EDITORIAL: Nigerians vote to have government not to be governed by non-state actors

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Extortion of public transporter in Lagos to the helplessless of a police personnel. Source: Vanguard - https://www.vanguardngr.com/2012/08/at-lagos-bus-stops-its-extortion-galore-by-police-agberos/

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“Now we are made to pay different kinds of levies; from the park to Ajah we pay money, money for security, money for turning at the roundabout, morning, afternoon, evening levies. What is more absurd is that we are taxed whenever the Chairman has a visitor, they call it ‘Owo Alejo Chairman’, so, we should pay for the Chairman to entertain his visitor?” Obalende-Ajah public transporter complained.

 

Amidst difficult times to which Nigerians across the six geopolitical zones of the country have been subjected by hurried decisions by the current administration’s policies on fuel subsidy removal, Naira floating with dollars and palliatives intended to mitigate effectives of the economic implications of subsidy removal but which are now clearly unworking, there is the discovery of what can best be described as a parallel government ongoing with non-state actors (hoodlums and mediocre) calling shots among the populace.

There is also the part that concerns state actors – those security agents recognized by the Constitution – but among whom there are now increasing elements whose characters are not far from those of the non-state actors as they, too, extort Nigerians at gunpoint without the innocent man be able to save himself from their unconstitutional activities.

The government of Nigeria is hereby informed by this Editorial that there are increasing cases of lawlessness happening across the country particularly in the Lagos/Ogun states axis as a case study. People who are not official tax collectors or security agencies are collecting taxes from commercial transporters thereby inflicting pains on the masses of the Nigerian people and there seem no authority to report to.

In the Guardian of 11 January 2023, it was headlined: “Agbero: Lagos drivers still pay multiple charges despite ‘harmonisation’” and in its content, it reported further that: “When the Lagos State government announced it was getting street urchins, popularly known as Agberos off the roads, in January 2022, it made a law mandating commercial drivers to pay N800 daily, many heaved sigh of relief. The levy was introduced under the Consolidated Informal Sector Transport Levy and imposes about N24,000 monthly fee, and N290,000 annual fee on each commercial bus operator in Lagos State.

“The government said the harmonisation would stop multiple collections by the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and ensure that the state government, NURTW (now Lagos Park) and Local Government come out with a sharing formula. But after the announcement was made, the then Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of NURTW, Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo, who was later named the Chairman of the Lagos Parks Management, after he was suspended indefinitely by the national body of NURTW, who gave a nod to the agreement during a press briefing where the state’s Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Rabiu Olowo unveiled the harmonization plan. He later said the transport union was in agreement with government to consolidate the fees collected by different LGAs and agencies to make the collection easier for the governments, claiming the arrangement but it does not affect the operation of the union.

“Since the announcement, drivers have continued to pay other levies in addition to the N800 charge by the Lagos State government,” The Guardian reported in January 2023, Source: https://guardian.ng/news/agbero-lagos-drivers-still-pay-multiple-charges-despite-harmonisation/

The Guardian went on to quote a driver in Ajah, Lagos who told its reporter that the Lagos park management, whose Chairman the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration appointed MC Oluomo to be, had added to the number of bus stops its members operate from. “Now we are made to pay different kinds of levies; from the park to Ajah we pay money, money for security, money for turning at the roundabout, morning, afternoon, evening levies. What is more absurd is that we are taxed whenever the chairman has a visitor, they call it ‘Owo Alejo Chairman’, so, we should pay for the chairman to entertain his visitor?

“I drive a seven-passenger bus and I charge each passenger N500 from Ajah to Obalende, I pay N1,500 to Agbero in the park and I continue to pay at almost every bus stop till I get to Obalende. Agbero get more while we as drivers get less. Are we made to serve them? How much is left for me to take care of my family? We still carry Agbero, police, and soldier in uniform for free because they call themselves staff.” This is one typical example of what obtains in Lagos State and since that time till date, especially now that President Bola Ahmed Tinubut become President in Abuja, the situation has gotten worse.

