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Profiting from illegality: Lagos govt watches as local councils, touts exploit proscribed cyclists

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IN Lagos, local government chairmen and ticket touts rake in tens of millions of naira  in road or transport taxes collected from proscribed commercial motorcyclists, known as Okada riders, and tricyclists,  otherwise called Keke Marwas.

In January 2020, the Lagos State government banned operations of Okada and Keke Marwas in six local governments (LGs)and nine local council development areas (LCDAs) of the state.

Commissioner for Information and Strategy Gbenga Omotosho said enforcement of the ban would start  from February 1, 2020,  in line with Lagos State Transport Sector Reform Law 2018, warning the cyclists not to ply 10 major highways as well as 40 bridges and flyovers across the state.

The proscribed areas were: Apapa LGA, Apapa Iganmu LCDA, Lagos Mainland LGA, Yaba LCDA, Surulere LGA, Itire-Ikate LCDA, and Coker-Aguda LCDA.


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Others were: Ikeja LGA, Onigbongbo LCDA, Ojodu LCDA, Eti-Osa LGA, Ikoyi-Obalende LCDA, Iru-Victoria Island LCDA, Lagos Island LGA and Lagos Island East LCDA.

Since then, there has not  been any invalidation or repeal of the traffic law, which was passed  by the House of Assembly in 2018, but the rules have been observed in the breach as local governments and ticket touts are exploiting the situation to make money.

Today, Okada riders and Keke Marwas ply all these restricted local governments and LCDAs as local governments and ticket touts  issue tickets to them in exchange for cash, thereby making a lot of money in the process while the cyclists break the state traffic laws.

Evidence of traffic violation 

In spite of ban on tricycles in Ikeja Local Government by the state government, the local government has a specialised ticket for tricycles, which is valid for only one day. The sum of N150 is written on the ticket, though tricyclists told the reporter that they often paid more.

Ikeja Local Government ticket for tricycles
Ikeja Local Government ticket for tricycles

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Chairman of Ikeja Local Government Area Mojeed Alabi Balogun confirmed to the reporter that his local government collects N200 from tricycle operators each day, and not N150 as written on the ticket.

He also said transport revenue collection was being handeld by a contractor.

In Onigbongo LCDA, also in Ikeja, a company known as Goodwill Destiny Ventures collects transport revenue from tricycles, which were earlier banned in the area by the state government. Phone calls to Chairman of the LCDA Babatunde Oke to explain the rationale behind that  were ignored, and text messages to his official phone number were not replied.

“I am surprised that these two local governments housing Alausa (state headquarters) and government ministries disobey Lagos traffic law without any word from the government. Was that pronouncement meant for a certain group of people?” A senior resident of Lagos Charles Akinjide asked.

Well, it was not meant for a certain group of people as all the restricted local governments and LCDAs visited by the reporter broke these laws without compunction.

In Ikeja and Onigbongbo, ticket touts or agberos issue the same type of ticket to tricylists and motorcyclists, collecting between N2,200- N3,000 from them.

Touts, who are mostly members of the National Road Transport Workers ( NURTW), issue tickets of N100 face value but collect 20 times that amount from tricyclists and motorcyclists, the reporter found.

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In Coker/ Aguda LCDA, the NURTW issues tickets of N200 face value to motorcyclists but collects N600 to N700 from them each day. One ticket is for N100 and it is issued by Abiday Ande Ventures, the contractor collecting transport/ road taxes on behalf of Onigbongbo LCDA.

NURTW ticket
NURTW ticket in almost all the LGs in Lagos.

The N20 ticket is from the Motorcycle Operators’ Association of Lagos State (MOALS).

On the other hand, tricycles are issued three tickets: One from the LCDA, one from the NURTW and another from Tricycle Owners Association of Nigeria (TOAN), which is under the NURTW. This is despite that commercial motorcycles and tricycles are prohibited in the local council area.

Calls to Chairman of the LCDA Akinyemi-Obe Omobolanle were also ignored.  He also did not reply to three WhatsApp messages sent to him, even though he read them.

This is also the case in Lagos Island East LCDA, made up of CMS and other areas in high-brow Lagos Island.

In the area, the local council also issues a ticket valued at N200 to tricycles despite state ban on them  in the area.

Each tricyclist pays as much as N2,200 in the LCDA per day.

