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Despite harmonised transport levy, cries of extortion persist in Lagos

Almost a year after the Lagos State Government introduced the harmonised transport levy of N800 for commercial bus drivers with the intent to curb extortion…

Almost a year after the Lagos State Government introduced the harmonised transport levy of N800 for commercial bus drivers with the intent to curb extortion and payment of unauthorised charges, the situation has worsened in Nigeria’s commercial hub. Extortions and multiple charges by the various unions have dogged the state’s transportation ecosystem as bus drivers said they had concluded plans to embark on strike across the state.

The drivers under the aegis of the Joint Drivers’ Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN) embarked on a week strike which ends today. The one-week strike was to demand an end to extortion and illegal charges levied on transporters in the state.

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They accused the government of failing in their statutory duty to curb such extortion.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the state government in January introduced the Informal Transport Sector Levy to harmonise dues collected by government from commercial motorists at parks and garages across the state.

The intent was to harmonise levy payable by motorists as the state disclosed that an average driver pays as much as N3,000 per day to motor park touts (agbero).

With the new policy, each commercial driver in the state would pay a consolidated levy of N800 to be shared among government agencies and local governments.

With the policy, the local government areas will not collect levy from commercial drivers anymore as their share has been inculcated in the N800 levy per day for a commercial driver.

All commercial bus drivers will now be issued tax cards by the Lagos Internal Revenue Service annually for paying the N800 daily and about N24, 000 monthly, according to the state commissioner for finance, Dr Rabiu Olowo.

The government signed the agreement for its implementation with the then National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN). Both unions have been placed on suspension and their functions carried out by the Parks Management Committee. The erstwhile state chairman of the NURTW, Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC, Oluomo is the chairman of the Lagos State Parks Management Committee.

But despite the introduction of the charges, bus drivers across the state insist that extortions have not abated. In fact, they said the situation had gone worse in recent times, adding that they now barely survive on account of the multiple levies and ‘settlements’ they have to make per trip. They likened the harmonised levy as ‘official extortion’ while the unions/committees continue demanding their regular fees.

Catalogue of levies

Findings by our correspondent revealed that apart from the statutory N800 levy introduced by the state government, bus drivers pay more to settle touts at various bus stops across the state.

Findings also revealed that from Badagry to Mile 2, they pay between N3,500 and N5,000, apart from 25 illegal tolling/ticketing centres by motor park hoodlums, who collect between N200 and N300 per bus.

From the park in Seme, they collect N7,100 in the morning before loading, in addition to the illegal collection on the highway.

On the Federal Mass Transit bus and Coaster, the drivers pay N12,000 on each trip from Oko Afo to CMS or Oyingbo, in addition to loading charges and other illegal payments at many bus stops.

From Ogijo to Ikorodu, the drivers pay over N5,500 per day – garage ticket, N850; chairman’s ticket, N1,700; king’s levy, N200; Ita Oluwo, N500; Odo Gunyan N1,200; Ile Epo Oba, N200. They also pay N900 for passing by, whether they pick up a passenger or not.

At Ikorodu roundabout, the driver also pays N1,000 in the morning and afternoon, as well as N500 in the evening, which makes it N2,500. At Benson Bus Stop, they pay N900 for a whole day, loading at N300 each for morning, afternoon and evening.

Speaking with our correspondent, the general counsel/legal adviser to JDWAN, Ayo Ademiluyi, who reeled out the charges to our correspondent, added, “At Agric Bus Stop we pay N200 to eight motor park thugs. It is called Welcome to Agric tax. When we stop to load for passengers at the Agric Bus Stop we pay an extra N300, which isn’t part of the N1,600 Welcome to Agric tax. When we get to Aunty Kenny Bus Stop we pay N200 before buying the Lagos state ticket.”

He said he had the mandate of over 1,000 bus drivers across Lagos State to champion the course towards ending the regime of extortion in the state.

