BOLA BADMUS and OLALEKAN OLABULO, in this piece, look at the levy recently imposed on Lagos commercial drivers by the state amidst reports of alleged large-scale extortion by their union leaders.
LAGOS State government has said the recently-imposed levy on commercial drivers in the state would be directly enforced by its officials, side-stepping the ubiquitous union members and agbero who still act as revenue collectors for local governments in their dealings with the drivers.
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, in an exclusive interview with Saturday Tribune, explained that unlike the existing arrangement, when transport union members collect levies for different local governments, officials of the state government would be deployed in motor parks for the collection of the new consolidated levy with effect from February I, 2022.
The senior official of the Governor Babajide Sanwoolu administration also pointed out that the new levy would not include the different levies being collected by the transport unions.
While this clarification shows that drivers would pay more than the government-imposed levy, the commissioner explained that this time, their daily payment would no longer include the local government and environmental levies.
When asked if the agbero would still be the go-between in the new arrangement, Omotosho said: “No, there would be officers at the park who would be collecting the money for the government. The union officials would be collecting their own. The government has mechanism for collecting its own.
“The question of who collects what is not the main thing. The main thing is for what purpose and the main purpose is for everybody to be doing things without stress and for the driver who will move from Badagry to VI (Victoria Island), and be paying like N3,000 per day, that will not happen again.
“Once you obtain the ticket at the park at N800 (about N292,000 yearly) that is all. And the money that LASWA, LASEPA and all other government agencies are collecting would have been taken care of. They wouldn’t be coming to the parks again. It is only one officer that they would be paying to, and that would grant the driver access to Personal Income Tax and the driver would be proud he is paying his tax.”
Speaking on the subsisting sharing formula between the union and local governments in the state, Omotosho said: “The unions have no share in the N800 daily charge. No, it is quite different from what the unions would be taking. It is like you are a journalist, you pay your tax, and then if NUJ says you should pay NUJ dues, you will still pay. So, that is the way it is. The fact that you have paid does not mean you wouldn’t pay NUJ dues. And that is the way with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), it is a union of drivers. They have agreed to come out of their freewill and be able to fund their association.”
While announcing what he called the new Consolidated Informal Sector Levy, the state Commissioner for Finance, Dr Rabiu Olowo, claimed that the arrangement was aimed at protecting the drivers against multiple levies for different local governments, adding that it would also include the Personal Income Tax of the commercial vehicle operators.
The state chairman of the NURTW, Alhaji Musiliu Ayinde Akinsanya, while speaking on the new development, pointed out to drivers in the state that the new state levy would not include the different levies from the union and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).
Akinsanya, better known as MC Oluomo, also said that the move by the state government was spearheaded by the transport union members over delay in tax remittance.
“I want to make it clear that the N800 daily levy only covers all the money collected by the MDAs; it does not affect NURTW ticket,” he said.
The unions are yet to announce their levies which are expected to be drastically scaled down now that they no longer collect local government levies. But drivers are skeptical of the new arrangement.
Saturday Tribune also learnt that the latest move by the state government was to retrieve part of the billions of naira being reportedly collected from commercial transporters in the state by the unions without much remittance to the state.
As stakeholders in the sector await the commencement of the new policy, some drivers still pay as much as N1,800 daily as local government fees, depending on the number of local governments covered in their daily operation. The local government levies are currently included in the transport union fees but expunged in the state new levy.
A senior local government official in the state who pleaded for anonymity, while speaking with Saturday Tribune, said the collection of levy was contracted to top members of the transport unions in each local government. He added that the amount being received from these contractors vary from one local government to another.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Mr Toyin Fayinka, however, gave the assurance that with the new development, a bus driver who pays at the local government of departure won’t have to pay again in the course of his journey.
“A bus driver from Badagry, having paid N800 to Badagry Local Government and going to Mile 2, won’t pay again to Ojo Local Government. The payment at the point of departure takes care of the daily levy and other charges by the government,” Fayinka stated.
Ten days to the take-off of the scheme, Saturday Tribune’s interaction with drivers doesn’t suggest they are well informed about it and obviously not impressed by the assurances given by the state that their daily burden would be lessened.
Most of them expressed indifference to the new levy, saying it might be an avenue for the unions to further extort and impoverish them. The majority of the drivers also claimed not to be aware of the new policy but called for sincerity from the government and the transport unions.