The ICIR found that motorcyclists, who plied everywhere in the local council, paid as much as N900 each day.

They are also issued with two tickets of N100 face value. One of the two is the regular NURTW ticket spoken about earlier.  Hence, the state government’s traffic pronouncement does not hold water in the area.

Onigbongbo LCDA ticket for tricycles
Onigbongbo LCDA ticket for tricycles

In Surulere, one of the restricted local government areas, motorcylists have a field day and can move from Ojuelegba to Apapa or even to Yaba, another restricted LCDA.

In a restricted local government like Surulere, a group known as Nnamoral Motorcycles Owners Association of Nigeria issues N100 ticket face value to cyclists. They have their head office at Igando but extends their tickets to cyclists plying restricted areas, including Surulere Local Government Area and Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.

In fact, from Mushin to Surulere local governments, motorcyclists pay as much as N900 each day, Musa, one of the cyclists from Niger State, told The ICIR.

Chairman of Surulere Local Government Area Tajudeen Ajide-Yussuff was not available to answer the reporter’s question as he was recently suspended by the Lagos State House of Assembly.

He was suspended  by the lawmakers for alleged graft.

In 2014 while he was chairman of the local government, councillors had accused him of financial impropriety.

Coker Aguda ticket for motorcyclists 2
Coker/Aguda LCDA ticket for motorcyclists

The motorcyclists and tricylists ply every nook and cranny of Lagos.

One of the restricted highways announced by the government in 2020 was Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. But that highway is now being plied by cyclists every day without restrictions. They only need to pay between N700 and N1500 and they are good, the reporter found.

In evenings, Ladipo Market to Mile 2 expressway often looks like a war zone, being fought by motorcyclists and tricyclists on one hand and commuters on the other hand. As long as a commuter has N1000 to N1500,  they can move from Apapa to Airport Road by motorcycle – a 21.7-kilometre journey, according to Google.

In Yaba, the situation is the same with motorcyclists and tricycles plying the roads after parting with money.  The local council is one of the restricted areas for motorcycles and tricycles, yet the usual suspects collect money and permit them to violate state traffic laws.

Coker/Aguda ticket for motorcyclists1
Coker/Aguda second ticket for motorcyclists

The situation is the same in Lagos Island East and Ikoyi/Obalende  LCDAs, where restrictions were placed, but NURTW officials make money off the government ban.

In CMS, motorcyclists hit all the roads in Lagos Island, Lekki ( except in estates), Ikoyi ( except in Banana Island) and Ajah, among others.

“It is like madness everywhere. In every part of Lagos, motorcyclists ride on your feet and go their way without apologies. It is just total madness now,” a civil servant, who did not want her name in the paper because of her job, said.

How much chairmen, touts make from them

This is not surprising because these proscribed motorcyclists are literally automated teller machines (ATMs) for local governments and agberos who rake in billions of naira from them.

Lagos Island East ticket for tricyles
Lagos Island East ticket for tricyles

For clarity, there are 37 LCDAs and 20 local government areas in Lagos. The LCDAs are part of the larger local government areas. For instance, Isolo is an LCDA under Oshodi Local Government Area. Only the LCDAs are considered in this report.

There are at least 1,000 okadas in each LCDA, according to information provided to this reporter by members of the Motorcycle Operators’ Association of Lagos State (MOALS).

The average amount collected by local councils from each motorcycle per day is N200, meaning that each of the local councils rakes in at least N200,000 per day from okada riders, which rises to N6 million per month and N72 million per year.

As per tricyles, there are 50,000 of them in Lagos, according to a research by Techcabal. On the average, there are 1,351 in each local council, all of which pay N200 per day.

This means that each local council generates N270,000 per day, N8,106 million per month and N97.27 million per year from tricycles.

As for commercial buses, known as Danfos, which are not banned, there are 75,000 of them in Lagos, according to the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA).

This implies that each LCDA has at least 2,027 commercial buses paying N200 per day, generating N405,000 for each local council in 24 hours.

Lagos Island East motorcycle ticket
Lagos Island East motorcycle ticket

The amount rises to N12.2 million in one month and N145.9 million each year.

Every year, 37 chairmen of the LCDAs rake in N11.82 billion (nearly $29 million) from them. This is a conservative estimate.

