•Abuja car owners at the mercy of hoodlums


From Idu Jude, Abuja

Activities of touts around the Abuja city centre are becoming more brazen, posing threats to drivers, commuters and other road users.  Their unruly mode of operation is a great concern.

There have been complaints about how these urchins constitute security threats to residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), especially in many black spots around the city centre. Mr. Gbenga Olagoke, a driver, plies his trade around Area One. He said touts aid in gathering passengers, clearing traffic on the roadsides and in turn get paid for their services.

Jeremiah Ibrahim,  a civil servant, narrated a personal encounter with the self-styled traffic enforcers popularly known as Agberos. His experience is not far fetched from the daily experiences of thousands of road users in the FCT and its contigual states like Nasarawa,  Kogi and Niger:

“I can say here that Nigeria has failed as a country since non-commissioned individuals now perform the work of the security agencies on self-proclamation. I can say this because this kind of thing is  unabated. No wonder they say that any crime that lasts for two weeks has a link to security agencies.

“On that fateful day, I closed from work. Heading home, I gave two colleagues a lift since they were headed toward my route. Getting to their bus stop to drop them off, three hefty men jumped into my vehicle and demanded that I pay the sum of N20,000 fine for dropping them off at that spot. Their overbearing attack and seizure of the car made me run to a Police Station to file a complaint.

“But I met the worst nightmare of my life. A group of police officers told me to gently comply with Agbero’s request as the only solution to my predicament. Believe me, if I had not heard this from the police, I wouldn’t have been able to believe and narrate this to you.

“What this implies is that agberos give returns to these people for free business operations. If not how can people who do not represent the police, Federal Road safety, VIO, or any security agencies operate with such confidence?”

Mrs Edith Ugwu a security personnel, told Daily Sun: “Well I owe the bandits called agberos no apologies. I can drive my car at anytime and I can pick up and drop off any of my colleague. I owe them no allegiance as far as I am concerned, they are criminals.

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“A month ago, I stopped at Charlie Boy Estate along Kubwa Road to drop off a friend but was attacked by those criminals who demanded N25,000 for no reason.

“But they got the other side of me. One of them who grabbed my steering must go for serious medication to survive. From that day, I equipped myself with pepper spray and tear gas. This is what every car owner in Abuja should do for self-defence.

“Activities of these hoodlums have become international embarrassment. What baffles me is the aggressive nature and degree of intimidation by these men which poses questions to the need for security men in the country. I think the FCT administration should focus attention on the growing menace of these touts, to stop them from giving the country’s capital city a bad name. That would help restore the trust and confidence of commuters who use the road daily.”

Incredibly, 26-year-old Segun Morakinyo, told our correspondent how he left Ibadan for Abuja as he saw a growing opportunity for the agbero business.

Morakinyo said he made the decision because agbero work in Lagos or Ibadan has become jobs for old-timers: “Since I came to Abuja, I have made a good amount of money in this business. What people do not know is the power of generating and saving. I can tell you that as little as N50 is such a massive income if well saved.

“Agbero work is good if some of us can be wise enough. The reason people do not relate with us is the way many of us ply their trade. Some think we don’t go to school. I can tell you that so many of us did go to school but chose to do agbero. Many of us have wives and children we feed from the money we get.

“I can also tell you that we are organised people who work in unions like the National Transport Workers Union. Drivers union, and so on. But some do not belong to any of these I mentioned. They are the ones who stand by the side of the road to jump into people’s cars in the name of extortion.”

Mr Musa Mamood a commuter, said touts have made him more self-conscious due to their violent nature: “They take laws into their own hands and care less about the lives and properties of drivers and travelers. He claimed their aggressive behavior is caused by the illicit drugs they use before embarking on the day’s job. He called on security operatives to raid their hideouts.

For Grace Odinka, a commuter, she said the touts are just trying to make a living for themselves, although she agreed that their mode of operation was largely unpleasant.

Ms Blessing Olukoya blamed government, drivers and commuters for aiding and abating the agbero business: “Drivers willingly pay daily dues to the touts without holding back their feelings. If not, why do they pay them for dropping off passengers or friends? Each group claims custody of a particular bus stop.”