OCHEREOME

By Ochereome Nnanna

TOUTING at the motor parks is a nationwide phenomenon. It was originally a group of largely uneducated young ruffians who clustered around the motor garages to work as commercial vehicle drivers, loaders and conductors. They later formed unions, notably the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, RTEAN.

Fired up by drugs and alcohol, these hoodlums can do anything to make money. In Nigeria, the fiercest touts are found in Lagos, Oyo and Anambra states, which are great centres of road transport distributions. They are mostly known as agbero(“passenger carriers”, in Yoruba). Igbo also call them agboro which is just a corruption of the Yoruba word.

Politicians have, for long, integrated them into their ranks and use them as political thugs to “win” elections. The late Pa Lamidi Adedibu, the Strong Man of Ibadan politics, used them to help his preferred parties or candidates win elections or bring down those who ignored him. With the money extorted, he was able to form a kind of alternate or private welfarist “government” which maintained him as a formidable force in Oyo politics till he died on June 11, 2008.

When Bola Ahmed Tinubu emerged Governor of Lagos State in 1999, he met a festering Area Boys problem. These were mainly young men and women of Lagos or South West origin left out of the city’s or region’s educational, social and economic development. To survive, they had to resort to violent extortion of traders and transporters.

When Tinubu parted ways with the Afenifere and needed to consolidate his personal power base, he created the 37 Local Government Development Areas, LCDAs, which added to the constitutionally recognised 20 Local Government Areas, LGAs, increased the local administrative units to 57. He absorbed the Area Boys (and Girls) into the many organs of government he created. 

Those who could not be directly brought into government were simply allowed to range freely and continue with their extortion as “local government revenue agents” wearing various colours of uniforms and operating in the markets, motor parks, highways and bus stops. They also became part of the existing political machine. Indeed, the recent appointment of the former Lagos NURTW Chairman, Musiliu Akinsanya, as the Lagos Parks Management Committee Chairman after he pulled out of the NURTW, said it all that the Agberos of Lagos are now part of Tinubu’s political machine and state government. Tinubu has merely upgraded what Adedibu, who never contested for elections, operated in Oyo.

With youth unemployment shooting through the roof, more of these youths are being deployed to intensify the extortion of traders and transporters. The streets of Lagos are crawling with thousands of cudgels-wielding touts who arbitrarily stop trailers, tankers, commercial buses and infiltrate the markets for their daily takes. In return for this freedom to use force to feed from those engaged in legitimate means of livelihood, the hoodlums have become the enforcers of political schemes.

My worry is that this situation is foisting animosity and ethnic tension between the Yoruba and Igbo residents of Lagos, especially in the market zones such as Oshodi, Balogun, Ladipo, Alaba International, Berger Car Mart and Trade Fair. These are the markets the Igbo conduct their trading activities. These armed touts regularly invade these markets, ready to beat up or even kill anyone who either resists or argues with them. They arbitrarily increase the amounts they extort, not minding how this will affect the business owners.

About a fortnight ago, matters boiled over at Alaba International, as the traders rose, defied the hoodlums and engaged them in street fights. The market had to be closed to guard against the rumoured plot to burn it down. Some of the urchins and their supporters in the social media alleged that the mostly Igbo traders “collected” their ancestral lands to enrich themselves, conveniently ignoring the fact that the traders acquired the land under the authority of the same LASG that is condoning the extortion.

They also spin the narrative that the traders claim Lagos is a “no man’s land”. What is the nexus between the legitimate acquisition of property in Lagos by non-indigenes and the declaration of the state as “no man’s land”? What is the real proof that Lagos is a “no man’s land”?

This allegation is maliciously mounted against Igbo property owners in Lagos. If anyone is acting out the “Lagos is no man’s land” narrative, it is the non-Lagosian Yoruba elements who have snatched the political and governmental machineries of the state from the indigenes. They, not the Igbo, are the ones in charge. The indigenes are gasping for political space in their own state. This is what drives the “Lagos-For-Lagos” movement fronted by PDP governorship candidate, Abdulazeez Adediran (Jandor), an agitation for the return of power back to the native Lagosians. Lagos is firmly in the hands of the indigenous and non-indigenous Yoruba elements economically, politically, socially and traditionally.

Igbo land does not even have a border with Yoruba land, let alone Lagos. Where would a purported tussle for Igbo “ownership” or claim of “no man’s land” arise from? It is just a politically-motivated false narrative which the political leaders and controllers of the government of Lagos are stoking in an attempt to intimidate, harass and extort traders. Those who seized and are enjoying the people’s patrimonies are diverting attention from themselves to innocent Igbo traders based on this ethnic drivel.

It is a dangerous game which could disrupt the inter-ethnic harmony in the state. Thank God, leaders of conscience of both ethnic divides are fighting relentlessly and successfully to maintain the cherished bonds of friendship.

Even long after the devils are gone, Lagos will remain a place for all. 

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