FRSC officials to alleged refusal of commercial bus drivers to pay the necessary insurance fee for such manifest are responsible for the lackadaisical approach by major stakeholders to the all-important safety programme.

Recent trips from some of the motor parks in Lagos equally showed that inter-state vehicles operators are no longer keeping to traffic rules and regulations, especially those that give assurances on safety of passengers.

In fairness to some drivers, too, as observed, they try to cajole recalcitrant passengers into filling the relevant columns on the manifest, even if they don’t believe in its usefulness at their parks and their suspicion on the judicious application of the revenue generated from the controversial document.

Drivers, as part of their efforts to convince passengers to fill the manifest, said that the proper filling of the manifest would entitle the passengers to adequate compensation in case of accident in the course of the journey. Many passengers were cajoled to properly fill the manifest with a promise of entitlement. The passengers were also told that part of their transport fare had been earmarked for insurance premium.

 

More confusion

Omeje faulted the claims of any compensatory benefits, even for passengers who properly filled the manifest. The FRSC chief explained that the manifest was not, in any way, a contract of insurance policy.

He stressed that it was just a way of creating a database for road transport travellers, pointing out that the manifest allows the agency an easy access to relatives of victims of road accidents.

“The manifest is not an insurance policy. It does not entitle any passenger to insurance compensation in case of accident. It only allows us to get in contact with relatives of accident victims. Compensation depends on the Third Party Insurance undertaken by the owner of the affected vehicles,” he said.

He also distanced the agency from whatever accountability controversy that might be trailing the manifest revenue. Omeje maintained that the agency only provided the transport unions with the template for the manifest and that the unions printed the manifest by themselves.

He also disclosed that the agency had no duty in ensuring that the drivers of vehicles involved in accidents get compensated. He pointed out that insurance issues are determined between the vehicle owners and insurance companies.

“We don’t collect any money from the unions or the drivers for the manifest. We are not responsible for the printing of the passenger manifest. We only provide them with the templates,” he claimed.

The Lagos commander also denied being aware that passengers were paying for the manifest. He simply said, “I am not aware that passengers are paying for the manifest.”

 

Travellers’ new attitude

Passengers manifest, before now, was a major concern of commercial vehicles operators, especially the inter-state drivers. Drivers and their conductors would ensure that passengers oblige with the instruction on proper filling of the manifest. Things have now changed from how it used to be as drivers rarely compel their passengers to fill the manifest again. Passengers on their own have become increasingly disenchanted with the passenger manifest.

Many passengers who spoke with Saturday Tribune on their indifference to the proper filling of the manifest pointed at their experiences about road carnage and lack of insurance compensation. Others, mostly female, also claimed that the manifest exposes them to people, especially male admirers, who copy their contact details from the manifest and stalk them.

The then strict compliance was described as a fulfilment of the provision of the National Road Traffic Regulations and the law setting up the FRSC which mandates compliance.

 

Our experiences –Passengers

A driver who simply identified himself as Tunde told Saturday Tribune that “Many passengers have complained mainly about the compensation aspect of the manifest.” According to him, many of the passengers refuse to properly fill the manifest because of their belief that it s just a formality.

“As a driver, I don’t even properly fill my portion of the manifest. Most passengers also don’t fill the manifest because of their belief that nothing good can come out of it. Some of them even hide their contacts and that of relatives from the public. They complain that their information on the manifest exposes them and their relatives to the public.”

Tunde also stated that “since the road safety officials don’t cross-check the contact and details of the passengers, let alone that of their next of kin, it is usually easy for passengers to fill the spaces with false information. What the road safety wants is just to confirm that the total number of people in the bus fill the manifest.”

A female passenger, Dorcas, told Saturday Tribune that she stopped filling her real contact number and that of her next of kin from the moment she realised that some male admirers watch and copy females’ numbers from the manifest.

