‘Drivers Are Vigilant to Prevent COVID-19’
-Says National Drivers’ Union President
Alpha Amadu Bah, National President for Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers’ Union
As the Coronavirus threat is bringing about more consciousness and action from different groups in the country, the National President for Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers’ Union in Sierra Leone, Alpha Amadu Bah has spoken about the contingency plans put in place by the Union in preventing the virus from entering the country. He briefly outlines his extraordinary achievements and gives words of advice to drivers across the country. Excerpts:
Prince C. Kamara: I am with a very prominent Sierra Leone who will tell us his name and the work he is doing.
Alpha Amadu Bah: I am Alpha Amadu Bah, National President for Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers’ Union.
Prince C. Kamara: People might want to know why you opted for this job; to lead the Drivers’ Union.
Alpha Amadu Bah: Well, (smiles), I opted to be president of this union to protect, defend and promote the interest of drivers. Had completed my first five years as president and I am currently on my second five years term after which upon completion, I will step down as president. But I will still remain as a member of this union and I will be an ex-officio member of this union to give advice to the leadership of the union that would be in place.
Prince C. Kamara: The public might also want to know what measures or achievements you championed during your tenure that can be described as non-existent until you were elected.
Alpha Amadu Bah: I have achieved a lot that was not there before. We did not have in the Western Area an office. I have erected a two-storied building for this union during my first five years term. I have been able to secure a lorry park for our drivers. I have been able to bring discipline among the drivers’ rank and file in the organization. I have been able to minimize lawlessness in the organization. I have been able to make sure that all district headquarter towns have a drivers’ union office. I have been able to make sure that people know exactly what the language of the road and so accident rates are now drastically minimized. Our current problem is spare parts and the types of tires imported into the country. You will find out that they are of inferior quality and are responsible for causing accidents. I have done quite a lot. I have even visited the Correctional Center at Pademba Road to check on drivers in remand. The ones we could identify as genuinely involved in simple traffic violations, we got them released after paying their fines (about 49 of them). We then strictly warned them. These are some of the things I have done.
Prince C. Kamara: You are aware that the country is currently faced with the Coronavirus threat. People are extremely concerned because the virus is carried by people and people travel from place to place. As President of Drivers’ Union, what have you put in place to ensure that safety would be the number one issue drivers consider in the course of their work?
Alpha Amadu Bah: Again, this is my second term as President of this union. When Ebola entered this country, I was president. We fought and ensured that Ebola was eradicated; we fought and ensured that too many people did not die. We fought to ensure that we supported the government at that time so that Ebola couldn’t ravage the nation more than it did. Now with the Coronavirus worldwide pandemic, I know the strategies we have taken to put measures in place to prevent it. When I heard His Excellency, the President’s emergency measures he has put in place, I was very happy. In that regard, I have also issued a press release for everyone to support the president because these are extraordinary times. This time is not about finding money; this time is about preventing yourself and others from Coronavirus. This time if you are not careful you will end up dead, leaving behind the money you have made. This time we have made it clear that prevention is far better than cure. Do not attempt to cure yourself. One thing you should do is to prevent yourself; because if you say you are going to cure yourself, there is no cure for Coronavirus right now. So, the best thing you can do is to prevent ourselves. Let us not overload passengers. Let us ensure passengers sit inside vehicles freely and comfortably. The other thing I want our drivers to do is ensure that standing is not allowed in buses. Let us make sure kekehs take only two passengers. Let us make sure commercial and private vehicles that do not have adequate ventilation are encouraged to change their windows so that the passengers will have adequate fresh air, otherwise they would not be allowed to ply the routes. Passengers should not be sweating inside vehicles. The most important thing is hand-washing and temperature check. At the moment inside Sierra Leone, there is no Divers’ Union park that does not have Veronica buckets. I have made sure that this is now a law. If you as chairman of a park does not buy a Veronica bucket, thereby disregarding hand-washing as a Coronavirus preventive measure, would have yourself to blame because when we inspect and find you do not have a Veronica bucket and other preventive measures in place, the law will bite you hard. We have put serious measures in place to prevent each and every one of us from contracting Coronavirus which has no known cure right now.
Prince C. Kamara: Fighting such a terrible disease needs money to buy the preventive gadgets, carry out sensitization campaigns, among other necessary steps and activities in a bid to support the fight against this new virus from entering the country. People might be wondering whether as a union you are getting financial support from the government; are you?
