Friday, 22nd September 2023

How Agbero, multiple dues spike transportation costs by 25% in Lagos

By Gbenga Salau
10 April 2023   |   4:20 am
Public transport fare in Lagos commercial nerve-centre could drop by a whopping 25 to 50 per cent, if concerned authorities moderate and address the key issue of multiple dues collected by transport unions.

Transport union members (Agberos) at Oshodi, Lagos…yesterday PHOTO: Eniola Daniel 

With the exception of high fuel costs, the cost of public transport in Lagos mega city and life generally can be more tolerable without the self-styled transport unions and their excesses perennially harboured by the state government, Gbenga Salau reports.

Public transport fare in Lagos commercial nerve-centre could drop by a whopping 25 to 50 per cent, if concerned authorities moderate and address the key issue of multiple dues collected by transport unions.

That position is shared by stakeholders, who attribute multiple dues collected by transport unions and their informal beneficiaries as one of the factors responsible for high cost of commuting in the state.

Stakeholders, including transporters and commuters, told The Guardian that if the multiple dues, in excess of over N120 billion yearly, are reviewed, intra-city transport fare will reduce, become less burdensome on the residents, and bring additional economic prosperity to all.

This is Lagos!
INDEED, the fear of transport unionists, otherwise called agbero, is the beginning of wisdom for Lagos transporters. Be it danfo or bus drivers, tricyclists (keke) or motorcyclists (okada), there are multiple associations and scores of dare-devil-looking collectors squeezing off dues in nooks and crannies of the metropolis.

Some drivers and bus conductors, who are often the targets, said union’s field officers occasionally tell drivers to hike transport fare by over 100 per cent just to increase remittances by 100 to 200 per cent.

According to the Lagos State Chairman of Self Employed Commercial Drivers Association of Nigeria (SECDAN), Job Abifarin, the dues collected by agberos have a huge impact on transporters, who routinely pass on the add-on cost to commuters.

For instance, he said, a route that ordinarily should cost N50 readily doubles because of the transport unions lurking around the corner, garages, and bus stops round the clock. We the bus drivers and owners are literally working for these street urchins,” he said.

Providing insight into how much he pays daily at the different bus stops and garages, a federal mass transit bus driver, Kabiru Tajudeen, said if he takes off from Mile 2 for instance, he usually pays N1,000 for booking. On getting to Oshodi, he would pay another N1,500; then N200 at Ojota and another N200 at Ketu. At Mile 12, he would part with N1,000 for another booking, and N700 for loading. On the return trip to Mile 2 from Mile 12, he would pay N1,200 at Ketu, N1,700 at Oshodi and N500 at Mile 2.

According to him, in between the major bus stops, he might still part with between N100 and N200 at bus stops like Ijesha, Second Rainbow, Coker, Cele, Ojota, Anthony and Ketu. He added that the levies above are the standard rates, which are never lowered but sometimes doubled or tripled as the unionists wish.

Tajudeen said: “When we get to major bus stops like Mile 2, Oshodi, and Mile 12 to pick passengers, the union officers often demand double or triple of the fee, and if a driver objects, he would be told to go elsewhere to pick passengers. For instance, in Mile 12, if it was the time to pay N500, the agbero will demand between N1,000 and N1,500, expecting that we raise the fare to N300 from N200. And if I insist on picking passengers for N200, I will be told to leave the park with my bus. All the money listed above is outside the N800 daily levy introduced by the state government. The booking fee is paid on the first trip sometimes as early as 5a.m., but the payment for Lagos government daily levy ticket is usually demanded from 7 a.m.”

According to him, of all the payments being made, it is only the N800 daily government levy that has a ticket as evidence of payment. He also said there are bus stops along his route, where passengers alight from the bus and drivers are made to part with N100 for the union.

“If not paid, the conductor would be beaten, the vehicle damaged or parts removed,” he said. Tajudeen said further that drivers often factor payments to the unions into the fare to be charged. According to him, though they sometimes share a burden of the several payments to the unions, a larger chunk of the burden is passed on to passengers.

“At the close of work, the money paid to agberos daily is much more than the money I earn working in a day.”

From NURTW to LSGPM, without change
A RESIDENT, DeborahSolomon said she had thought the multiple collections would stop when the union transformed from National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to Lagos State Garages and Parks Management (LSGPM), but it has been business as usual.