She also claimed that some of her friends had also shared similar experiences of unknown male admirers with her and that they [the male admirers] also copied the contact numbers of her friends from the passenger manifest.

“I was on my way to Ondo State and I boarded a bus at one of the parks in Ojota. I filled the manifest like most other passengers in the bus. I provided my real phone number and that of my next of kin. I had just disembarked from the bus when a male voice called me and introduced himself to me as a co-passenger of the same bus,” Dorcas said.

She added: “He became a nuisance to me. Not even my plea that I was not interested in any conversation with him could stop his constant disturbance on my mobile phone. He did not stop calling me until I rained abuses on him. Since then, I stopped filling my real contact details in the manifest.”

An Ibadan-bound passenger who pleaded anonymity had, during a trip to the ancient town, called the attention of the drivers and the conductors to the empty manifest as the bus was about leaving the park. He was surprised by the response from the driver and his conductor.

The passenger relayed the story to Saturday Tribune: “I called the attention of both the driver and the conductor to what I saw as an oversight, but to my surprise, the conductor, after my repeated observation, simply said there was no need for any of us, passengers, to fill the manifest. He simply said that a manifest was filled for the same vehicle by those who travelled with it in the morning and a sum of N600 was paid for insurance and, therefore, we should not bother.”

Temitope, however, has a different view. “I have always filled the manifest and I was never asked by the drivers and their conductors to pay for the manifest. I have always properly filled it, because I know the implication of not filling the form rightly. The drivers have always compelled us to write the manifest but I must tell you that it was unlike how it used to be.

“In the past, it was like a law. Drivers and their conductors were very passionate about the manifest. They forced passengers to fill the form. They even delayed journey for refusal of any of the passengers to fill his or her portion of the form. What they do now is to just threaten to hand over anybody whose name was not on the manifest to road safety officials if their vehicles are impounded,” the passenger said

Folakemi, another female passenger, said “the manifest is a “scam.” They claim to be collecting money from passengers but I see that as only a means of increasing transport fare. There is no compensation to any victim of accident.”

Mr Dayo Ogunmolaji says he doesn’t drop fake numbers on the manifest because he knows it is for his own good.

“It is of tremendous benefit to board a bus from the park should an incident like leaving of valuables occurs because one can go back to the park to claim them.”

According to Sola, I used to drop my number for safety purpose. “Anything could happen to anybody at anytime. So, one deserves to have a contact to be reached in case of necessities.”

According to Kelvin, I have boarded a bus from Lagos to Abuja with a passenger whose mother came to drop at the park but did not write her mother’s number or any of her relatives’ as the next of kin due to the fact that she wanted to branch at her boyfriend’s place in Benin so that they won’t be able to call home in case the unforeseen happened.

Tobi, who is a graphic artist, said that more often than not, he does not drop his real contact because of the feeling that there could be dubiousness on the part of the drivers.

“I feel that most of all these calls we receive from different quarters, especially from those we don’t know at all emanate from the information we give to these people on the basis of manifest. I am not in total support of providing genuine details to the drivers. Even if I forget my property, I don’t care. But I know it will never happen to me because I don’t forget things so easily,” he said.

 

Manifest is ‘short’ insurance –Sovereign Trust spokesperson

The Head, Corporate Communications and Brands Department, Sovereign Trust Insurance, Mr Segun Bankole, said such manifest could be likened to “Short Insurance” cover, adding that “the policy covers you while in transit.”

According to him, the passengers are covered once they get into the transport company but the cover ceases immediately passengers disembark.

“What we have at Sovereign Trust Insurance is called General Personal Accident (GPA) Cover which is designed to cover every activity relating to the individual on board,” Bankole said.

On the issue of compensation between air and land transport victims, he said “I want to believe that the reason for the difference is that the cost of travelling by air is more than that of land. However, it depends on the premium paid on each cover.”

 

‘I was compensated’

“On this fateful day, the transport company called, informing me of my brother’s involvement in an accident on Gombe Road and asked me to report to their office in Lagos,” said one Mr Adamu Issa.

