For the umpteenth time, the excesses of unruly street urchins, masquerading as tax collectors in Lagos, should get more than a passing interest of a serious administration. Their recurrent reign of terror on the streets of the foremost commercial capital and additional burden to the cost of public transportation eschew civility and deserves an overhaul. And if the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led government is serious about sustainable development in Lagos, it is time to take a long hard look at this monstrous illegal enterprise that has festered for too long. The menace is not restricted to urchins demanding rent forcefully from public transportation operators, but extends to harassment and forceful extortion of private motorists who are unfortunate to have a breakdown of their vehicles or even to need a change of tyre on public highways.
Clearly, the multiple dues routinely collected by transport unions, otherwise called agbero, partly accounts for the high cost of commuting in Lagos metropolis. The aberration of free monies informally going into private hands has for years been entrenched in Lagos, now across states, and fast getting out of control. Except in a few states where the extortionists have been proscribed, Lagos and others are seemingly helpless in curtailing the large scale racket by these non-state actors. Their excesses are more disturbing at this time of spike in the cost of petrol and attendant rise in cost of public transportation following official removal of fuel subsidy.
Stakeholders, including transporters and commuters have said that if the multiple dues – in excess of billions in Lagos – that are routinely harassed off motorists daily are reviewed, intra-city transport fare will drastically reduce, and private motoring will be safer, thereby reducing the burden on the residents, and enhancing additional economic prosperity. Reports have it that besides collections from the transport operators, the urchins also fix higher transport rates in garages, just to get higher cuts from drivers. To that effect, spikes of 100 to 200 per cent have been recorded in parts of the state, even before the recent jack up in pump prices of petrol.
A recent attempt by the Lagos State government to harmonise daily taxes and charges accruable to the authorities were immediately rebuffed by the Lagos National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), whose flamboyant ousted chairman, Musiliu Akinsanya, has subsequently emerged as the chairman of the state-owned, Lagos State Taxi Park and Garages. The unruly street collectors have frustrated efforts of the state (whatever it is worth), to remain self-styled and unanswerable to constituted authorities.
Similarly, the same group has become notorious for violence and bloodletting in a statewide aggression to earn unaccountable revenue from the streets. Last year, a street fight was recorded at Obalende between rival gangs, which left several people injured. In April same year, several persons were injured at Mile-2 and Ojo parts of the state when members of the union engaged commercial motorcycle operators in a gunfight over toll collection. It was the same internal battle for supremacy and gunfight that stole the show on January 8, 2019 at the Sky-power ground venue of Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s kick off of gubernatorial campaign. At least three persons died in the gun duel and many, including journalists, were injured in the free-for-all that sent even the then state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, and All Progressives Congress’ (APC) bigwigs on their heels. But the scope of menace is wider. Earlier in March 2018, a serial killer and member of the NURTW, confessed to killing as many as 100 persons, with indicting allegations on top members of the union. None of those cases has been resolved to date, nor were culprits brought to book, thus setting an incentive to stage another ‘carnival’ of firearms.
With this track record in extortion and criminal enterprise, it is strange that successive state administrations since the days of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as governor have continued to indulge the rogue elements as if its members are above the law. The question to ask is: what is it about the leadership of agbero in Lagos State and the ruling party in the State? Why is this group so lawless and wielding more power and influence over the populace than the government in power? Why is the government so lethargic at enforcing its own environmental laws that prohibits touting, street trading and miscreants collecting tolls on the road? Who is in-charge of the streets – constituted authority or outlaws – and for what purposes? Why is there so much impunity and hypocrisy in Lagos mega city?
Whatever the current nuisance value may be, it is imperative for Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration and the political-class benefiting from thuggery to acknowledge that the commercial-nerve centre is sitting on a keg of gunpowder with this army of rogue elements everywhere. Indeed, the fifth largest African economy and its race to infrastructural and economic development risk losing it all in one fell swoop of irate hooliganism, as the hijack of 2020 #EndSARS’ protest showed. No matter how gigantic the Lagos Urban Transport Master Plan, Smart City, Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and innovations of the private sector among other projects get, they can soon come to naught in an atmosphere that shields and mass-produces drug-addicted street urchins.
On the flipside, a serious administration that is bent on sustainable development and committed to its larger responsibility of security and welfare to law abiding citizenry will not continue to indulge criminality under whatever guise. Indeed, Lagosians are hard pressed on all sides and economically stressed by the high cost of living. One of the sustainable palliatives needed in this crunch time of fuel subsidy removal is the comprehensive review of taxes and charges informally paid daily. The proper place to buckle down is in what agbero collects forcefully.
By design, the road transport unions, being an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), is an independent Nigerian trade union that should serve interests of transport workers in the road transport sector, by pushing for social stability for members as defined in its constitution. Clearly, the body has been hijacked by power brokers and for the pleasure of a few. By their criminal acts and wild hooliganism in street toll collection from supposed members, the union has failed in its primary objective. It is not out of place for the NLC (as an umbrella body of the transport unions) and other well-meaning labour groups, to demand a reform that will bring sanity to the body nationwide. The leadership should push for an overhaul to weed out the bad eggs that are giving unionism a bad appellate in Lagos.
The state government should be bold to enforce the full weight of the law, forthwith put an end to daylight robbery of motorists and commuters that are dependent on public transports, or experience breakdown of their vehicles on the road; give parks and garages a modern touch and clean up Lagos metropolis in accordance with extant environment laws.
Credit: The Guardian
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