Alpha Amadu Bah: We are not getting support from government. It is the dues we collect from our membership we use to do all what we are doing. In fact, that is why I have even reduced the amount in terms of dues which park chairmen are to pay to the National Secretariat. This is to encourage them to not do the wrong things in their parks like overloading. No park chairman should allow any vehicle to overload. No park chairman should allow any passenger to enter a vehicle without first washing his/her hands. Now we engage our members through press releases, radio talk shows and other ways to communicate to our membership without gathering. The press release I am about to sign is going to go right round the country within a twinkling of an eye. We have whatsapp groups through which we educate our members.
Prince C. Kamara: One issue that has been brought up several times and needs clarification is the issue about transport fare to the provinces. When fuel price was increased to Le8,500 it reflected in an increase by Le5,000 to provincial transport fares. With the recent decrease in the price of fuel this fare has not been reduced as should be the case, according to provincial commuters. As President, is there any way you can as a union look into this issue with the objective of effecting a reduction?
Alpha Amadu Bah: Normally, when fuel price goes up, it is the ministry and the different stakeholders that sit down to work on percentages to add transportation costs. I know that from 2018 when pole-to-pole transport fare for taxis and poda podas was Le1,500 (one thousand five hundred Leones), this is where we still are. In 2018 fuel price was increased; we had gone upwards to Le9,000; we came down again to Le8,500 and reduced again to Le7,000 and yet still, from that time, we have not made any addition to the cost of transport fare. So anybody that adds any amount to the current transportation cost from one place to another; we want the passengers to help us identify these people. We cannot be everywhere at the same time. Some people take advantage of situations. Therefore, the passengers traveling from one place to another let them become watchdogs for us. Let them show that they know their right and want it respected. Let them listen to the announcements we have out and let them take their responsibility into their own hands by refusing to pay any additional amount on transport fare and tell the driver they will not pay any additional amount on the laid down and accepted transport fare because they know it is wrong. The driver will then be made to realize that it is what the Drivers’ Union, Ministry of Transport and Aviation and other stakeholders had agreed and instituted and the driver would have no option but to comply. We do not want drivers to take advantage of passengers.
Prince C. Kamara: What is the relationship between the Drivers’ Union and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation?
Alpha Amadu Bah: It is very cordial! It is our line ministry. After the Ministry of Labour it is the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry of Labour is our ‘Daddy’ ministry while the Ministry of Transport is our regulatory body. We have a very good relationship that is why, as President, I am on daily communication with the Minister, Deputy Minister and other stakeholders. We hold regular meetings and work in partnership and we do not have any problem.
Prince C. Kamara: What would be your message firstly to your drivers; secondly to the general public and finally to the government?
Alpha Amadu Bah: To my drivers: I implore you all; these are not times to concentrate on making money. This time, let us prevent ourselves. This time let us listen to what the authorities are saying. Now there is a State of Emergency in place. When there is a State of Emergency in a country and you flout the directives, the law will bite you severely. Don’t become a victim of the State of Emergency instituted by the government. I am calling on my general membership of Motor Divers and General Transport Workers’ Union to please listen to the authorities; let us listen to the people that are there to enforce laws on the streets and let us obey them. Do not challenge them. These times are extraordinary times. This is not the time to make money. This time we have to listen to His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio. His advices are for all Sierra Leoneans. We thank God, it has not yet reached here therefore let us all remain very vigilant and do the correct things which would see us maintaining zero case of the COVID-19. I wish to advice people in the transport sector, for us be very careful when you see a sick person, don’t take him, call 117. They will come to help. Thankfully, we now have sufficient ambulances. Don’t touch sick people. Let us go back to how we observed the Ebola preventive issues. You don’t touch people. You call the people that are authorized. To the general public, I am appealing if a driver parks his vehicle, you must stop rushing to enter the vehicle. The communiqué says no more overloading. But when a vehicle parks and people start rushing to find seats; passengers fighting each other this is not good. I am appealing to passengers; we have enough vehicles on the streets. Patiently wait in a queue. Do not rush because you do not know whether the person you are touching could be carrying the virus. Stand in a queue, go one after the other and when one vehicle is full, another will come in no time. You need to be patient. Don’t rush. Rushing into vehicles is very dangerous. That is my advice to the general public.
Prince C. Kamara: What about to the government?
Alpha Amadu Bah: To the government: Drivers’ Union needs support from you. When Ebola struck the government supported us. They provided plenty hand sanitizers and thermometers to do temperature checks. Hand sanitizers then was Le20,000 now it’s going for Le60,000 for one. We are begging government to please provide for the Drivers’ Union chlorine, hand sanitizers, thermometers so we can be checking passengers before boarding vehicles. We can use the chlorine for the passengers to wash their hands and the sanitizers before they sit inside the vehicle. We don’t want money from government. This is the assistance we need from the government; the things I just itemized and that is my message to government.
Prince C. Kamara: Thank you for talking to me.
Alpha Amadu Bah: Thanks for having me.