It has become a common sight on Lagos roads; a uniformed police officer flags down a commercial bus while the tout comes forward to collect bribe from the driver, before the bus is passed.
N50 is the usual fee for passing such road stops; in some cases, N100. To avoid the trouble that could occur from opposing the touts, popularly known as ‘Agbero’, or having one’s bus impounded by the police, the driver often pay. “I don’t understand this police and agbero collaboration,” said a passenger in one of such buses, who declined to be named. “How can the people who are supposed to be stopping their activities be the same ones that are working together with them? It shows how irresponsible our police force is. If they can work together with touts, why won’t they work with armed robbers?”
A brazen operation
Commercial bus drivers in Lagos have complained about the frequent harassment they receive from touts at bus-stops and motor parks. According to the drivers, these touts extract money from them without providing any services in return, except for a few who help in soliciting for passengers. If a driver refuses to pay the fee, the touts often remove or damage parts of the vehicle. However, stubborn drivers who would have put up a resistance find themselves cowed by the police. A bus driver, who gave his name as Baba T, complained about the amount he pays daily at the popular Ladilak Bus stop en-route Palmgrove from Bariga. “If I pass here 10 times and police dey here, I go pay 10 times,” he said. “But if na only agbero, I fit beg them.”
Kolawole Ajala, a resident of Kasumu Street, Egbeda, said he has seen such collaboration happen several times in his neighbourhood. “The thing is these agbero people claim to be the ‘omo onile’, that is the owners of the land, so they have the right to collect money from any commercial bus that passes through this route,” he said. “At the same time, it is a good spot for these greedy police men to extract money from the bus drivers even when they haven’t committed any offence. So the agberos won’t leave the place for the police men and at the same time, the police men won’t leave the place for the agberos so they decide to work together.”
Blame the government
However, a police officer at Pedro Police Station, Palmgrove, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied knowledge of such partnership with touts. “We only go out to check points to do our work which is to control traffic and crime.” Tunde Dara, a law student, blamed the government for tolerating the operations of touts in Lagos. “The government itself tolerates the operation of these touts at bus stops and parks,” he said. “If not, they would have done something about them. Giving them uniforms only worsens the situation because they will have more power.” Another resident, Chris Ugboaha, described the motor park touts as troublesome. “You see some of them wearing some rough green and white uniforms saying they are from the local government,” he said. “If the driver or conductor refuses to give them money, they will remove something from his vehicle. They are the most troublesome set of people on the roads.”
However, one of the uniformed men, who gave his name as Lawal, denied the accusation of being troublesome. He said they were employed by the Ikeja Local Government and the money being collected from the bus drivers are levies. He added that the drivers are often reluctant to pay these levies which may result in a confrontation. “I tell my boys not to mix with these police men because they are all thieves,” he said. “If you work with them, they won’t like to share the money fify-fifty, they would like to take more than half of the money so when I see them, I’ll just go to another bus-stop and work.”
In August, a report by the Human Rights Watch accused the Nigeria Police Force of being the the most corrupt institution in the country. The report showed that the police made over N20bn from checkpoints across the country between January 2009 and June 2010.