Ambode And The Challenge Of ‘Agbero’
THE governor-elect of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, surely has a whole lot of challenges to face and many “battles” to fight as he prepares to wear the “big shoes” of the outgoing Governor Babatunde Fashola who is stepping out of office in a couple of weeks.
Having rode on the back of Fashola’s remarkable achievements and popularity, and with the strong support of former Governor Bola Tinubu, Ambode owes Lagosians the great duty not only to surpass Fashola’s feat but to also right the perceived wrongs of his administration. There is no need to chronicle these achievements as that has been done severally by many commentators.
But one area that Fashola and indeed his predecessor Tinubu failed woefully to address is the problem of miscreants popularly known as “agbero” at virtually all motor parks and bus stops across the state. While Tinubu condoned them, Fashola simply chickened out of containing them. The problem remains a big dent on the corporate image of the “New Lagos” and is considered a major drawback on the entire campaign of “The Spirit of Lagos” where citizens are being urged to acquire civilized attitude and adopt new ways of behaviours.
Many see this indulgence as a major undoing of the AC/ACN/APC government and Ambode will have to take a critical look at the problem and address it as a matter of urgency as soon as he takes the mantle of leadership on May 29.
It will not be a hyperbole to state that most residents in Lagos daily live with the frustration and the non-challant disposition of the government to addressing the threat posed by these social miscreants to the wellbeing of Lagosians and the state at large.
From park to park and from one bus stop to another, the agbero collect all kinds of fees from hapless commercial bus drivers, commercial motorcycle (okada) riders and tricycle operators. The “fees” range from “booking fee, “loading fee,” “dropping fee,” “security fee”, to “sanitation fees” and “chairman’s meal”. It also includes “LASTMA levy” and “police toll”. The list is endless. The annoying aspect is that the drivers pay some of the illegal fees on the morning, noon, afternoon and night shifts. Any reluctant driver or conductor who fails to part with the fees usually gets the beating of his life from the drug-driven bad boys. Bodily injuries are inflicted on the “stubborn” drivers even after they are made to still pay the illegal fees! In some cases, they vandalise the vehicles of reluctant drivers by removing the wipers, fuel tank cover, engine covers and other vital parts they can lay their hands on.
The agbero operate like a second government or, simply put, a parallel administration in Lagos State. They act with impunity and most times get away with their atrocities. Since they also provide the machinery with which the police and LASTMA officials collect their tolls, they are practically above the law. Hence, the aggrieved drivers know too well that it is a sheer waste of time to report agbero to the police. Even when arrested, it is only a matter of hours before they are “bailed out” by the almighty “chairman” who settles the police regularly.
Consequently, they are aggressive, combatant in nature and ever ready to unleash mayhem at the slightest provocation. In most cases, they dictate the transport fare against the wish of the commercial driver – which is usually on the high side; thereby forcing potential passengers to seek alternatives and delaying the trip in return. Once the hapless driver obeys their command, which logically translates to high charges or commission for the agbero, the cost is then transferred to the commuters!
Findings show that these miscreants have their leaders who fix them at various bus stops and expect returns later in the day. They are given high targets to meet and any failure in this respect (to deliver the pre-determined amount) means troubles that could even lead to loss of jobs. So the “field worker” naturally employs every means possible to extract the fees from the drivers to keep his job.
There is virtually no bus stop or motor park in Lagos that these guys are not stationed. From Iyana-Ipaja to Oshodi, from Obalende to Ajah-lekki, CMS to Mlie 2, from Ikotun to Isolo, Mushin to Idumota, Ikorodu to Oyingbo and Orile to Badagry, the fear of agbero is the beginning of wisdom for commercial vehicle operators and commuters alike.
The side effect of the activities of the ubiquitous agbero on the Lagos economy cannot be quantified. Revenues that are to accrue to the government end up in private pockets. The high cost of transportation in the state is largely due to their activities. By extension, traders add the cost on their wares, just as companies whose trucks are heavily “taxed” by the miscreants equally pass on the burden to citizens.
But how did these miscreants get so powerful and seem invincible in the face of the law and a government that had spent so much on the security? Is it that the government does not consider them a security threat, or could it be that authorities deliberately allow them free reign for selfish political motive as it is being insinuated in some quarters?
• Alamutu lives in Lagos.