Quoting the drivers, he added, “At Ogolonto Bus Stop we pay N100. At Mile 12 bus stop we pay N500 for plying the expressway and N1, 000 for plying service lane (for buses enroute Yaba Oyingbo). Mile 12 to Ojuelegba buses pay N1, 500 while red coaster buses pay N2, 000.

“Buses from Ikorodu to Oshodi pay N5, 000 to motor park boys in the morning and afternoon. At Ketu Bus Stop, we pay between N600 to N1, 000, depending on the size of bus for just dropping off passengers or picking up any single one. For buses plying Yaba to Ikeja, we pay N200 at Jibowu Bus Stop, Total Bus Stop N100, Fadeyi N100, Onipanu N200, Elediye N200, Palmgrove N200, Anthony N100, Ikeja N200 – total N1,300.

“On our way back to Yaba, Palmgrove and Onipanu is N500, Fadeyi and Total N500, Yaba N200 with LASG N800 ticket, making it a total of N3,300 in the morning alone.”

The unions also collect levies from tricycles, motorcycles (in areas where their services are not restricted), dispatch riders, articulated vehicles, as well as hawkers, persons who buy goods in some markets, it was gathered.

Threat to lives

Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday also revealed that some bus drivers and conductors are maimed by motor park thugs in the process of collecting various levies. Their vehicles also get damaged.

Recently, a bloody fracas erupted between some traders at the Alaba International Market Ojo and urchins over the establishment of a new collection point.

No fewer than two persons were killed and many injured during the fracas last week.

Following the fracas, the Alaba International Market union, penultimate Thursday, suspended all trading activities at the market, pending when and how the state government would resolve the issue.

The traders are demanding, among other things, the disbandment of street trading along Olojo Drive and the stoppage of activities at the new toll collection points established by the transport union.

Our correspondent who visited the area discovered that at Volkswagen Bus Stop, trucks conveying containers to the market are made to pay N70,000 each before they are allowed to proceed.

Chairman, Lagos State Parks and Garages Management, Musiliu Akinsanya (aka MC Oluomo)

 

Drivers are also made to pay an additional N2,000 to touts, whose office is located in front of the Ojo Local Government secretariat.

Michael Uwuamanam, a trader at the popular Alaba International Market, alleged that those who come to buy goods are also made to pay between N200 and N500, depending on the volume of goods.

“This extortion of our customers has driven them away from the market. Some of the urchins, who also double as land grabbers (Omo-Onile), allot front of shops to petty traders for street trading,” he said.

Some of the drivers on the Mile 2-Badagry expressway who spoke to our correspondent,alleged that they paid between N7,000 and N8,000 daily to the different transport unions and the police, depending on the type of bus involved.

They said failure to pay up the money demanded would attract gang- beating of the driver or conductor, or vandalisation of vehicle parts by urchins.

Most of the drivers alleged that the urchins were becoming emboldened by the day as they open up new pay points.

The armed urchins who stand in the middle of the road, according to them, have gone unchecked, either by law enforcement agencies or the state government.

A commercial bus driver, Emeka Onyedika, who plies the Mile 2-Badagry expressway, alleged that the unions were often in the habit of increasing their ticket fees indiscriminately.

He said between April and July, the unions increased their ticket money from N500 to N800, depending on the type of bus driven.

“For a 14-seater bus, they collect N600 from each bus driver at Agbara. This doesn’t include security money.

“At Vespa Bus Stop, we pay N200, at Iyana-Era they collect N100, at Iyana-Isashi, we pay N100. Those at Okokomaiko also collect N100, while at Alaba Rago we pay N600. At Volks we pay N100 while at Mile 2 we pay N800. We pay all the money to touts to be allowed to operate in the morning,” he said.

Another bus driver on the Orile-Agbara axis, Wale Ajani, described the situation as unbearable, especially considering the economic situation in the country, which has left majority of bus drivers in need.

