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Agbero, Area Boys, hoodlums and Bola Tinubu

By Rasheed Ojikutu
10 July 2022   |   3:34 am
Now that the dust has settled over the primaries of the All-Progressive Congress and Bola Ahmed Tinubu has emerged as the flagbearer, the focus of the opposition has shifted to other issues, one of which is the argument that he, Bola Tinubu...

Bola Tinubu. PHOTO: REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde (NIGERIA – Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Now that the dust has settled over the primaries of the All-Progressive Congress and Bola Ahmed Tinubu has emerged as the flagbearer, the focus of the opposition has shifted to other issues, one of which is the argument that he, Bola Tinubu is likely to promote the proliferation of “Agbero”, “Area Boys” and other hoodlums all over Nigeria, since according to them, “he is the originator and promoter of Agbero in Lagos State and consequently in Nigeria”. It would have been unnecessary to discuss these issues on the pages of a newspaper since part of the instruments of political oppositions could be cheap propaganda and blackmail against rivals, which sometimes include name-calling but for the pointless malapropism, distortions of history and misrepresentation of facts that are adjacent to the skewed conclusion of those who should know better. The most unfortunate is that these breaches are committed in the most unusual places. You certainly do not necessarily have to love Bola Tinubu to do justice to history by ensuring that fallacies are not substituted for facts.

Many Nigerians who use the word Agbero think it means “ a criminal or someone who has criminal tendencies”. For clarity, “Agbero” is a word in the Yoruba lexicon that means “A person who calls passengers into a bus or any other vehicle or an enclosed space”. It is a short form for “ A Gba Ero” meaning “ one who welcomes a group or passengers”. “ Ero” in Yoruba means “ a group of people or crowd”. It is unclear when this somewhat denigrated profession acquired its notoriety and how it has come to be lumped with criminality and anti-social activities but the lack of regulation in that sector of the work force cannot be discountenanced from the way people perceive its members. However, what is not contestable is that Agbero is a daily menial job undertaken mostly by young unemployed men and sometimes women. Many of its members dualize as conductors. In its original form, it should ordinarily have no bearing or relationship with “Area Boys” and criminality.

This job thrives in our clime because of the lack of proper structure in the transport sector. In places where buses and vehicles are properly and appropriately labelled with numbers and locations, there will certainly be less need for “a voice call “of passengers into the vehicle as it is done in Nigeria .

However, “ Agbero “ is not unique to Nigeria as it also thrives at minimal levels in many parts of the world and many countries of the world also have them in large numbers like it is in Nigeria. For instance, any visitor to Los Angeles in the United States of America cannot miss men calling passengers into coaches and buses at the Los -Angeles Airport. We can’t also remove the fact that lack of organization of its structure makes it easy for urchins and hoodlums to infiltrate the rank and file of the Agbero group.

Judging by the wagging tongues in town, “Did Bola Tinubu start or mid-wife Agbero in Lagos?”. The answer to this question would have been very simple in an environment where the schedule of daily events in the nation are religiously archived so that citizens would not be compelled to stand history on its head but who is to blame when the library of past events are sympathetically empty? The 1950s was peculiar in the calendar of the Nigerian nation. Historians missed the import of that time because of their concentration on the freedom fighters leaving behind documents on the lower rung of the society where the architecture of the character of Nigeria of today was being shaped and designed. Some people who appeared insignificant to the chapters of our history are today the dictators of the street conducts of the Nigerian social structure. The Lamidi Adedibu of Ibadan, Omo Pupa ni Mushin, Bushura Baba Osa, Sule Maito popularly called Sule Tapa, Salawu Chiko and lately The Bayo Success, Saula of Iyana Ipaja ,MC Oluomo and many others.

Even in the 1950s, Agberos were regarded as “ Omo Ita” meaning Street Urchins by the Yoruba because most of them are indigenes who ran away from troubled homes and migrants who live on the streets due to lack of connectivity with any community in Lagos. The 1950s men were preceded in the 1930s to late 1950s by the “Jaguda boys” who were a group of pick-pockets and petty thieves based in Ibadan and Lagos .

Several years before the emergence of these boys was a man named Jaguda Pali who hailed from today’s Kogi State. He was so notorious that any thief after him carried the label of his name, hence, the Yoruba refer to thieves as Jaguda or Jaguda Pali or Jaguda baba Ole. Interestingly, juvenile Delinquencies and Adult Crimes in Lagos has been a subject of Social Research since the late 1800 but unfortunately, those directly at the receiving end in communities and on the streets of Nigeria would rather rely on rumor milling than facts. To separate the chaff from the grains, it is necessary to reiterate that Agbero is a decent job that has been infiltrated by thugs and hoodlums.

The originator of Agbero was probably one Bushura , who at that time would sit at the corridor of a petrol station in Ebute Ero around Idumota in Lagos State where he collected the loading charges. The multiplicity of the group membership came from the recognition that the society at that time accorded to the job. For example, Bushura was made the Bashorun of Agege.

Non-Agberos such as Omo Pupa became the Oluwo and Apena-Ola of Mushin, Adedibu was a man of no mean repute in Ibadan and so on. . It is obvious from the aforementioned that, Agbero, Area Boys and other forms of negative social vices have been in existence before 1999. In fact, the period immediately preceding the Nigerian Civil war escalated the depth and quantum of the activities of these groups almost beyond tolerance limits.

It is therefore, prejudicial to the name of Bola Tinubu to conclude that he, who came to limelight almost half a century later is the promoter of originator of Agbero. It is also very important to note that Agbero being used synonymously with “Area-Boys” or “hoodlums” is indeed a misnomer. This is not to deny the fact that some of these men were and are still being used by politicians as thugs.

While not speaking for Bola Ahmed Tinubu, it must be mentioned that the first person who made attempt to organize the Agbero and Area Boys to one identifiable organization was the late Honorable Ademola Adeniji Adele who was the Chairman of the Lagos Island Local Government between 1999 and 2003. Later, he was later supported by the Lagos State government led by Bola Tinubu to give a structure to the group so that proper monitoring and identification could be achieved. The government of the time embarked on serious re-organization of the group which afforded it the opportunity to bring them under its functional supervisory role and monitoring.

The post-1999 years witnessed serious governmental intervention in the activities of these groups that are already impeding social activities. The efforts of the administration of Bola Tinubu to keep some of the idle hands in the state engaged is yielding positive fruits because Lagos today has metamorphosed into one of the safest states in Nigeria.

Contrary to the perceptions of some members of the public, the engagement of the idle hands amongst the Agbero and other social deviants constitute a form of employment from which the local governments also derive tax by selling tickets which the Agbero resells to those in need of car parking spaces in the city and its suburbs. Others were brought under the umbrella of a formal organization where they are used as levy collectors on behalf of their union thereby engaging them in one form of job or the other. This largely kept the boys away from putting pressure on the innocent people in the society.

The fact that some hoodlums and street urchins still parade the street of Lagos does not mean that there is no effort on the side of the state government to keep them fully employed.

• Prof Rasheed Ojikutu is of the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.