IT was a bright Tuesday morning when The ICIR met Omogbolahon Ganiu at the Ojodu Berger park.
He had just begun the day’s job and was running a routine check on his car. A tired bus conductor was sleeping on one of the four seats on his 16-seater long bus. An expression of surprise marked his face when The ICIR asked him if he had paid the new daily N800 levy the Lagos State government imposed on transporters in the state.
Collection of the levy was supposed to take off on February 1, 2022, but Ganiu had not even heard of the development.
Looking rather distraught at the news, Ganiu prayed the government to reconsider its stance.
He said, “Vehicle parts and oils are very expensive. A small keg of engine oil used to be N500, now it’s N1,000. The somewhat bigger one is N2000. If we want to do some servicing, that oil is N6,500. All these things don’t make Nigeria liveable.”
His prayer is not likely to be answered. The ICIR learnt that the levy collection, which did not start on February 1 as announced, is likely to commence next Monday.
The Lagos State government had, on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, introduced a daily ₦800 Consolidated Informal Transport Levy for transporters in the state. This levy is apart from the dues the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) forcefully collect daily from commercial vehicle drivers.
The government levy is expected to harmonise dues it collects from the drivers at parks and garages across the state. It is also expected to reduce multiple taxation.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Finance Rabiu Olowo was quoted as explaining that the levy, pegged at a flat rate of N800, covered money for not just the local government levy alone, but also that of clearing waste from motor parks, which was being paid to the Ministry of Transportation, Lagos State Waste Management Authority and Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency. Olowo added that once a transporter paid the ₦800 at a point, they would not expected to pay at any other park or bus stop throughout the day.
The new levy is real bad news for commercial vehicle drivers. The ICIR conducted an investigation between January 31 and February 1, 2022 in parks at Ojodu Berger, Ogba, Agege and Ikeja, speaking to transporters on what they feared would be the effects of this levy on their business.
Another driver in the same park where Ganiu operates, Lukman Owoyemi, computed his daily earnings against the many dues he said he was compelled to pay.
“The union here collects N1,500. We carry 13 passengers, which translates to N7,800. The government wants to take N800. After buying petrol for the vehicle, how much is left? We buy fuel on a daily basis. We make N3,000 on a trip. So let’s add the whole thing: union dues, N1500; petrol, N2000; state levy, N800. That’s N4,300 as expenses.
“At Oshodi, there is always traffic jam. Some union guys are usually at Oshodi waiting for us. Then the vehicle can have any problem. It can break down; I was in such a dilemma yesterday. If I returned the passengers’ money, how much would be left? Sometimes, we have to settle the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and other officers. We could spend up to N15,000 on such illegal settlements. The state government needs to rethink this,” Owoyemi said.
Fares to increase
At Ogba, commercial tricycle (keke Marwa) riders posited that fares were likely to go up if the new levy stayed. An ICIR check around the axis revealed that NURTW enforcers, known in local parlance as ‘agbero,’ would collect the sum of N1,600 from each commercial tricycle operator.
An operator, Uche Odor, said, “That money is too much. When you pay agbero N1,600 and pay the government N800, how much do we take home? It is passengers who will suffer.”
On year-on-year basis, the fare rose by 33.39 per cent, from N352.96 in December 2020 to N470.83 in December 2021, according to the NBS Transport Fare Watch for December 2021, the most recent transportation data at the time of filing this report.
The NBS report stated, “The average fare paid by commuters for bus journey intercity stood at N2,784.92 in December 2021 indicating an increase of 5.31 per cent on a month-on-month basis when compared to the value of N2,644.50 in November 2021. Similarly, the fare also rose by 20.23 per cent on a year-on-year from N2,316.40 in December 2021.”
Calls and texts to officials at the Ministry of Transportation to ascertain why the state levy collection did not take off as announced were unanswered. The helpless drivers remain at the mercy of the NURTW enforcers, who are on the Lagos Island and mainland grimly collecting dues from them.
NURTW enjoying government backing – Driver
A commercial bus driver at Agege on the Lagos Mainland, who would not disclose his identity, told The ICIR that he and his colleagues were waiting till Monday to know how the new order would work out.
“They say they want to cancel the tickets of the local governments. They give us N200 as a local government ticket and N300 as an NURTW ticket,” he said, refusing to let The ICIR snap the NURTW ticket, afraid his personal details would be exposed, while willingly allowing the union’s ticket to be snapped.
Lamenting the ‘lack of profitability’ in the business, the driver went on to detail how drivers were being taxed on a daily basis.
“NURTW takes N300 and the Local Government, N200. Then there are fees that may be taken, like N600, which has no ticket (not being recorded). Then they will take the booking fee, which is N100. When it is afternoon, they take N400, which they call afternoon money. Every Thursday, they collect N500 instead of N400.
“I believe that the state government backs the transport unions and their enforcers. If the government takes over the garage, it is better. The NURTW contributes nothing to us: no tax loans nor incentives. If the government gives us a ticket of one thousand naira to pay, we will take it knowing the immense benefits,” he lamented.
A recent investigation conducted by The ICIR revealed that drivers pay an average of N225 million each day, N6.75 billion each month, and N82.125 billion each year to union enforcers in Lagos. Similarly, more than 60 tricycle riders in 21 Local Council Development Areas in the commercial city told this reporter that they paid, at least, N1,800 to the NURTW enforcers every day.
Transport expert, Patrick Adenusi, explained that the double taxation could affect fares.
Adenusi said, “The one the union is collecting, on whose behalf are they collecting it and of what benefit is it to the country? It is unfortunate that citizens are left in the hands of the union. What is the essence of government if the union collects their own taxes? Transport fares would go up. If it goes up, is it the union we would blame or the government? I know they are looking for money, but the government looking for money should not be an affliction to the citizens.”
Another commercial bus driver, Vitalis Okpara, asked the government and the union to unite under a ticket that would put an end to double taxation for good.
“I don’t know where we belong, whether we work with the union or with the government. I hope they can issue a ticket to us, whether it is N1,000 or N1,500, which will cover us completely,” he said.
I could lose my job, if the levy is introduced – Ticketer
A ticketer for Ikeja Local Government, Samson Fadugba, said the imposition of the levy would stop ticketers from gaining commissions on the local government-imposed tickets.
“If the Lagos State government says it wants to introduce levy, that means I will lose my job. What I do is give out tickets to drivers in the local government and I collect my commission to be able to feed my family. I do this daily.
“When the Lagos State government says it would harmonise the ticket to one, what would become of us, the local government ticketers? The introduction of the N800 would affect local government ticketers. We are more than 30 that use this service to maintain our families. We cannot rob and not tout. What would happen to other ticketers in other local governments? The government has to consider us,” he cried out.
Experienced Business reporter seeking the truth and upholding justice. Covered capital markets, aviation, maritime, road and rail, as well as economy. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org