Adeshina. a commercial bus driver who operates between Oshodi and Mushin, explained his skepticism to Saturday Tribune: “I hope the government is not finding another means to add to our hardship in our daily operation. I am not aware of the new levy and we still pay the old one.
“My trip from Oshodi to Mushin covers just two local governments and I pay just N400 as the local government levies in the two local governments. I pay N200 in Oshodi and another N200 in Mushin. Now I will have to pay additional N400.
“Now that the state government is officially involved in the collection of levy from commercial bus drivers, they should look into the exorbitant levies we pay to the NURTW. Already, we pay too much to the union members. The government can have an agreement with the union and deduct N800 from what each of us pays to them every day.”
‘Govt should help us tame union leaders’
A driver who identified himself simply as Captain, in an interview with Saturday Tribune, said: “I am not aware of the N800 levy. The union members have not told us .They still collect the old levies from us. It does not pay them on our route. That is why they will want to continue with the old levy.”
The driver, who shuttles between the old Sango Toll Gate and Oshodi, said: “I have paid more than N1,000 to local governments today without anybody telling me anything.
“Today, I have paid N200 to union members in Oshodi as local government levy, N200 in Ikeja, N500 to Alimosho Local Government in Iyana Ipaja, N200 for Ojokoro LCDA and another N500 for Agbado /OkeOdo LCDA.”
Another driver, who pleaded for anonymity, said: “An average LT and Vanagon commercial bus driver between Oshodi, Iyana Ipaja, Agege and old Sango Toll Gate pay over N1,000 to union members in the name of local government levy.
“The state government should ensure strict compliance with this new policy if we will not be paying to individual local governments again. These transport union members may take advantage of this new policy to collect more money from us. If the government says we are paying only N800 daily, they should implement it and ensure strict compliance by union members.
“I don’t know how the new policy will pay the transport unions. Most drivers already pay more than N800 daily in the name of local government levies. They will write N200 on some of the tickets and the union members will force you to pay N500. I don’t know the arrangement between them and the state government.”
Before the state government announced the harmonised levy on Tuesday, a research by an independent body in 2021 had revealed that Lagos State generated about N125 billion annually from transport sector levies.
In 2019, an insider report in the transport sector also showed that about N282.6 billion that should have gone to the state coffers as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) is annually lost to the unions in the state as illegal tax.
Many stakeholders believe that the new move by the state government is meant to recover a substantial part of the yearly revenue loss to the unionists.
The state Commissioner for Finance, Mr Olowo, hinted at the battle that culminated in the new policy.
He explained that with the payment of the levy, each transporter would be entitled to a tax card daily to have a hitch-free exercise.
The commissioner said Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had put the interest of the residents first, adding that the new initiative was a way to reduce the multiplicity of collection taxes, dues and levies in the state.
“Mr Governor has made it a priority to put the interest of Lagosians first. Before we came out, we have fought, disagreed and agreed on the need to have our consolidated informal transport sector levy.
“The government of Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu has inspired that we all come together to have a consolidated levy that takes care of personal income taxes, dues on environment, local government levy and others. We want to reduce the multiplicity of collection taxes, dues and levies.
“We want to build a reliable database so that all the players will be captured in the same data; we want to have bus drivers with their cards; we want to bring collaborative engagement,” he said.
Olowo, while reiterating that an average bus driver currently pays not less than N3,000 daily as levy, said the state government was poised to have a single charge of N800 daily, even as he further described the new initiative as a very insightful breakthrough for all those who do business within informal transport sector in the state.
“We want to harmonise, to have a single charge of N800. We want to moderate the fee payable to government. This is a very insightful breakthrough for all those who do business within informal transport sector in the state,” he said.
At the signing of the agreement by all the stakeholders, it was also revealed that local governments in the state would not lose out completely in the IGR initiative although they are not expected to receive transport revenue from the unions again when implementation of the new policy begins.
David Kolade, chairman, Conference 57, an association of all the local government council areas and local council development areas in the state, called the new agreement “symbolic and historic,” saying that the government appreciated the support of union members in having a hitch-free outcome.
“It is a win-win situation for all of us. Whatever levy apportioned to us will be spent judiciously,” he said, giving the indication that a percentage of the newly-introduced N800 daily is likely set aside for them.