According to him, drivers pay different exorbitant amounts of money at every bus stop, adding that members of the union collect the money by coercion and without empathy. He said they often beat up drivers and conductors who delay or refuse payment and even vandalise their buses.

“We wake up in the morning to begin to hustle for our daily bread, but at the end of the day we have no reasonable amount to go home with because it will all be spent on agbero at every bus stop. The touts live large while we live in poverty,” another driver, Solomon added.

Charles Odoemenam, on his part said they paid as much as N7,000 daily to touts and that amounts to N210,000 monthly and N2.5million yearly per bus.

He said this was aside from the mandatory N800 which commercial bus drivers are made to pay to buy the state government’s ticket every day.

“We pay N24,000 into the state government coffers every month and N288,000 yearly. Look at the difference between what we pay to the state government and what goes to individual pockets.

“Their boys will demand for Owo Olopa (money for police), Owo chairman (chairman’s money), Owo oson (afternoon money) and Owo ita (outside money). In fact, they come up with all manner of collections, failure of which will attract the beating of the conductor or vandalisation of vehicle parts,” he said.

‘Why we embarked on strike’

For the drivers, it is a tale of woes. According to them, while they toil on a daily basis to make ends meet, there is nothing to show for their hard work. 

A bus driver and one of the leaders of the JDWAN, Mr Feyishayo Ajimatanrareje said, “We wake up as early as 3am to look for our daily bread, but at the end of the day when we close we discover that the money that remains in our purse is just a little one that won’t be able to take care of our families, not to talk of repairing our vehicles.

“That is why we decided to take the necessary steps to call on the government to call these people to order so that we would be able to live a normal life loke other people.”

After enduring the pains and agony of the seemingly unending multiple levies, the drivers said they had got to a point where they could no longer keep quiet and allow the extortion to continue.

They said they had come to realise that the recent creation of the Parks and Management Committee by the state government rather helped to institutionalise extortion.

Ademiluyi said that of concern to the drivers was that the Parks and Management Committee, which has been integrated into the apparatus of the government, had been responsible for the extortion, adding, “We are not mincing words with that allegation of extortion.

“Most of the tickets they issue are not in the name of that committee. And there’s no enabling law that created that committee, it was just a fiat of the government; and by the operation of the committee, it has created undue hardship for members of this association.”

He added that the extortion had been further compounded by the harassment and intimidation by various traffic and law enforcement agencies like the LASTMA, RRS, Lagos State Task Force, the VIS, among others.

He explained that the seven-day strike would commence with a protest on Monday, saying, “We are forced to embark on this strike action because of the agony we are facing. We are paying a lot for fuel, motor park touts and the Parks Management Committee.

We don’t know the association – Govt

The Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, denied the association, saying checks at the Ministry of Transportation did not reveal the identity of the association.

He said, “In this age of the social media, some people can just sit down in their room and call themselves anything. I don’t know these guys. If they are talking about extortion, who is extorting who? If they are NURTW or RTEAN, maybe one can say one or two things. Are they registered? Who are their trustees? Are they affiliated to the NURTW and the RTEAN? Those are the organisations we know and read about.”

The commissioner denied the allegation of extortion, saying, “What the government has been trying to do is to ensure that everything is streamlined so that people don’t get cheated in a way. The government has the right to go to some places to collect levies and dues, and it felt that in motor parks, it shouldn’t be something done haphazardly.”

N123bn transport taxes unaccounted for

A 2021 investigative report by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), revealed that motor park touts in Lagos generated about N123.08bn annually, which could service the annual budget of Nasarawa, Niger and Yobe states.

However, the majority of the funds collected as transport taxes by the unions are not recorded in the state’s account as they end up in individual pockets. 

Findings showed that prior to the introduction of the consolidated N800 daily levy, some local government councils got as low as N100 per park in their area.