The more worrisome one is the ever-growing coffers of ticket touts or agbeross who collect N3000 each day from 75,000 buses in Nigeria’s richest state, according to oral testimonies obtained by this reporter from more than 50 commercial bus drivers in 21 out of 37 local council development authorities (LCDAs) in Lagos.

This means that these drivers pay N225 million each day, N6.75 billion each month, and N82.125 billion each year to agberos in Lagos.

Ticket touts collect, on the average, N1,800 per day from tricycles, according to over 60 tricyclists who spoke with the reporter.

This implies that each day, agberos walk off with N90 million from transport taxes collected from tricycle drivers. Every month, their pay reaches N2.7 billion, rising further to N32.85 billion every year.

With 37,000 motorcycles in Lagos paying at least N600 per day,  riders pay N22.2 million to agberos each day, N666 million each month, and N8.103 billion each year.

Surulere, a group known as Nnamoral Motorcycles Owners Association of Nigeria issues tickets to cyclists
Surulere, a group known as Nnamoral Motorcycles Owners Association of Nigeria issues tickets to cyclists

In total, ticket touts pay N123.078 billion ($300.19 million) to agberos or touts annually, according to The ICIR’s calculations.

The worrisome part of it is that the amount collected by local government chairmen each year is only 9.47 per cent of what ticket touts make each year.

Ticket touts are non-state actors used mostly during political periods. The N123.078 billion ($300.19 million) they make each year are not recorded in Lagos State financial statements as the money goes into their pockets, this reporter found.

“It is the game of political economics. What is lost to them is gained from them during politics,” said Taiwo George, who claimed that local governments, touts and Lagos State government are operated like subsidiaries of a parent company.

Chase away investors, allow disorganised motorcyclists

On January 27, Lagos State Security Council announced restriction of movement of commercial motorcycles and tricycles in six local government areas (LGAs) and nine Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) considered highly urbanised, chasing away investors such as Gokada, ORide, and Max.ng, among others,

Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Lagos State Governor on New Media Jubril Gawat said on his Twitter handle while announcing it that “buses will be rolled out for these areas but first thing is that, Transportation has to be SAFE & those areas will be adequately.”

Apapa-Oshodi Highway
Apapa-Oshodi Highway

Eighteen months after, the buses are yet to arrive in Lagos.

Policy lead at Max.ng Damilare Ogunleye told this reporter at that time that the company and its investors had invested $10 million so far into the business.

Also,  Pilot Ops Manager at Gokada Victor Daminabo said the firm’s investors were deeply concerned and worried over the situation, having made huge investments in both Lagos and in Nigeria.

“We expect the government to tap into every opportunity to create jobs and not to destroy them,” Daminabo said.

“They are also deeply worried about the general regulatory stability in Lagos and in Nigeria on whether they would continue to make investments in the state or whether the country is really ready for business. They are watching how this would play out.”

Chief Executive Officer of Metro Africa Xpress (Max.ng) Adetayo Bamiduro said Max.ng had assembled a reputable array of international investors and partners, including  Novastar Ventures, Aitheia Capital, Breakthrough Ventures, Yamaha and Mastercard, who had invested millions of dollars into the enterprise.

Yaba LGA with a beehive of motorclists
Yaba LGA with a beehive of motorclists

In 2019, Gokada raised 5.3 million in Series A capital to bolster its fleet and ride volume, and develop a network that would offer goods and services to its drivers.

In 2019, OPay, the parent company of ORide, raised $120million. It also raised another $50million also in 2019.

The firms created jobs but did not pay taxes to the state government, sources said.

But reports said the bike-hailing firms lost up to $200 million.

However, Omotosho explained that the major reasons for the ban were security risks and high rate of accidents.

But after the exit of these start-ups in Lagos, un-indentifiable motorcyclists, earlier banned, have taken over the state as people make money off the situation.

“It was easier to identify a thief or criminal who worked for Gokada or OPay, but can you identify an okada rider who commits a crime?” asked a Lagos-based techie Onyedika Nwadinamba.

Deaths continue

According to Omotosho, “The figures are scary. From 2016 to 2019, there were over 10,000 accidents recorded at the General Hospitals alone. This number excludes unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals. The total number of deaths from reported cases is over 600 as at date.”

