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Actors in the informal transport sector – Part 2

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PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

Continued from yesterday
The structural changes that arose from adjustments in public policies after the civil war of (1967 – 1971) coupled with the timely rise in oil revenue led to exponential economic recovery and growth between 1970 and 1974. These kept most people busy with other endeavours, so informal transport business then was mainly for those who had primary interest in it, and not for want of what to do.

This meant that mostly career transport operators or at least those whose primary source of income derive from the informal transport sector thrived within it. As things changed, many institutions of government got affected negatively too, for instance, the declining role of NIPOST in parcel handling and distribution at that time, and onset of e – commerce in the late 1990s expanded participation of informal transport operators in parcel delivery. A market analysis carried out to appraise the movement of NIPOST from monopoly to competition by Nwanoluem and Iwuoha reported in 2012, found that companies without delivery logistic infrastructure basically rely on the informal transport sector. Even as NIPOST underwent some restructuring that saw some improvement in services in the later part of President Obasanjo’s era.

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The affinity for the express, easy to access and demand responsive services provided by informal transport based parcel delivery meant that Nigerians kept using them to date. As demand for these types of services grew, the number of “parcel and freight caretakers” commensurately increased in the motor – parks, effectively adding warehousing to their roles. The role of drivers expanded from taking passengers safely from point “A” to point “B” to include delivering parcels and mails hand–to–hand.

Vehicle – owners and owner-drivers all partook in these roles too. Additionally, near collapse of railway services during SAP era, made it necessary for informal transport operator roles to expand to moving heavier loads. Customers had informal transport service operators deliver freight from city to city. As this caught on, operators saw opportunity to improve their incomes and latched onto it. Customers also got relief of receiving parcels and freight on the same day or at the most, few days apart. The era led to the process of registering private courier operators. As at 2012, 256 private courier operators have been registered, according to Nwanoluem and Iwuoha. This however, did not stop informal transport service providers from continuing to render this service, in fact, this practice continue to date. It is also noteworthy, that some of the private courier companies use them as part of their logistical chain of parcel transportation and distribution. In a nutshell, the informal transport sector then became responsible for not just passenger travels as it was earlier known, but it now had the role of transporting freight and parcels too. Thereby taking away revenue from NIPOST and creating a wide gap in the regulation of parcel delivery in Nigeria.

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Since the 1950s, local government councils in Nigeria have been statutorily charged with the task of establishing, maintaining and collecting taxes and fees at motor – parks. The terminal officials were mostly designated as clerks. They man the entry and exit gates of the motor – parks, principally to collect tax and levy for the local government authorities and also to monitor daily transport activities at designated parks. They educate drivers on proper licensing of both vehicles and themselves.

The local government authorities via terminal officials were supposed to also oversee route assignment, in practice route assignments is ignored and “cream skimming” is very common, that is the act of plying only profitable routes, at lucrative periods. Towards the end of the 1970s things took a turn, because the clerks were alleged to be corrupt. The local government authorities started dealing directly with the shed leaders (those who take care of individual loading points), by selling ticket booklets to them in bulk for onward sale to their members, an act that continued with the advent of NURTW in 1978. This marked a turning point in the record of tax and levy collection from informal transport operators and in the roles of both the terminal officials and union officials.

This practice is still prevalent today. Even though a mix of these practices is in reality what goes on. At this juncture, the local government terminal officials’ roles shifted from active tax and levy collection to a somewhat passive one, where negotiations rule and monitoring of informal transport operation is basically done from a safe distance. This approach largely presents obstacles to tax and levy collection and robs local authorities off essential revenue. Embedded corruption coupled with very weak ability of local authorities to regulate generally shortchanges the system.

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Unions originally served as social networks, which thrived in the absence of official regulation. They engage in activities like managing driver–owner relations, remuneration and job security. Earlier, they also serve as guarantors for loans on vehicle purchase and repairs, mediate disputes and set rules to eliminate touting, as observed by Albert, O.A. (2007) in discussing NURTW and politics of managing public motor – parks in Ibadan and Lagos. Unions basically aim at improving working conditions for their members, but ignore matters of public good, like safety, vehicle upkeep, and coordination of routes and schedules. They are seen to only work towards guaranteeing the right of their members to do as they wish. Unions generally, coordinate with one another through branches under the umbrella body. Before the institutionalization of the NURTW in 1978, the shed leaders were collectively in control of the motor – parks. Only horizontal cooperation existed between the groups then. The advent of the union created hierarchies within the motor – parks, thereby introducing both horizontal and vertical cooperation. The shed leaders transformed into the initial crop of union leaders and representatives. Up to this point, the association officials are mainly drawn from owner–drivers themselves. As the Second Republic electioneering activities began, association officials assumed the role of campaign agents and dictators of political alignment for their members. Historian Laurent Fourchard surmises these roles thus:

“The politicization of the management of motor – parks started in Lagos as the capital was the place of two concurrent powers: the Federal governments, the President Shehu Shagari, and his party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) on the one hand. And the Governor of Lagos state, Lateef Jakande’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) on the other hand. NPN decided to enlist the support of members of a new union, the NURTW created a year before, in 1978 under the leadership of Adebayo Ogundare, known as Bayo success, who was given the assignment of winning all the motor – parks in Lagos over the UPN. He did so in mobilizing his large clientele of drivers during the 1979 electoral campaign and in resorting to violence and killing of his potential opponents in motor parks of Lagos.”

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The major metamorphoses in roles of unions happened during the Second Republic (1979 -1983), when the control and management of motor – parks and bus stops became the epicenter of political antagonism, when transport unions usurped their management. Increased political engagement and usurpation of tax and levy collection functions cemented the roles of unions as formidable intermediaries between government and other actors in the sector.

As stated earlier, union officials also assumed new roles as parcel agents, who receive payments from parcel owners for warehousing and safekeeping, as institutions like NIPOST and the Railways declined during those eras. Moreover, institutions such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) sought collaboration with NURTW. For example, in the later parts of the 2000s, the NURTW were solicited to provide logistical services during elections.

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The Guardian News web page https://www.m.guardian.ng reported on 3rd March, 2018, that INEC sought partnership with NURTW on transport arrangement. Similarly, a report published on the 4th of February, 2019 on the Radio Nigeria web page https://www.radionigeria.gov.ng, stated that the Independent National Electoral Commission in Nasarawa State entered into agreement with the NURTW to provide vehicles – and of course drivers, to convey election materials during the 2019 general elections. The reliance of INEC and the involvement of NURTW in the distribution of sensitive materials for elections, created a new albeit unexpected role for NURTW. It was quite paradoxical that a highly formal and sensitive body as the INEC would rely strategically on one like the NURTW, that consist mainly of informal actors for logistics in such a sensitive endeavour as elections.

This act has also trickled into the military, where informal transport service providers are engaged to move personnel.

To be continued tomorrow.

Olaremi, Ph.D is of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria & African Urban Mobility Network.

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