Friend pays tribute to popular bus driver who died from coronavirus after ‘just doing his job’
Emeka Nyack Ihenacho is one of eight London bus drivers to have died from the virus
A CHILDHOOD friend of a London bus driver who died after a coronavirus infection has paid tribute to his popular mate who became ill “just doing his job”.
Michael Rodrigues, 33, said he wanted people to think about the “sacrifice” key workers like Emeka Nyack-Ihenacho are making during the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Nyack-Ihenacho, 36, was a popular face around Kentish Town where he worked as a postman before becoming a bus driver.
He is one of eight London bus drivers to have died after contracting Covid-19 prompting calls from unions for more safety measures to be put in place to protect workers.
Mr Rodrigues said he first met Mr Nyack-Ihenacho aged eight at a play centre in Queen’s Crescent.
“I want people to remember him and think about the sacrifice he has made,” he said. “I want to get it out there that this is killing people. People need to stay at home. It is no way to go.
“He was just doing his job, to provide for his family. It’s the only reason he was out there and people should remember that.”
Mr Nyack-Ihenacho drove buses from the Holloway Bus Garage depot and before that was a postal worker for the Royal Mail.
Mr Rodrigues recalled that as a child, Mr Nyack-Ihenacho, was popular during his years at William Ellis School in Parliament Hill, adding: “He was one of the boys. You looked up to him. We would play football in the top pitches. This is so unexpected.”
“He died on Saturday. I haven’t seen him for a few years but he was the kind of person who when you dd see him you would stop and make time to talk to him.”
He added: “I’m 33 and I haven’t been watching this thinking I’d be ok but now I am actually scared. It’s not just old people. People shouldn’t be out at other houses. There would be no need of buses if people were at home. I’ve seen people piling on to buses. Bus drivers, are getting nothing to protect themselves.”
Mr Nyack-Ihenacho is one of three, including Alperton driver Said Musse and garage supervisor Paul Aheto, who worked for bus company Metroline.
A Metroline spokesman said: “It is with immense sadness that we can confirm that three of our colleagues have passed away after contracting coronavirus.
“We are devastated by this loss and we offer our support and condolences to the families at this incredibly difficult time.
“The safety of our employees has always been our priority and we continue to do everything we can to make sure our workforce is as protected and as safe as possible during this unprecedented time.”
The Unite union has also been vocal about the need to protect bus workers and posted a poignant TikTok video of a bus driver admitting to being “very” scared and urging people to “only travel when necessary”.
Unite’s regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said: “Each of these deaths is a terrible tragedy and the thoughts of everyone at Unite goes to the families of the bus workers who have died of coronavirus. Unite has been working continuously with Transport for London (TfL) and the operators to ensure the safety of drivers and others in the industry who are performing a heroic job in getting NHS and care workers to their places of work.”
He added: “These measures include deep cleaning of buses, additional cleaning of touch points, the sealing of screens around the driver, the provision of hand sanitiser for all and placing the passenger seating closest to the driver out of bounds. I have been in direct contact with the mayor of London who shares our view that bus drivers must be fully protected.”
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also paid tribute to the lives lost and those who continue to work for the city’s public transport system amid the crisis.
“I have been clear that our incredible public transport staff – on the buses, tubes, trams and trains – are critical workers, making a heroic effort to allow our NHS staff to save more lives,” he said.
“All drivers in London buses are shielded by a Perspex screen and TfL have ensured measures have been taken to keep staff as safe as possible – with enhanced cleaning, stopping passengers from riding near drivers and boosting social distancing at stations and stops. But we all need to play our part too and that means fewer Londoners using the public transport network. Please follow the rules.”