Actors in the informal transport sector – Part 3
Another group of actors that have played definitive roles and whose roles have evidently changed over time, given political and socioeconomic impulses at play at various times are the Agberos (Touts). Agbiboa, D.E. in another article published in 2018 x-rayed informal urban governance and predatory politics in Africa: the role of the motor – park touts in Lagos. Agberos came into existence during the socioeconomic influx of the mid-1970s when the material insecurities of the Nigerian urban and rural economies generated a range of everyday practices for youth to get by and make the most of their time.
This “cohort of the dispossessed” according to Agbiboa, turned to informal transport in droves – touting at motor – parks. From the outset, agberos assumed the self – imposed responsibility of recruiting and organizing passengers who wished to travel by road, and for this they earned a fee or ‘a commission” usually paid by the driver. This group of actors is not to be confused with conductors. Following nationwide politicking that involved all actors in the informal transport sector, the Agberos especially became more and more significant to local politics and route associations, as they gained more and more ground, they started portraying themselves as those who ‘make things happen’ and they demand a compensation for this role.
Similar to the second republic, the politicking that birthed the fourth republic saw a growing role for the Agberos. The micro-politics of relations between transport owners, operators, and passengers, as well as the problem of political patronage and protection rackets implicating powerful unions and vested government interests became even more common, and the enforcers of these relationships are the “Agberos”.
The tactics and strategies used by “Agberos” to navigate everyday risk and uncertainty reflect in their understanding of the political undertones that create or sustain certain roles in the sector. Increased political engagement of the Agbero’s, and the usurpation of tax and levy collection function by unions cemented their role as formidable intermediaries between government and union, and union and other actors, especially vehicle drivers.
For emphasis, their roles now transcend the motor – parks, they partake in political campaigns and enforcement of the street codes, which gave them the clout to embed extortion and other kinds of corrupt activities in their day –to-day dealings. The rite to operate sometimes depends on buying the rite of passage from local government officials and sometimes the police.
Another cohort, the Conductors, ride along with the drivers in buses, their main duties include recruiting, organizing and ushering passengers into the vehicles, at the stops and en-route, receiving payment from passengers and any other role as may be assigned by the driver. Conductors act mainly as intermediaries between the drivers and passengers.
The institutionalization of identity politics during the SAP era, with its negative consequences on the nation, meant that politicians saw politics as a do or die affair. Politicking now involved jettisoning the rule, while the personalization of governance became the order of the day. As a consequence, fecundity for ethno-religious manipulations increased as highlighted by Jega, A. in a publication titled “Identity Transformation and Identity Politics under Structural Adjustment in Nigeria.
To support their course, politicians needed ready hand to pursue their agenda. The politicians recruited “conductors”, “area boys”, “Yandaba” and the “Egbesu Boys” for campaigns, after which they were “settled” with motorbikes, rickshaws and minibuses which most of them deployed in providing informal transport services, thereby affording the opportunity for some to become owner – drivers or owners. Others went ahead to become dreaded “career” political thugs. The mostly nonchalant posture of government and politicians towards regulating the transport space further entrenched activities of ethno – cultural, ethno – religious and political groups as observed by Ajayi, A. I. in a treatise that discussed military regimes and nation building in Nigeria: 1966 – 1999. Groups, that according to Ajayi, waxed stronger in the defense of parochial or sub-national interests through the agency of ethnic militia organizations like Oodua Peoples’s Congress (OPC), Arewa People’s Congress (APC), Bakasi Boys, Egbesu Boys, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), and later, the terrorist movement Boko Haram. The link to informal transport sector here is the fact that motor park boys were among the main recruits into these groups. Other intermediaries such as vehicle loaders or load carriers are also seen around garages and places where transport operations go on.
They have similar demographics as the conductors, but do not necessarily have the links to be made so yet. They typically wait to be called upon to render service. These intermediaries kept their roles and spaces at the interface between unions and the state and between operators and the unions.
The fallouts of the political, economic and social indicators prevailing during each epoch manifested into highly discretional practices, characterized by arbitrary changes and an operational environment created and modified at the whims and caprices of actors in the sector, as influenced by their composition and roles, leaving users most times without a say. No doubt, actors in the informal transport sector reinforce formal transportation, and help people achieve mobility where other options are nonexistent.
This does not mean the sector should be left to largely self regulate. Because an unregulated and unsupervised informal transportation sector will produce unwanted outcomes, therefore some degree of regulation is required, especially in low income – high unemployment environments. Existing institutional capacities should form the bedrock of implementation strategies. Incremental changes can be imbibed on an “as needed basis”. The loose internal organizational structure and weak operator to operator interaction offer regulatory opportunities and advantages towards implementing reforms. Improved vertical and horizontal information flow between regulators and the regulated, underscored with seamless inter-agency cooperation and information sharing would be required for positive changes to occur.
The over fluidity in roles of actors would have to be checked by registration and ultimately licensing. Reliance on operator cooperatives as instruments of organization and self – regulation would only yield minimal control, in ways wanted by the controlling cadre. The controlling cadre orchestrates resistance to new initiative mainly as a self preservation tactic not usually for sector development. The manifest horizontal integration and fragmented ownership structure attest to this. It is possible to systematically organize the informal transport sector when what to manage and how to manage are identified.
Olaremi, Ph.D is of the department of Urban and Regional Planning Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria & African Urban Mobility Network.