One year after introducing N800 daily levy, ‘Agberos’ still rule Lagos roads

One year after the Lagos State government introduced the N800 daily levy for transporters with the aim of curbing multiple collections and harassment of drivers and their conductors, the various transport unions have not complied, rather they have carried on their business as usual.
Persons claiming to be transport union officials wielding weapons on Lagos road enforcing due collection
Persons claiming to be transport union officials wielding weapons on Lagos road enforcing due collection

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One year after the Lagos State government introduced the N800 daily levy for transporters with the aim of curbing multiple collections and harassment of drivers and their conductors, the various transport unions have not complied, rather they have carried on their business as usual. Even with the re-christening of the transport unions to Lagos State Parks and Garages Management (LSPGM) and Lagos State Parks Administrator (LSPA) to bring them to manageable bodies, these groups have now become more aggressive in their engagement.

On January 3, amid fuel scarcity, a-33,000-litre tanker spilled its content on the road towards Mile 2, along the Lagos Apapa Expressway after overturning. The tanker overturned not because it was on speed, but due to the activities of the touts operating under the Lagos State Parks and Garages Management.
According to eyewitness accounts, the officer of the LSPGM trailed the tanker driver to around Fagbem Bus Stop after the driver had escaped from paying a stipulated due at one of the collection points.

The witness said after catching up with the driver, the tout who was on bike jumped into the tanker driver’s cabin demanding that the driver should pay the due, but he (driver) declined.

The witness noted that the tout wanted to bring the tanker to a halt, but the driver protested against it, and the struggle that ensued made the truck to tumble after running into a drainage within the Alaba section of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.

Also, on the same day and within that corridor, around Second Rainbow Bus Stop, there was a clash between some soldiers and ‘officials’ of the Lagos State Government Park Administrator. There were different accounts on how the trouble started. A version of the story said that a soldier was escorting a truck, which the union boys stopped and requested for the driver to pay the stipulated due and the soldier resisted it. The soldier’s objection led to the exchange of some hot words that made the transport union officers to drag out the solider from the truck and gang beat him.

Another version said that the soldier was in mufti, when some of the touts popularly called agbero clustered around the truck, demanding for money. He was said to have ordered the touts to leave the vehicle, but they refused, so, he alighted to shove one of the touts away from the front of the vehicle, only to be held and beaten by over 10 touts.

The witness noted that an hour after the assault, the injured soldier returned with his colleagues and descended on any of the touts in sight.
Similarly, about two weeks ago, a containerised trailer fell around Agboju on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway due to the activities of persons claiming to be collecting dues for the Lagos State Parks and Garages Management. Incidents like these occur on daily basis on Lagos roads, yet the Lagos State government seems not to notice them.

One year ago, the state government moved to sanitise dues collection within the transport sector. However, officials in the sector appear to have frustrated the initiative as there have been increasing cases of persons wearing LSPGM vest or uniform not only beating up drivers and their motor boys, but also removing or damaging parts of their vehicles for failure to pay the stipulated dues or not paying what the transport union officials termed the appropriate dues.

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 and motorcycles 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 on the new levy then, Olowo explained that the N800 levy would cover charges for not just the 20 local councils and 37 local council 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 the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration has prioritised 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.

“The N800 is a single structured collection of the monies payable to all government agencies and parties, who are directly or indirectly associated with the transport sector. What the government has done is to reduce the multiplicity of levies and taxes, dues and monies due to the government from the transport unions. Bus drivers will get tax cards, and arbitrary payments will be eradicated once they pay from the point of their loading each day,” he said.
Olowo had barely completed his presentation when the then State Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and now Chairman, Lagos State Parks and Garages Management, Mr. Musiliu Akinsanya, said that even 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 have been doing it.

His statement jolted many that were present at the event, as it countered the earlier state government representative that wide consultation was done between the different stakeholders before the decision to come up with the consolidated levy was reached.

Critics, however, have continued to accuse the state government of insincerity in the implementation and management of the exercise, which is intended to reform the sector. They also insist that its failure to even inaugurate the parks management committee, as well as the continuous harassment of transporters undermine the gunuiness of the government’s intention.

Furthermore, 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 cropped up, making it six collection points. At each of these points, drivers of articulated vehicles, trucks and pickups are made to pay more and failure to comply would mean impounding such vehicles or destroying part of the body.

Moving towards Orile from Mile 2, there are other collection points at Suru, 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 7-day strike after it alleged that the state government failed to rein in on the transport unions over its excesses.