He said his brother was coming from Maiduguri to Lagos on a routine visit.

“When I got there, the manager said my brother (Ahmed Issa) had already passed on. I asked him where his corpse was and he directed me to the hospital. The management of the transport company gave me N500,000 for the funeral rites and asked me to come back to the office two weeks for further discussion, but they appealed to me not to take the case to court and my reply was that whether court or no court, money or no money, my brother was gone.

“After two weeks, we reported back to the company. They now asked how much we would like them to give us for compensation but we reiterated our position that there was no amount given that would bring back my brother. Having said this, the manager promised to settle it amicably and asked us to reassure him that we won’t go to court, which we did. As a result, the manager gave us N1.5miilion and that was how it ended.

 

Manifest is for compensation –NURTW contradicts FRSC

The Lagos State chairman of the Road Accident Insurance Scheme (RAHIS), an initiative of the NURTW, Abiodun Agoro, confirmed that there is compensation for accident victims through the manifest, claiming that the scheme had paid many victims of road accidents.

He also pointed out that the different transport unions have different scheme for the manifest. As for the NURTW, Agoro said the scheme is centrally controlled from the union’s headquarters in Abuja.

“Many people, including vehicle owners, have benefited from the scheme. It is like insurance. We do it from time to time when accident happens. People who made claims were compensated in accordance with the scheme,” the RAHIS chairman said.

Agoro also stated that the major problem of the scheme is the ignorance of most victims of road accidents who don’t come forward for their claims. He stressed that many passengers also fill the manifest with false details of themselves and those of their next of kin.

“There are RAHIS attendants in most of the parks, especially the inter-states ones. Once the bus is about to be filled, the RAHIS attendant is expected to take the manifest to all the passengers to fill. Apart from just giving the manifest to the passengers, he has no other business with them. It is the drivers that pay for the manifest. It is usually N50 on each passenger,” he explained.

Agoro also pointed out that the scheme is a joint operation between the national leadership of NURTW and some unnamed insurance underwriters. He declined to name the insurance underwriters.

“RAHIS has the responsibility of visiting accident scenes to ascertain the nature of the accidents. When an accident happens, the park where the vehicle picked passengers is always contacted. The park thereafter gets to us and notifies us of the accident. That is where the processing begins from but we still need adequate information from the manifest.

“Usually, there are two copies for each manifest, the original and the duplicate. The driver keeps the original copy and a scratch card that is attached to it. We give them a card. They scratch it and write the number on the scratch card on their manifest. The park keeps the second copy until when it is confirmed that the vehicle arrives safely. We keep the duplicate copies for more than 24 hours and after that, it becomes inconsequential, if there is no accident.

“It is centrally controlled from the headquarters. It is the headquarters that gives the directive for payment of compensation. We have given some victims their compensation in an open motor park. The money is spent on compensation, paid to underwriters and the union also get from it for administrative work,” he said.

Agoro disclosed that RAHIS had, some two or three years ago, flown a victim of a road accident to South Africa for medical attention. He also stated that a victim with valid details on the manifest is entitled to between N25,000 and N150 000. He explained that N150 000 is compensation for permanent disability or death.

“Apart from passengers, drivers and vehicle owners benefit from the scheme. The drivers enjoy limitless compensation for treatment, while vehicle owners get between N30,000 and N80,000 for repair of their vehicles,” he said.

He admitted that most of the passengers don’t come for compensation, while many of them also don’t fill the right details in the manifest, adding that “initially, we were using designated hospitals but now we pay with receipts of any hospital. All we want is the receipt of the hospital where the victim was treated.”

On who is responsible for the enforcement of the manifest order, Agoro disclosed that while “RAHIS only gives drivers manifest at the park, it is the FRSC that is enforcing compliance on the road.”

 

The post Passenger manifest policy in road transport business in Lagos, elsewhere… appeared first on Tribune.

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