Agberos’ gain as the people’s loss

The special report by the International Centre for Investigative Report (ICIR) on how much the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Lagos (popularly known as agberos) make from levies on passenger vehicles, tricycles and motorcycles is both mind-boggling and heart-rending.

According to the ICIR report released last Thursday, Lagos agberos generate as much as N123.08billion annually. When broken down, N82.1bn of the money is from buses; N32.9bn from tricycles and N8.1bn from motorcycles. The ICIR report added that there are 75,000 buses; 50,000 tricycles and 37,000 motorcycles in the state with a daily levy of N3,000, N600, and N1,800 respectively.

The import of this report is that the Lagos NURTW makes more money than any local government in the state. Given that the union does not maintain any road nor build any hospital or market, the head of the union, Alhaji Musiliu Adesanya (AKA Oluomo), has more money to play with than any local government chairman.

The implication of the report, therefore, is that the NURTW is reeking in violence because it is reeling in money.  The gangsterism and blood-letting among members of the drivers’ union is driven by the oodles of money available for grabs. The union is like an animal kingdom where the powerful prey on the vulnerable. The leaders of the union determine what others get. So, getting the top spot of the union is reserved for the most virulent and violent. That is why the members kill and maim to gain ascension. That is why members of the union resort to violence to settle scores. That is why in many states, members of the union are the nightmares of the peace-loving members of the society.

Given the money available to the agberos, they can call the shots in many respects, they can sponsor candidates for elective positions, they can influence legislation, they can force the hand of the government on many issues and they can force their value on the rest of the society. In many states of the federation, the head agbero is a power base that is revered and feared by many. The state NURTW chairman sometimes acts as an alternate governor. In some instances, the governor defers to him because he knows that not only does the guy have a formidable war-chest, he also has a redoubtable army he can deploy at will. The governor, knowing that he needs the NURTW chairman as much as the latter also needs him, treats him with respect and is unwilling to rock the boat for fear of the repercussion of such action. One of the factors alluded to Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala’s loss of his second term bid as Oyo State governor in 2011 was the alleged mismanagement of his relationship with the leadership of the NURTW in the state.

But how did we as a people arrive at this sorry pass? How did we allow agberos to get this powerful? How can an elected governor be at the mercy of an agbero? How did we make minions our champions? How did we manage to turn scoundrels to models? How did we manage to make the ludicrous a spectacle?

The success of the agberos is the failure of the state.

While it is a constitutional right of members of the same profession or trade to associate and form a union, it is wrong to cede the power of the state to a group. Why should the NURTW collect levies from its members? Did the union build the park where the vehicles are kept? Did the union build the roads on which the vehicles travel? So, why should the union daily collect tolls from its members? It is akin to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) collecting levies from its members each time they appear in court or the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) collecting levies from its members each time they attend to a patient. The money the NURTW collects from its members belongs to the local government. But since most governors are in cahoots with the NURTW leadership, they have willingly allowed agberos to take over the revenue of the councils. So, while the councils that have responsibility for the people are languishing in penury, NURTW leaders that do not even take the welfare of their members seriously smile to the bank. Just imagine the level of development that would have happened in Lagos State if just N2billion from the money that goes to the Lagos NURTW goes to each of the 20 local government councils and the 37 LCDAs in the state. The state would have developed far more than it currently is. So, the agberos’ gain is the people’s loss.

One of the primary functions of government is to create a balance in the society. A society is not supposed to work for some and against others. This is the rationale behind the institution of taxation. It is also the rationale behind the equity principle. In a system where anyone is allowed to do whatever catches their fancy, there would be crises, chaos and calamity. The NURTW has no right to turn itself into an alternate government collecting illegal levies from those in the transportation industry. The government must arise and correct this anomaly. If the NURTW is allowed to get away with this, we have no right complaining about bandits who are said to be collecting taxes from Nigerian citizens in some parts of the North. What is sauce for the agberos should be sauce for the bandits.

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