Obalende in Obalende Ikoyi LCDA
Obalende in Obalende/ Ikoyi LCDA

Eighteen months after, the enforcement of the Lagos traffic laws has collapsed, with motorcyclists and tricyclists crisis-crossing highways, killing many.

At the moment, the Nigerian Union of Journalists and Vanguard are mourning a brand journalist Princewill Ekwujuru, who died on July 23, 2021, after falling from a commercial motorcycle a few weeks back.

In early August, an Okada rider was crushed to death along Oshodi-Apapa highway.  There have also been cases of trailers crushing okada riders and sometimes with their passengers.

Lagos insecurity worsens

On April 27, 2021, the United States Consulate General in Lagos said it had recently seen a notable increase in crime in Lagos.

“Reports of robberies/smash-and-grabs on the roads by armed men have increased significantly on both Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Typically, men on a motorcycle will follow a vehicle until it stops at a traffic light or intersection then approach the vehicle, present a weapon, and rob the occupants.

“Although most of these incidents happen at night, the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos has received reports of robberies taking place during daylight hours.”

CMS
a scene at CMS, Lagos Island East LCDA

The consulate advised American citizens to  “remember to be aware of your surroundings, especially when driving at night; keep vehicle doors locked and windows rolled up at all times while driving, especially in traffic jams or at traffic lights; avoid driving alone at night and do not stop to help strangers on the road.”

Recently, Police Commissioner Hakeem Odumosu said 192 Okada riders lost their lives in 280 accidents, noting also that “the number of deaths recorded in road accidents and crime committed with the use of okada across the state, had assumed a worrisome dimension.”

Bag snatching and theft by unidentifiable motorcycles have skyrocketed, residents told this reporter during this investigation.

Banish activities of agberos

Many Nigerians are asking the Lagos State House of Assembly to make laws that will banish activities of agberos or touts and sanction erring local government chairmen who have aided violation of Lagos traffic laws.

A legal practitioner Sam Oyigbo, however, explained that Lagos State did not have the powers to ban the NURTW, which is a registered union, but could proscribe their activities in the state.

There are rules governing disbandment of such a union, he said, urging the government to  ban their activities.

On the part of elected chairmen who have aided the traffic violations, Oyigbo said since there were already a traffic law enacted  by the House of Assembly, it would supersede any traffic by-laws that would be made by local governments.

“If it is an executive order, it will be a different ball game, but since it is a traffic law  in the state made by House of Assembly, the state is assumed to be in charge. Where there is conflict of laws, the state’s supersedes,” he explained, implying that Lagos traffic laws should be binding on all local government councils.

A policy analyst Joel Aigbe said the situation in Lagos was not normal because the local government chairmen were mostly members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling political party at the central level.

“I am looking at a political solution. The House of Assembly recently sanctioned some local government chairmen for various violations. They can wield the big stick if they are serious, but the point is that they and the Lagos government know that it is a way of raising the IGR,” he said.

“But my worry is that  it does not speak well of the state as a investment destination.”

Infographics on Transport Earnings of Lagos Local Govts
Infographics on Transport Earnings of Lagos Local Govts

Ogun surpasses Lagos in real investments

Lagos is a preferred investment destination owing to the presence of seaports, demography and access to market in the state.

But Ogun State has dwarfed Lagos in terms of volume of real investments in the last seven years, according to data from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), analysed by The ICIR.

Real investors here means investments in agro processing and manufacturing sectors. It does not include investments in refinery and real estate.

Between 2014 and 2020, new real investments in Lagos stood at N975.83 billion while those of Ogun were estimated at N1.713 trillion.

This means that investments in Ogun outweighed those of Lagos by N737.17 billion.

“There are a few landmarks in Ogun State. Manufacturers and other investors have more room for expansion in Ogun than Lagos,”  Former Acting Director-General of MAN Ambrose Oruche told this reporter recently.

“Secondly, comparatively, there are fewer taxes and levies in Ogun, and, thirdly, Ibadan DisCo is a little bit better in electricity supply than Ikeja and Eko DisCos (both in Lagos),” he explained.

He pointed out that Ogun’s proximity to Lagos had provided an advantage, with the state leveraging opportunities in Lagos’ weaknesses.

Analysts say the transport system in Lagos and insecurity emanating thereof could easily put off investors.

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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