Indeed, the state government is not aware of the multiple collections. In January 2022, the state government, through its Commissioner for Finance, Rabiu Olowo, announced the introduction of N800 daily Consolidated Informal Transport Sector Levy(CITSL).

At the press briefing, the commissioner stated that CITSL became imperative to prevent transport unions from collecting levies from commercial buses, tricycles andmotorcycles at the different bus stops. He said that operators would be expected to pay once-a-day, usually from their take-off points.

While providing insight into the new levy, Olowo explained that the N800 levy would cover charges for not just the 20 councils and 37 development areas (LCDAs), but also for clearing waste, cleaning of motor parks and bus stops, as part of it would be transmitted to the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA).

He added that the benefits of the levy include harmonising the collection process by putting a structure in place; reducing multiple taxes, dues and levies to all state agents and local councils; providing reliable data, eradicating harassment of bus drivers and bringing collaborative engagements within stakeholders, among others.

The commissioner said that the CITSL approach was an alignment with stakeholders and total restructuring of the transport system, a development that would further boost revenue generation in the state.

Olowo, who said that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration has prioritized citizens’ interest in the entire scheme, further stated that personal income taxes of the drivers would also be deducted from the N800 levy, and the affected operators would be issued tax cards.

But Olowo had barely completed his presentation when the then state Chairman of NURTW, and now Chairman of Lagos State Parks and Garages Management, Musiliu Akinsanya, said that though the unions were in support of the harmonisation of the levies,they would continue to collect their dues at the different locations the way they had been doing it.

His statement jolted many that were present at the event, as it countered the earlier position of the state government that wide consultation was made before the decision to come up with the consolidated levy was reached.

Who is in charge inLagos?
Since the new initiative came into effect, transporters have been made to face severe situations, which are becoming worse by the day in most locations with new collection points sprouting up on some routes, including Mile 2.

For instance, between FESTAC’s first gate and Mile 2, there used to be two collecting points, but four additional points have emerged, making it six collection points. At each of these points, drivers of articulated vehicles, trucks and pickups are made to pay more. Failure to comply would mean impounding such vehicles or destroying accessories.

Moving towards Orile from Mile 2, there are other collection points at Suuru, Alaba, Coker,Alafia, and Orile. A similar scenario also plays out along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, where there are collection points at Second Rainbow, Coker, Sanya,Ijesha, Cele, Ilasa, and Oshodi bus stops.

Around October last year, the Joint Drivers’ Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN) embarked on a seven-day strike after it alleged that the state government failed to rein in transport unions over their excesses.

JDWAN national leader, Akintade Abiodun, in a statement, said the group met with the representatives of the state government and other stakeholders, but the meeting yielded no fruit, except threats.

Following the negative impact of the partial compliance to the drivers’ strike, many commuters were stranded on the first three days of the strike, which made the state government to call for another meeting with all the stakeholders on the issues raised.

Speaking on the activities of the transport unions in Lagos, Samson Okoro, said that drivers are usually left with no option, but to pay whatever these union workers demand.

According to him, there is no place to complain or run to for justice. He said: “They are the ones, who dictate what should be paid as union dues without recourse to members of the union. If you object to paying, you suffer three folds. Apart from wasting your time, as they hold the bus hostage, they also get you injured, and damage or remove parts of the vehicle. And if you are unfortunate that the scuffle happened midway to your destination, you have to refund the transport fare paid by the passengers to enable them to make alternative arrangements.”

He further said that if the transport fares of the passengers are to be repaid, the driver suffers loss on that trip because he must have paid some other agberos from the fare he initially collected. These, he said, are why, almost all the time, the drivers and their conductors usually comply paying the unreasonable dues.

“If you consider what would be lost, it will be in multiple fold of what you are to pay at that point of disagreement; you just pay though not from a willing and happy heart.

“You cannot run to the police, because the agberos have no respect for them. Besides, the police usually feel unperturbed about their activities. When these union people are beating up a driver or conductor, even if a police officer is passing by or within the spot of the incident, he turns the other way, as if not aware of what is going on.”

Another resident, Sikiru Adebayo, said instead of the state government weighing in to put a stop to the multiple collections, the best the state government has done was to compound the plight of the transporters by introducing an additional N800 levy.

“I learnt that the N800 daily levy was meant to put an end to the multiple dues, but the state government could not implement its own initiative. So, rather, it compounded the woes of the transporters and by extension, the residents, who commute in commercial buses.”

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