If the responsibility stipulated for the government in Constitution is first to ensure security and safety for all Nigerians, demographically and geographically and regardless of class, then let the Federal Government be told that there are activities going on among the non-state actors, the Agbero, being trivilialised as mere issue of transport and market unions, which are capable of snowballing into major insecurity in the country if quick actions are not taken to stem the tide.

What is it about traffic and transportation sector that the Nigerian Federal Government has no department of security and safety to handle? What then is the need for the hoodlums being unleashed on the roads on daily basis and who are making life difficult for citizens to really enjoy their freedom of movement guaranteed them by the Constitution of their sovereign nation?  Using public transport, go from Idiroko to Sango-Ota in Ogun State, from there to Ifo and from Ifo up to Toll-Gate (Ogun State boundary with Lagos State) and from there to Alakuko, Moshalasi, Kola, Ijaiye, Abule Egbe, Ile-Epo, Iyana-Ipaja, Ikeja, Sogunle, Bolade, Oshodi, even up to Mushin, you will be amazed what you see of people who wield sticks and tick pipes ready to fight commercial motorists for reasons only of their own supposed union’s interest to the infringement of the rights of persons who are passengers in the respective commercial vehicles they are stopping and making trouble with.

Among those passengers there are some who are time-bound in the appointments they are going for. What is the right of Agbero to stop commercial bus on the road and command the drivers to offload its passengers because the driver did not pay one tax or another? What happened to the fare the passengers already paid? The conductor even complains that because he already paid taxes (Money for police, money for security, money for obstruction, money for making u-turn, money for ticket, money for loading, money for chairman’s visitors, there are more) at his point of loading and so would find it difficult to refund passengers’ money. This is to none of the concern of the non-state actors obstructing the free movement of the commuter bus and nothing would happen because the driver cannot go to police station to report the hoodlums except he is prepared to become the offender, for doing his legal business, while his persecutors become the ones to be protected by the same law enforcement agents whose salaries those passengers’ taxes are used to pay.

There are also those non-state actors in charge of what they call “waybill” and this set of people on the road is one of the most dreaded because it does not matter whether your documents are correct or not, and they exist in every state particularly in South West Nigeria. They can do anything including puncturing tyres, assaulting the driver and nothing happens because they also claim they are covered by the (politicians governed) state. They stop trucks and also vehicles conveying passengers traveling. Their activities are so disgusting that they once nearly caused accident in one of the roads at FUTA North Gate in Akure in Ondo State, when one of them suddenly threw his nails-laden plank on the road in attempt to stop a moving passenger bus and the bus swerved almost somersaulting off the road. In the end, they still descended on the driver for failing to show his documents they required to allow the Lagos-Abuja bus move freely through that Nigerian state road (within the same country not international route) to his destination. It was all noise after noise without any justice for the commercial motorist and his passengers.

This is sacrilege! It should not be allowed to stand. Those waybill or whatever they are called on the roads and the main union of Agberos must not be seen to obstructing vehicular movements on any Nigerian road if this is truly a serious country. There should be no hiding under considerably weak or unclear provisions of the Constitution, for the mere reason that they are guaranteed freedom of association as rights to inflict hardship thereby infringing on the rights of other Nigerians. If some people feel they are guaranteed the rights of association by the Constitution, that rights should not be to the extent that they now engage themselves in usurping the roles of security and safety agents that the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) are already charged by law to play.

Activities of these elements should henceforth cease to exist, especially when they are also considered to be agents of violence with their armoury publicly deployed at will as at when they wish, to the helplessness of security agents in many cases especially as it happens in Lagos and Ogun states. Hoodlums working for these transport unions had been witnessed at places like Kola, Alakuko, Oshodi, Lagos Island and so on and so forth deploying AK 47 guns live as well as cutlasses of various sizes and using same against perceived opponents, enemies either in times of taking over union power from one supposed regime or in carrying out unconstitutional election duties for their political benefactors, who hired them from their various paraga junctions (bus stops) where they are located daily, disrupting vehicular movements of the commercial buses upon whom the movements of majority of the masses of the Nigerian people depend.

