From Jude Idu, Abuja
The last thing 22-year-old Isaac Modafe, a university graduate, anticipated as he arrived Abuja, was to be fleeced of his N15,000 by notorious louts popularly called “Agberos.”
The criminals masquerading as task force officials purportedly hired by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to “sanitise the city” accused him of wrongful parking. Before he could process the drama, one of them had unscrewed one of his vehicle’s number plates.
To have it back cost him a whopping N15,000.
That was also the exact experience of Mrs Basil Nnamani, who, despite being heavily pregnant, was extorted N10,000 by criminals in the Wuse, Abuja.
Modafe’s case is one of the countless similar incidents that occur everyday on Abuja highways under the watchful eyes of security agencies. They do little to protect commuters from these predators.
Areas notorious for these illegalities included Area 1 Junction, Berger Junction, Apo Bridge, Jabi Motor Park, Wuse Market, Banex Junction, Nyanya, Airport Road and Kubwa Expressway.
The menace is becoming increasingly unbearable for commuters and transporters alike. Some commuters have sustained injuries as they leap into moving commercial vehicles fleeing from the louts.
There are also concerns about the way they cause horrendous traffic snarls and accidents while pouncing on motorists.
It was alleged that the criminals have the backing of some powerful godfathers (influential politicians and security personnel), who enjoy handsome kickbacks from their nefarious activities.
Mr Benjamin Duru, a resident of Utako Central Business District said:
“On a typical day, the louts can pounce on a driver, beat the living daylight out of him, collect his car, ‘confiscate’ it and ask him to bail the car with 15,000 and sometimes individuals pay huge sum depending on the statue.
“The activities of these boys (Agberos) have worsened the security situation in our area. We don’t have a choice than to put up these things you are seeing (pointing to the electric fence). That garden over there is their abode. There they plan how to unleash terror on innocent passers-by, do all manners of things, before robbing them of their valuables.
“Our complaints to the police have fallen on deaf ears because it is alleged that they work in collaboration with the Agberos. We have resorted to self-help. We believe a day comes when all these will be history.”
For residents in Areas 1 and 3, the louts have infiltrated the areas as they now live in palpable fear. There are no-go-areas especially the deserted place where business of touting thrive at night.
Investigation shows that the boys operate at the road corridors where they extort road users at the day. They retire to most uncompleted and abandoned buildings where they launch series of attacks on people within the neighbourhood. They immediately withdraw to their ‘shell.’
A resident said: “We live in constant fear. Our situation is not being helped by some abandoned buildings occupied by these miscreants to perpetrate the acts. They operate as louts or what you call Agberos during the daytime but death merchants and agents of the devil in the night. Whatever the authorities concerned in the FCT are doing about this time bomb and ugly menace is what we don’t know.”
A driver, Danlami Waise, said: “Taxis plying Nasarawa-Abuja route on the daily basis pay N900 each for the transport unions’ tickets, despite paying for registration fee and purchasing union stickers totalling N13,500. Bus drivers pay N2,000 each, yet still get harassed by the louts.
“Due to their predatory lifestyle, road users no longer freely drop off relatives or friends at designated bus stops for fear of being harassed to pay huge sum to the Agberos or lose their number plates or other valuables.”
A commercial motorist, Qassim Bello, said Abuja has become a place shot of unregulated operation of commercial taxis and buses: “The touts have taken the advantage to feed on unsuspecting motorists.
“Apart from officially registering your vehicle for commercial use at the AMAC and FCT transportation secretariat, the Agberos still issue you with daily tickets ranging from various unions, depending on the route one operates on a particular day.
“If I am operating along Wuse, Berger, Jabi, Airport Junction down to Life Camp axis, I buy one ticket as those areas are under one union.
Their office is situated in Jabi Motor park.
“The Agbero union does not recognise government establishment as a regulatory body for motor parks. They allot each axis to each union to harvest money by extorting the public. If a motorist fails to pay N100 or N200 and is caught picking up or dropping passengers in these locations, he will have to pay a fine ranging from N10,000 to N20,000 and depending on the area or the person’s car may be impounded.”
Lazarus Ukaiwe, a youth corps member, recounted: “I was dropping a passenger at the Berger Junction, three hefty men entered my car.
Without proper identification, they ordered me out of the vehicle.
Scared and distraught, I complied. In split seconds, one of them jumped into the driver’s seat. Others bundled me into the passenger’s seat like I was being kidnapped they zoomed off.
“No one told me where we were headed. They eventually drove to a place I later found out was their office in Jabi. On arrival, I noticed that my car has been damaged.
“It took several pleas trying to make them understand that I am a corps member struggling to make ends meet. But with the intervention of one of the superior officers, I was let off the hook.
“They could have kidnapped me if they wanted to because there is no law regulating them. They are left unchecked and harassing people all the time even if you do not commit an offence.”
A resident of Nyanya, Mr Zubairu Badmus, once stopped to drop his friends at Nyanya Under Bridge: “As soon as I dropped them, the Agberos entered my car and seized the car key. I was embarrassed. I quarrelled with them and warned them of the consequences of anything missing in my car. It was one of the senior Agberos that came to settle the matter. He ordered them to give me back my key.
“In another encounter at Apo Bridge, they seized my vehicle key in a similar fashion. It was after I dropped a friend. It was the friend who pleaded with them. He convinced them that he was not a passenger before they let me go.”
Olumide Adebayo said he stopped to help stranded commuters at Banex during the petrol scarcity period: “The next thing I knew was that they arrested me for not having a permit for commercial operation.
They took me to their Jabi office where I was made to pay for a six-month permit.”
A lout identified as “Gbasgbos operates under pedestrian bridge in Mararaba. He learnt the business from his father in Lagos before the emergence of former governor Babatunde Fasola who drove them away to sanitise Lagos
He said: “Abuja is good because the people are still naive. If it were in Lagos, there will be lots of blood flowing when we want to take advantage of road users. Since I came here, I make my money when I open eyes for them. Everybody wants to go work early or go home early.
So, when we stop them they quickly drop like 500 naira with a plea even when they commit no offence.”
Head of Administration, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) Marshall, Jawadu Ibrahim, told Daily Sun: “As I speak to you, the only place we have AMAC marshals posted to are the FCT public health facilities, not even at the motor parks. Any other marshal operating outside this is not working for us and must be apprehended and prosecuted.”
On whether his office has received complaints from the public, Jawadu gave an indication that several complaints have flooded his office yet maintained that no individual has been arrested due to the inability of victims to involve the police after each experience:
“Good a thing that whenever the victims request that they be taken to AMAC office, the impersonators declined. That shows that they are not working for us. And whichever means he or she got the identify card, must be condemned. We have not had any arrest because those road corridors are not within our office jurisdiction.”
Public Relations Officer, Directorate, Road Transportation Services, the Federal Capital Territory (DRTS), Mr Kalu Emetu, said: “The issue here is that we have no direct connection with those not regulated.
That is because we deal with only the regulatory body who, are made to operate within the motor parks. Now that we begin to receive complaints, we may have to go after them.
“I think it has become worrisome when they begin to operate outside the motor parks. We had in the past advised the leadership to make them operate with orderliness. Seeing them at every part of roadcorridor harassing road users cannot be tolerated.”