Lagos’ Area Boys… How Long Will The Underground Activity Last?

• ‘Miscreants Hurting Business Potentials’
• Ways To Curb Menace, By Expert

It was like a scene from a movie. A couple of roughnecks pounced on a young boy at Apapa Port, Lagos.
Each slap or punch was punctuated by the question: “Owo mi da?” (Where is my money?) Bystanders, especially a Chinese man, could not believe their eyes. The victim, a motor boy, was left behind by a truck driver. The latter had sped off in a bid to avoid paying any fee to the touts.

“Poor boy! That’s bad,” the Chinese man said in heavily accented English. He recalled the difficulty he once faced when he needed a truck to convey some imported materials to a company on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. “They (truck drivers) fear tax collectors, local government officials, Vehicle Inspection Officers, Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC) and now these people (touts). Not good for business,” he concluded.

Toll collectors can be found at parks and markets, like Ketu, Mile 12, Oshodi, Mile 2, Oke-Odo and Idumota. They consist of local council officials and the Omo Onile (landowners’ children). From shop owners, they collect daily levies ranging from N50 to N200. Street traders and cart pushers are also not exempted from the collection. Every truck or trailer entering markets, like Ladipo and Mile 12, is forced to pay N500 or more at unmarked collection points. Thrice daily (morning, afternoon and evening), these aggressive Boys collect levies ranging from N20 to N300. Their demands come under all sorts of names: security levy; police levy (collected on behalf of nearby traffic wardens or policemen on patrol); loading levy (for picking up passengers at bus stops); and union levy (for the National Union of Road and Transport Workers). Of these charges, none – except those collected within parks – is ticketed.

A refusal to pay could result in physical assault or damage to vehicle. But the impact of these multiple levies are not lost on fares, as drivers and their assistants quickly blame any hike on the toll takers. At the Oshodi-Isolo area, for instance, commuting between 7&8 bus stop and Canoe (Ejigbo link bridge) recently rose from N70 to N100. The hike, The Guardian learnt, is not unconnected to a new N2000 toll touts now demand from tricycle operators. Without any explanation, “daily operating dues” had climbed by N1,300!

Successive governments in Lagos, since 1999, have often dismissed the activities of touts as illegal, but none has made a lasting attempt to send the extortionists off the road. The Lagos State Environmental Law 2012 prohibits all forms of thuggery, touting, and extortion. Similarly, the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012 outlaws collection of tolls. Enforcement of these laws, however, has simply become impossible.

Mr. Olubukola Abe, who is the Chairman of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offenses Unit (also called Task Force), recently told The Guardian that his agency has intensified law enforcement against miscreants in the state, and particularly at Oshodi.

Since the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode came on board in May 2015, some 1500 miscreants have indeed been nabbed in separate operations. But in spite of this move, many Lagos bus stops are still under the control of the “good boys” – as the governor once referred to them.

The behaviour of the Boys is the blight on the socio-economic status of Lagos State and should worry Governor Ambode who has renewed the drive for Foreign Direct Investment and favourable business environment, especially in the current non-oil economy.

The business environment in Lagos is tasking enough; it should not be made worse by the activities of touts who work in partnership with local council officials, said President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Investment (LCCI), Nike Akande.

She noted that movement of delivery vans and trucks within the metropolis has become “a nightmare”, regretting that motorists groan under the weight of so many permits and licenses, with some vehicles having to display as many as 15 stickers on their windscreen!

Some of the ‘mandatory’ licenses and permits include: Lagos Drivers Institute License; Driver’s License (issued by FRSC); Local Government Permit; Hackney Permit and Dual Carriage; Vehicle License; Certificate of Road Worthiness and Barge Permit. Others are: Conductors Barge; Vehicle Identification Tag; Vehicle Radio and Television Permit; Vehicle Outdoor Mobile Environmental Sanitation Permit; Nigerian Police Emblem; Lagos State Consolidated Emblem and Ministry of Transport Certification.

