Agbero, a sobriquet for ragamuffins, who find solace in the motor parks, doing odd jobs, is synonymous with all social vices one can imagine. They live in Terror Land, where aggression is the order of the day. The common factor with the inhabitants of this land is delinquency.
At every bus-stop, you would recognise them, some by their green and white uniform, some in mufti, while others wear reflectors. They always collect ‘dues and loading fees’ around the clock, for different unions, including operators of motorcycles, tricycles and various sizes of commercial vehicles, with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) as the umbrella body.
An elderly danfo driver, Nkemjika Boniface, operating from a popular terminus in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos, gave a graphic detail of the operations of the agbero. According to him, his driver was beaten, with his tee-shirt torn over a N600 ‘booking’ fee, which Boniface had to pay after the fracas. Why are they so aggressive?
“It is not about them, it is the chairman that protects them, so they must show loyalty to him at all cost”, Boniface said. “Even if you arrest the agbero, before you treat the wound they inflicted on you, they are back to their duty post at the bus stop, the NURTW unit chairman ensures they are freed. That is how the system works”, he said.
A mafia network
He reports to the zonal chairman, who reports to the local chairman, who, in turn, reports to the state chairman, who is the direct link to the national chairman and along this chain, financial returns must be made on a daily basis.
Recently, our correspondent witnessed another scene that mirrors the fear of agbero in Lagos.
While loading his bus at the Idimu garage, Taju, the driver, had hoped to avoid paying the garage fee, as he did not see the collector all the while he was loading.
But as he hopped in and pulled out of the garage, with an unusual speed, the agbero appeared from nowhere and, with the swiftness of a monkey, sprang at the door of the bus, as the driver accelerated. Mocking the driver, he said, “So you think you will sneak away just like that, eh? Oya, Owo da?” (translation: where is my money)?
Our correspondent, however, met with one of the motor park chairmen at a social party, along Brethren Street, some 120 metres from the Brethren Church, off Iyana-Ejigbo on the Mushin-Ikotun road.
Five of the men at the road-side party, each had a gold tooth displayed through drunken laughtersn and each wore expensive gold accessories. Empty bottles of assorted liquor littered the place and the men boasted about their conquests of women, their cars and stuff.
Daily Times learnt that the shop which supplied their drinks and meat was owned by the wife of one of the NURTW area fathers.
No cost was spared at the party; one fried snail cost N5,000 and the drinks cost thrice as much. This is a daily ritual after the NURTW chieftains collect their daily returns from their agbero foot soldiers, operating around Orioke, Iyana-Ejigbo, through NNPC to Jakande.
A resident in the area, who craved anonymity, disclosed that the chairman started out as an agbero, and, gradually, rose through the ranks, to his present position, just as is the case with many others.
The question agitating the minds of many Lagosians, is, how could the excesses of these ‘loading fee’ collectors be checked?
Is there no way the government could streamline their operations without inconveniencing the commercial drivers and by extension, the commuters, who always bear the brunt of the callous nature of the agbero?
Questions and more questions – all begging for answers