Transporters, business owners and residents of Anambra State are groaning over the unabated activities of touts who have taken over the collection of revenue in Awka and Onitsha.
The administration of Professor Charles Soludo was expected to usher in a new dawn in revenue collection in Anambra, a state known as the light of the nation, but the activities of touts and illegal revenue collectors are becoming a dark side of the state.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the touts have about 10 illegal levies imposed on motorists and residents on a daily basis; hence their activities have continued to be a cause for concern among the people.
They stay at strategic points, especially in Awka and Onitsha because of the large volume of vehicles plying major roads in those areas.
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Lorry and truck drivers entering Anambra State, especially from the Upper Iweka part of Onitsha, are always the worst hit as their windscreens and side mirrors are often smashed by the hoodlums, who usually swoop on them, demanding various payments.
Some of the levies are “park and pay; daily motor ticket; daily tolls ticket; morning levy; afternoon levy; evening levy; cargo ticket.”
The effect of their activities is felt by commuters, drivers and businessmen and women, especially small business owners.
Residents who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday said they heaved a sigh of relief when Soludo, on assumption of office in March 2022, banned the activities of touts and other illegal tax collectors who were feeding fat on the state revenue. The governor promised to introduce an efficient revenue collection method.
They, however, noted that within months, the touts were integrated into the new revenue collection system as the state government claimed it wanted to boost the state’s internally generated revenue.
“They became emboldened by this action as they have government uniforms to back their activities. They harass and intimidate road users, especially commercial drivers and tricycle operators,” a policy analyst, Ejoh Chukwudi noted.
He alleged that most of the money collected by the ‘rebranded touts in government uniform’ was hardly remitted to government coffers as it ends up in private pockets.
“They don’t issue receipts in order not to account for the funds,” he added.
The coordinator of Keke riders, Comrade Osita Obi, who said his members were the worst hit, said the state government’s efforts to fight leakage in revenue collections would not end unless the activities of touts in the state were stopped.
He said, “The touts beat up our men and extort all kinds of money from us; and some government officials are aware. Those people who were in the banned union are back, claiming to be collecting revenue for the government.
“The only way the state government can have seamless collection of revenue is to allow the riders to take over.
“Government should set up keke/bus riders committee and charge them with the responsibility of collecting taxes from their members.”
He said if his members were allowed to take charge of revenue collection, they would have adequate data, which would help the government to have correct account of those who pay tax in the state.
The publicity secretary of the Lorry Drivers Association of Nigeria, Awka branch, Chief Chimezie Ugoh, said it was a pity that the activities of touts in Anambra State had defied every solution by the government.
“We move our trucks all the way from far North, West and other parts of the country without harassment by touts, but immediately we get to Anambra, we are subjected to all kinds of inhuman treatment.
“We spend between N5,000 and N7,000 coming from other states, but once we enter Anambra State, they extort between N30,000 and N40,000 from us.
“The sad part is that these miscreants always wear different government uniforms, demanding various levies, which we must pay daily. All the levies have suddenly been increased. The cargo levy we used to pay N5,000 before was suddenly increased to N25,000 towards the end of last year. They also follow us to the place where the goods are offloaded and collect ‘offloading’ levy. What we pay at the end of the day becomes much, and this definitely increases the prices of goods.
“We have engaged in various protests to draw the attention of the government to our plight, but to no avail. When the government banned their activities last year, it was a relief for us, but today, they are back in full force, terrorising us,” he said.
A truck driver, Uche Ude, who narrated a recent experience he had with touts in the state, said the side mirrors of his vehicle were removed in Onitsha.
“The state has been ceded to illegal revenue collectors and touts. Last week, I was coming from Lagos to Anambra State with goods and I was traumatised by harassment from touts. As soon as I got to the traffic gridlock in Onitsha, some touts jumped out from nowhere, shouting, ‘Give us our money’. Before I could say anything, they broke the two side mirrors, while threatening to smash the windscreen of the truck,” he said.
Mr Okereke Micheal also recalled how his bus was ‘hijacked’ in a commando style while he was travelling with his wife and children from Enugu State.
“These men hijacked the vehicle in a commando style because of what they called the absence of ‘emblem.’ They took me inside their office. There, we saw men in their late 60s and 70s as their masters, who told us that we must pay them N35,000 for not having an ‘emblem.’
“I told them that it was a private vehicle, but all our pleas fell on deaf ears. In fact, my matter was made worse when I reminded them about the ban on their activities by the governor.
“We spent hours negotiating. It took phone calls to some influential people before they agreed that we should pay N20,000. I also paid N1,000 for gate fee. You can imagine the psychological effect of the incident on my family, especially the children,” he recounted.
The chairman, Anambra State Drivers Welfare Association, Mr Adindu Opara, said, “When you travel to other cities you will discover that the activities of touts are restricted to parks, but immediately you enter Anambra State you are molested and sometimes beaten up by touts if you refused to do their bidding. Even non-commercial motorists are not left out.”
The coordinator of the Keke/Motorcycle Drivers Stakeholders Welfare, Anambra State chapter, Chief Augustine Uka, said each time the group decided to protest the highhandedness of the hoodlums, they were beaten up.
Reacting, the press secretary to the governor, Mr Christian Aburime, said it was not true that the state government had any deal with the touts.
Aburime said, “The state government is working hard to ensure that touts are cleared off the streets and reduce their nefarious activities to the barest minimum so that there can be sanity in the system. But we should also bear in mind that these people have been there over the years and it is going to take a gradual process to remove them from roads and look for an alternative means of livelihood for those who want to turn a new leaf.
“Some of them have been arrested and taken to court, and the court has given judgement as to what should be done to them. Government is rehabilitating those willing to turn a new leaf, after which an alternative means of livelihood will be provided for them so that they can become productive and good citizens.”