Right now in areas of South West states affected by activities of these non-state actors, commercial transporters are said to be working for two persons: Agberos who must collect all kinds of unrecognized taxes they charges to be allowed to function on the roads and filling stations without whose fuel the vehicles’ engines cannot roll. This also because fuel has since jumped from N184 per fuel pump price to the N630 per litre with exception of very few NNPCL mega stations that sell N595 per litre. This, by implication, has led to 500 percent hike in transport fare charges on the road and the Agberos care not.  These non-state actors are ready to go violent as they punch the driver in bid to extort their so-called taxes from him. That is excluding the fact that take home of these public transporters, despite the hike in fare, still do not take them home, yet they service their vehicles, they pay even officially recognized security and safety agents on the roads for reasons best known to them. All of these happen in a country that currently cannot provide adequate employment for its citizens.

The DEFENDER, therefore, calls on the Federal Government to work with governments of the affected states, with a view to immediately halting the activities of these non-state actors masquerading in the costume of transport unions because they – in exercising their acclaimed constitutional rights of association – are already infringing on the rights of very many Nigerians’ freedom of doing business anywhere in the country and disrupting their freedom of movement. By this, victims and casualties have been recorded including those who lost opportunity of being gainfully employed because they were delayed on the roads by stoppage and delay of their commercial buses and even cases of death because sick persons being taken to the hospital using public transport could no longer meet up due to delay and very disgusting activities of the hoodlums witnessed on the roads. There have been more adverse effectives of activities of the non-state actors.

This online newspaper’s findings have revealed how politicians play roles in sustaining the activities of the non-state actors to the powerlessness of the constitutionally recognized security agents and agencies. The fact that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria currently, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, believes that Lagos is his base should have caused the lowering of the tone of violent and very disturbing activities of these hoodlums and mediocre operating in the state, upon which economy other economies in Nigeria depend. But they are strengthened by the fact of claims that “Our Baba is now in Abuja! Nothing dey happen to us” and this should not be acceptable to the President as history has a way of remembering anyone in power and he sees evils thriving power but fails to stop them. Nobody outside of the security and safety agencies recognized by law should be seen mounting any roadblocks on the any Nigerian high or low ways. Even security agents are not necessarily expected to mount road blocks but station along roads for security and safety of road users.

While this newspaper recognizes the rights of any Nigerian to associate, it calls for immediate stoppage of any union or association, whose activities appear to usurp the constitutional roles of security and safety agencies. To this end, presence of Agberos stopping commercial buses or Okada (commercial motorcycles) to harass and extort monies from them on all approved roads and Bus Stops in Lagos, Ogun and others across South West and anywhere in Nigeria must be halted with immediate effect. This must not be seen happening in a country in which the President and governors woo foreign investors to come and put their investments. No foreign investor can bring his money to such country where the system of state, economy, security and justice appears to have fallen into the hands of hoodlums and mediocre.

Asides for the sake of foreign investors, Nigerian citizens too, who are rightful owners of their country, deserve to live, do business and ply their roads in peace without obstruction, whether as car or motorcycle owners or public transport users. Where government fails, the people will always find alternative and that is taking the law into their own hands. Authorities must do everything legally possible to enforce law and order by – by political will – take power from the hands of hoodlums and mediocre. The Nigerian electorate did not vote for hoodlums and mediocre, they voted for responsible persons who sought their consent through election in democracy to use their state resources to organize their affairs security and safety wise, economically, politically, welfare and other ways. To now take the power of state from the people and hand their affairs into the hands of hoodlums and mediocre with no commonsensical training is the greatest injustice that any politician in power can do to the country and people he swore oath to govern. The Federal, State and Local Governments must rise now to the challenges and stop all the non-state actors before they drift their affected states into state of anarchy.

Secret agency, that is the Department of State Service (DSS) should up their take in the areas of intelligence to go all out, find, discover and detect the various armouries of these non-state actors and then share credible intelligence information with relevant security agencies like the Nigerian Police and the Armed Forces to clear those armouries and must not fail to pick up whoever they are, who are involved in the unconstitutional activities. If Constitution gives people the rights of association, Nigerian federal, state and local government political leaders must be willful enough to tell them that they have no guarantee of the Constitution to keep a armoury of weapons and carry out activity of violence as doing so is treason. The DEFENDER wants to see a change!

A stitch in times, the adage says, saves nine!


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