When Daily Trust on Sunday spoke with two transport union leaders – one from the Island and the other on the Mainland on their activities, especially why they still collect levies from drivers despite the N800 harmonised tax from the state government, one of them claimed that there was no law or directive stopping them from collecting different levies from drivers.

“The government didn’t ask us not to collect levies from drivers again. The N800 is for the government while we collect our own separately,” one of them who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.

This shows that instead of demanding accountability from the touts, the state government dubiously introduced the N800 levy, an official of the state who did not want his name in print said.

Motor park touts are powerful in Lagos as they enjoy patronage from the political class during elections. With easy access to cash, most of their leaders have top Nollywood actresses as concubines, while the Yoruba movie industry sings their praises.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that joining the group is not a mean feat. In most cases, recommendations are required from the top hierarchy of the union before a ‘pit’ (collection point) can be assigned. Struggles for control of collection points have led to violence and deaths in the state.

At least four persons were feared dead in January during a bloody clash between factions of the NURTW in Idumota, Lagos Island. The fight erupted between Kunle Poly and Mustapha Seggo’s supporters over an argument on which group should collect tolls from commercial bus drivers and motorcyclists at the Eyin Eyo unit in Idumota.

“You can’t join, you are a schoolboy. To collect money is not easy. You have to be fortified and show ruggedness before you would be feared by others,” one of the leaders told one of our correspondents who had hinted at joining them. It was gathered that daily targets are given to the touts, which necessitates their aggressiveness in the daily collection of levies.

The ICIR’s report found out that South Africa generated R687 million (equivalent of N19.5 billion as of 2021) and R660 million (N18.75bn) respectively from collection of transport taxes from the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral), the country’s equivalent of the NURTW.

Efforts to speak to the chairman of Parks Management Committee, MC Oluomo, were unsuccessful. One of his aides said the committee would make its position known after its meeting next week.

Aggrieved bus drivers meet Government, agree on cease-fire 

Following the strike, the state government through the Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Hon. Sola Giwa met with the drivers where they agreed to a ceasefire. 

Giwa said the Joint Drivers Welfare Association of Nigeria (JDWAN) and the State Transport Unions have agreed to meet in the coming week to resolve the issue of alleged extortion and harassment levelled against the Union members by the drivers with a view to resolve their differences and foster unity amongst transport workers in the State.

At the meeting held at the state secretariat, Giwa stressed that the State Government will oversee the resolution process as it has done in the past in line with the White Paper on transport union activities of 2004, which recognizes the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) and National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).

He further disclosed that the State Government is working with the law enforcement agencies to dislodge miscreants disguising as Union members on Lagos roads, advising JDWAN to officially write to the Ministry of Transportation if the resolutions reached between the two parties are not satisfactory.

The Chairman of the JDWAN, Akintade Abiodun, appealed to the State Government to uphold the unified N800 levy, caution errant law enforcement agencies and checkmate the excesses of the Transport Unions.

In a related development, the Chairman of the Parks and Management Committee MC Oluomo said the committee is always open to address issues among its members, saying the JDWAN should have channelled their grievances to the appropriate quarters instead of embarking on strike. 

Unified levy poorly thought – Prof

A professor of transportation at the Lagos State University, Samuel Odewunmi, said the unified levy had not worked because it was not thought through in the first place.

He said, “When they introduced the harmonised levy, they did not map the areas properly. Part of the mapping is: Who are the collectors?

“Do you know how much is being collected on the roads daily? That’s why I have always advocated the need for a road transport commission.

“If you have railways carrying less than five per cent of the population and two authorities for water transportation – NIWA and NIMASA and LASWA, why would you not have a road commission?

The money being collected by non-state actors is humongous.

“The government needs to do more thinking and seek their cooperation. Honestly, if you know those drivers you would know that they are being fleeced every day. Even for tankers, at night you would see those boys carrying sticks and collecting money from drivers. My submission is that the unified levy has not worked,” he said.