Of Touts, Danfo Drivers and Illegal Taxes

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In this report, Eromosele Abiodun stresses the need for the Lagos State Government to reform the transportation sector, rid the state of the menace of Danfo buses and members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria whose illegal activities have become a huge burden to residents of the state.

 It is an incontrovertible fact that transportation is an essential part of human activity, and in many ways form the basis of all socio-economic interactions. Without a doubt, no two locations will interact effectively without a viable means of movement. In most developing countries, inadequate transport facilities are often the norm rather than the exception. Thus, a good transport system is essential to support economic growth and development.

Since Nigeria attained independence in 1960, the problems of the country’s transport system include bad roads, inadequate  fleets  of  buses  or  trucks;  irregular,  inadequate  and  overcrowded  trains  and  airplanes  and  congested  ports.

However, road transport is the most commonly used mode of transportation in Nigeria today.  Road traffic depends on the pattern of human settlements, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the sub-sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP).

Road transport activities involve the conveyance  of  passengers  en-masse  or  in  small numbers,   the   transportation   of animals, farm produce and merchandise and the rendering of mobile services (clinics,  libraries and  banks).

The optional use of  motor  cars  for  pleasure,  which  can be  distinguished  from the  three  uses  listed  above,  also  contributes  tremendously  to  the  importance  of  road transport in Nigeria.  This is more  predominant  in  Nigeria  than  in  most  other  African  countries  because  of  the  poor  state  of  alternative  means  of  transportation  by  which   journeys   could   have   been made   and   also due   to   the psychological satisfaction offered by the possession of a car.

 

Touts, Danfo drivers as public enemies

In Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, the psychological satisfaction offered by the possession of a car can turn to a nightmare in an instant. You can only disagree with this submission if you have not been in Lagos for too long. Last week, Odion James (not real names) who works in a new generation bank went out with his friends in the car just bought. Two metres away from his house, a commercial bus, popularly known as Danfo ran into his car and damaged it.

He is not alone. At least, several car owners in Lagos have a story to tell about their encounter with Danfo drivers in the state. Not long ago, a phenomenal known as ‘one chance’ was the talk of town in Lagos. Armed robbers terrorised Lagosians using commercial busses as a decoy. Also many people have lost their lives as a result of commercial busses driving against traffic.

The bus drivers and conductors are also victims of the gluttonous touts known at Agberos. Mostly members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), they have become the government and the law. A driver at one of the motor parks in Ikeja area of Lagos told THISDAY that the agberos are that powerful because politicians made them powerful.

According to him, “Why will anyone collect the kind of money they collect every day without the backing of government? For every dime they collect it is shared among their chairmen, top politicians in Lagos and Local government chairmen in the state.”

THISDAY investigation revealed that it is the activity of the motor park touts that is fuelling the cost of transportation in Lagos state.

For example, a commercial bus plying Ojuelegba-Apapa, pay between N4,500 and N5,000 to agberos on a daily basis and this illegal taxation is transferred to unsuspecting passengers. Those who refuse to pay are beaten to stupor.

The Lagos State Government has never made attempt to check this ugly situation over the years until the former governor of the state, Akinwumi Ambode made effort to replace the bus drivers with modern bus terminals and busses.

Ambode had at the 14th annual lecture of the Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) two years ago announced plans to ban the operations of commercial buses from Lagos roads before 2017.

He had then said the move was aimed at creating, “a well-structured and world class mass transportation system that would facilitate ease of movement within the city.”

He had disclosed that the prime goal of his administration was to grow the state from fifth to third largest economy in Africa by 2020.

Consequently, the governor then added that it had become imperative to also end the operation of yellow commercial buses known as danfo on roads in the Lagos metropolis before the end of this year.

Ambode, had explained the significance of infrastructure projects his administration had been executing in strategic sectors of Lagos economy, noting that it was directed at up scaling the status of the state.

He said that the establishment of massive lay-bys, rehabilitation of inner-city roads and the construction of flyovers in different parts of the state were designed to end the challenges of urbanisation.

Specifically, the former governor had noted that the main objective of his administration remained the growth of Lagos from fifth to third largest economy in Africa, which he said formed the heart of his government.

To realise this prime goal, Ambode had then insisted that yellow buses would be removed from Lagos roads for a more efficient, well-structured and world class mass transportation system that would facilitate ease of movement within the city.

 

N30bn public transport

In line with its plan to phase out the yellow commercial buses, the state government had then said it was working towards setting aside a N30 billion sinking fund to transform public transportation.

Ambode had said  the amount would help instil credibility in a N100 billion public transportation bond that the state was to be  floated  later in the year.

 “The second level of the initiative is that we intend to give out franchise to people and this franchise is going to come in multiple of 50 buses each, 100 buses, 200 buses and so on. So, if you have that franchise, you are going to give us a down payment of 25 per cent of the buses. So, these are bankable projects as we have a sinking fund and so our exposure as a government is just technically 75 per cent,” he said.

He had noted that public transportation is not a profitable business and that one is not likely to see major investors in it that was why the state decided to use its vehicle – the LAGBUS, which is a private company to drive the proposed public transportation infrastructure bond.

According to Ambode, from the kind of machinery his government wants to use to run the buses, there would be no cash takings, saying that everything would be automated and obviously who ever has a franchise, would have the recourse to take part of the money while part of the intake also goes to the repayment of the facility.

“The only part I just want to quickly mention here is the human angle. I, Akin Ambode cannot drive the buses, a medium size bus that I provide replaces two yellow buses (Danfo) and obviously it is from the community of the drivers that own the Danfos that we have to absolve into this new culture; they have to be the new drivers.

“The NURTW, the RTEAN are the ones invited to own the buses. I, as government, is just providing the infrastructure because they cannot buy these new buses hundred per cent cash and so government needs to stand up for them and so you know what, you the dealers, continue to provide the buses, come and put the SKD company in Lagos, then come and do maintenance facility for us, come and put the spare parts in Lagos for us and then we create more employment,” he said.

This, the Lagos Governor said would be a paradigm shift from where the yellow bus drivers move from being addressed as danfo drivers but professional drivers.

 

And Agberos had their way

Unfortunately, Ambode never had the chance to implement his plan because he didn’t get a second term in office. And for those who only hear of Lagos from afar, Ambode is now facing persecution from Lagos law makers over his effort to replace danfos with modern buses.

Recently, the Lagos State House of Assembly threatened to issue a warrant of arrest on him and four others who served under him as commissioners

This decision followed two preliminary reports presented by two different ad-hoc committees set up by the House to investigate the 820 buses purchased by Ambode and to appraise the 2019 mid-year budget.

Chairman of the nine-man ad-hoc committee set up to probe the 820 buses purchased by the former governor, Fatai Mojeed, while presenting the preliminary report, said it was discovered that due process was not followed in the purchase of the buses.

Mojeed added that the former governor used the refund of the Paris Club for the purchase of the buses without the approval of the House.

The lawmaker added that they demanded the budget instrument used for the purchase, but that there was no budgetary provision for it.

On his part, Chairman, Ad-hoc Committee on Mid-Year Budget Review, Gbolahan Yishawu, alleged that the commissioners involved were invited by the committee, but refused to appear without giving any excuse for their absence.

However, some members of the House while reacting to the matter, suggested that since the former governor and those officials who worked with him had been invited by the two committees and refused to show up, a warrant of arrest should be issued on them.

Obasa, therefore, said: “The Clerk should write them, including the former governor, Ambode and if they refuse, we will do newspaper publications and after that, we will issue a warrant of arrest.”