“Many of the delivery vans don’t go out of factory gates until very late in the day when they are sure Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs), Road Safety Corps and the local council officials have closed for the day,” she said.

Akande stressed that while payment of tax is necessary, the way local government councils go about it is disincentive to business, especially when arbitrariness and harassments by touts are employed. She explained that many organisations have suffered embarrassment as a result of requests by local council officials for so-called radio and television permit.

“There is a lot of arbitrariness with rates ranging from ₦50,000 to ₦200,000 per annum. On parking permit, many organisations have been served various charges ranging from ₦100,000 to ₦500,000 per annum depending on the location and number of parking lots. For companies in small and medium enterprise categories, these demands are very burdensome,” Akande said.

“We appreciate the fact that the state government does not have direct responsibility over the administration of local governments, but we believe it can prevail on them for a moderation of the fees, streamlining of the levies/permits, and proper coordination between the state and local councils. Information on approved rates and fees should be widely publicised to curb abuses and allow for better planning by businesses,” she added.

Chairman of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Apapa Branch, Folaranmi Odunayo, said it remains to be seen “who will save us from local governments and their allies, as they waylay innocent members of the public and our trucks for payment of unpublished and unpublicised road permits.” According to Odunayo, there is always a new license “introduced” to ensure truck drivers part with some bribe to avoid arrest by Indian hemp-smoking touts.

“We recognise that these permits are indirect sources of revenue generation. But you may be surprised that touts today generate many of these documents at the back of indiscreet premises. The LGA permits, including that of the waste basket that truck drivers buy compulsorily at a value that exceeds N30,000, can all be obtained from the touts at N7,000 with all documents complete,” said Odunayo.

“These touts and Area Boys who rule the streets, and local government officials on our roads, are a veritable evidence of the general breakdown of law and order. Their crude tactics is one of the factors for the increasing cost of doing business in Nigeria and Lagos in particular,” he said, urging the government to evolve a blueprint for a better system of revenue collection and enforcement by the local councils.

Meeting stakeholders at the fifth edition of the Lagos Corporate Assembly, Ambode said he would work towards perfecting a template for collection of rates to permanently tackle the menace of touts.

State Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives, Rotimi Ogunleye, explained that the state government is working hard to make Lagos a choice destination for every investor and entrepreneur. He observed that some issues earlier raised by business-owners in the last one year have all been addressed and that the matter of toll collecting touts would not be an exception.

“Our governor is working tirelessly to ensure that Lagos becomes the choice destination for every discerning investor and entrepreneur. Lagos is poised to assist the industrial sector in maximising the potentials for greater contributions to the State’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Towards this end, the government, through the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives, shall continue to institute measures aimed at creating a sustainable and positive environment for all stakeholders in the state,” he said.

A Sociologist at the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Mr. Oluwole Ayodele, believes touts are an expression of society’s socio-economic problems.

Ayodele, who has studied the menace of the Agbero (touts) vis-a-vis social order in the state, posits that youths lack normative orientation that could motivate them to see mainstream traditions as containing values capable of being respected.

“This way, their behaviour constitutes a threat to the maintenance of social order in the motor parks and even beyond,” he concludes.

As solution, Ayodele recommends a multi-prong approach that cuts across all levels of governance and the society. He says there is need to re-examine family life and child upbringing practices, so as to discover the point where values were misunderstood and misapplied to produce the effects the Agbero now display.

He urged the government to stabilise electricity generation in order to stimulate employment creation, which in turn will enable youths to channel their energies to productive enterprise.

“The state government should revive and build more rehabilitation centres where youths who have embraced the values of Agbero can be equipped with vocational skills. The unparalleled gap between the rich and the poor needs to be bridged to foster natural justice, equity and good conscience in the distribution of natural resources,” he stressed.

The Lagos State House of Assembly, meanwhile, has mandated all local council authorities to refrain from using touts as revenue collectors, even as employed officials are expected to be properly licensed, and with valid identity cards.

The House in a motion, a fortnight ago, had also urged members of the public to insist on mode of identification from officials before carrying out transactions with them.