Agberos still operate with impunity in Lagos, despite the coming into effect of the road traffic law which bans them from operating in public places
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Aug. 12, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IMPUNITY is the word. In spite of ban by the Lagos State government on motor park touts, fondly called agberos from collecting illegal levies from commercial bus drivers at motor parks and bus stops, they still operate in the state with impunity. The Lagos road traffic law which was enacted a year ago prohibits the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, from collecting money from commercial motorists at the motor parks and bus stops. They are also not to operate in the vicinity of these areas any longer. The NURTW in the new dispensation should have liaison offices within the metropolis where they can operate and collect check-off dues from their members.
With the law in place, commercial bus drivers and other members of the public heaved a sigh of relief. They thought the ban would eliminate unnecessary extortions and molestations meted out to drivers and conductors by the agberos. How wrong they were as the toll collectors have pulled off their green and white uniform and now operate in mufti.
At Iyana Ipaja, Iyana Iba, Oshodi, Okokomaiko, Yaba, Ojota, Alaba, Mile 2, Egbeda, Ikeja and many other bus stops, the miscreants are still operating with impunity. Armed with sticks and whips, they batter commercial bus drivers and conductors who hesitate to pay all manner of levies and dues which come under different sub-heads like “owo load, owo olopa (police), owo chairman, owo task-force, owo igbadun (enjoyment), Owo traffic” among several other charges. In some cases, they also have marker to identify the bus whose driver has paid for the load. The fees range from N50, N100, N200, and sometimes up to N500.
They smash side mirrors, windscreens, yank off wipers and seats, and remove fuel tank corks at the slightest provocation and beat up drivers and conductors if they do not pay on demand. Chris Azubuike, a commercial driver, who plies Iyana Ipaja-Oshodi route, said the situation had not changed much since the Lagos state government enacted the law banning miscreants from operating at motor parks and bus stops.
“Agberos have changed their mode of operation. Those that were wearing uniforms now wear plain clothes so that ordinary people will not recognise them. But we know them because we have been working with them over the years. So, the people are still collecting illegal levies from us. Except government drafts monitoring teams to bus stops, the situation will remain the same. I’m also afraid that even the monitoring teams could be compromised. We are in a difficult situation,” he said.
Muftau Adewale, another commercial bus driver, on the same route regretted that the succour that the public had expected to come with the ban on agbero was yet to be felt. “It is as if government did not say anything. It seems we are working for these boys. Sometimes, I can’t even remember how much I pay daily as levies at different motor parks and bus stops. These boys are still around collecting money. They will tell you this is our office, we eat from here and anyone who does not approve of it we will fight that person. This is a lawless place; government should do something about it,” he said.
According to him, the only way to he keeps off the agberos is to carry a military and senior police personnel in his bus. “Sometimes I carry a soldier or a senior police officer on the front seat. When agberos see such a person, they give him compliments and walk away. That way, I escape paying any money for that trip.”
Agberos started as area boys in the early 1980s, as a small band of bullies who roamed the slums adjoining the central business district. But since then, their number has multiplied by a steady flood of unemployed people who migrate constantly into the state from other parts of the country. Initially, agberos did not start collecting money by force. Then, what they did was to assist drivers to load their vehicles after which they would take any amount the driver gave to them.
But, today, agberos are now rampant all over the city. Their favourite hangouts are bus stops, major highways and markets. In broad day light, they levy tolls on bus drivers, they demand bribes daily from market women and those who want to set up stalls. They patrol car parking spaces and demand illegal fees from shoppers. They even threaten ordinary passers–by, demanding donations.
Agberos have turned all the bus stops into commercial avenues where they forcefully extort money from commercial bus operators to the extent of physically assaulting the few who refuse to comply and part with their money. Agberos surprisingly have the backing of the police. They also collect money on behalf of the police. That is why these people operate and the police will never challenge them because they are partners in crime.