JDWAN national leader, Akintade Abiodun, in a statement, said that the group met with the representatives of the state government and other stakeholders, but the meeting yielded no fruit except threats.
The statement read: “The leadership of the Joint Drivers Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN) met with Lagos State Government representatives, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation, Abdulhafiz Toriola, and the motor park management liaison officer, AIG Hakeem Odumosu (rtd), in the company of our legal adviser, Ayo Ademiluyi.

“The state government has since made no concrete response to JDWAN’s demands, rather, their representatives only asked for another letter to be submitted on Monday (when the strike was to be commenced), which is regarded as a joke on our part. Having released press statement with concise demands, we also honoured the demand to deliver physical copy of the letters to the Lagos State government, the SSS, the Commissioner of Police and Commissioner for Transport respectively.”

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.

It was gathered that while the state government promised to look into all the issues raised more concretely, the representatives of the state government also implored the drivers to meet with the Akinsanya alias Oluomo-led group too.

One year after, JDWAN’s counsel, Ayo Ademiluyi, speaking on the grievances tabled before Lagos State government against the touts and Oluomo by the drivers, said that the major demands of the strike is that the tolls collected by “Agberos” have been declared illegal in a suit before Justice Lufu and as such the transport unions should forthwith stop the collection.

Speaking further, Ademiluyi said that the state government promised to set up a committee to look into the demands of the drivers.

“The Committee brokered a meeting between the striking drivers and the Chairman of Lagos State Parks and Garages Management Committee, but the grievances were not addressed. The meeting was more or less a talkshop as the collection of illegal tolls continued unabated,” he said.

According to him, the drivers feel disappointed and frustrated that the state government failed to take action on their complaints.

ON whether there has been any changes since the state government intervened between the two parties, Ademiluyi said: “It is not an intervention in any way. The Lagos State Parks and Garages Management Committee is an arm of Lagos State government’s Ministry of Transport. The strike was a confrontation and government has failed to accede to their demands.

“It is more or less an indicted government. It rakes millions of naira as revenue from these illegal tolls, which according to a report by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) is more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Rivers State government,” Ademiluyi stated.
A union officer, who spoke under anonymity because he does not have the authority of his president to speak, said that letters of complaint have been written to the state park and garages management, Park Administration Committee and Maritime Workers’ Union (MWUN) on the activities of their members, but none has yielded any fruit.

According to him, the MWUN operates 20 illegal checkpoints, while the parks and garages operates 30 checkpoints along the ports access roads, with the truckers being made to pay between N2000 and N6000 at each point. He decried alleged involvement of a monarch in the illegality, wondering why the Oniba of Iba Land, Sulaimon Adeshina, who leads one of the transport unions had empowered his members to create more extortion points.

“The role of government is susceptible in this societal vice and this is of grave concern to our association. The claim by these pipes and other weapon-wielding touts that they are members of the ruling party in the state should be a cause for concern for this government if they are not in connivance. Our members are injured and killed by these criminals daily without any concerns from the state authorities and this is totally unacceptable.”

A driver, Sikiru Adisa, said that nothing has changed positively for drivers since the introduction of the N800 levy because the unions are still demanding dues at every bus stops and on every trip.

“It is even worse now. We expected a reduction in our burden with the announcement of the N800 daily levy, but we pay more now. The touts now introduce more collection points, especially as the state chairman of the unions create new branches.

“I feel the state government did not enforce the levy as well as cut the excesses of the transport unions because they are political tools in the hand of the state government and leading politicians in the state,” Adisa stated.
A truck driver, Yakubu Ibrahim, stated that he was made to swim in dirty water around Festac First Gate by the union boys with the aid of naval officers because he failed to pay at the collection points when it was newly introduced around October 2021.

“The union boys stopped me and requested I should pay, but I refused. So, I was asked to park, but I drove off. I thought I have escaped the payment. But I was wrong, they caught up with me as I was about descending the Maza-Maza bridge. A military officer on motorcycle flagged me and I stopped. He ordered me down and to mount his bike and I was returned to the collection point, where three other naval officers were on ground. I was asked why I drove off without paying the union boys. I could not explain. I was ordered to swim in a dirty stagnant water from a blocked drainage.”

According to him, “the tradition now is to have security men, especially soldiers or naval officers at the new collection points to enforce the payments. It is a pity that security officers are being used for such dirty jobs. What has Nigeria become?”

Attempt to get the state government through the Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, to speak on the issues and the failure of government to implement its policy as well as tame the transport unions was not successful. He did not pick his calls and has not got back as at press time.

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