Something abnormal is happening in Abuja. Some persons, mostly able-bodied young men are on the verge of displacing traffic police officials and other constituted authorities. They seem to have either taken the laws into their hands or unconstitutionally assisting traffic officers to do their work of maintaining sanity on Abuja roads.
They have formed strong force and are “lords” at the major bus stops and other strategic transit points. They are conspicuously present at Nyanya, Areas 3 and 1, AYA, Berger and other strategic locations where people converge to board vehicles.
Surprisingly, some commuters sounded sure that the touts enjoy full support of traffic officers, hence the boldness and confidence with which they operate day and night. Their main targets are private vehicle owners or unknown faces that stop at certain locations to either pick or drop passengers. They openly harass, intimidate and in some cases, extort huge amount of money from such drivers after heavy intimidation, harassment and time wasting.
Consequently, their illegal activities have discouraged these private vehicle owners, who, most often, complement the effort of commercial vehicle operators in servicing the needs of the people. As a result, bus stops and major transit points are usually crowded with passengers at morning and evening hours, waiting for unavailable commercial vehicles to convey them to different locations.
With daily influx of people into Abuja, both FCT Administration and private commercial vehicle operators have been unable to meet the transportation needs of the residents, hence the unusual and periodic intervention of the private car drivers. Motorists and commuters believe the touts are responsible for distractions on the road, damage to cars as result of struggle with drivers, which in some cases, lead to minor or fatal accident.
From their mode of operation, they would ambush the driver on sight. One would be struggling for the ignition key with the driver, while others would jump into the car to vandalise the back seat or other items in the vehicle. Surprisingly, the harassment, intimidation and extortion are done in the open while the state traffic officers sit and watch from obscured corner. That justified the allegation by motorists and commuters that they both work together.
A first time driver in Abuja, Maxwell Ani, was a victim of the extortion. He told Daily Sun that he innocently pulled off the road at Nyanya to pick a friend who wanted to join him to Central Area: “Suddenly, some guys from nowhere rushed into my car and was struggling to remove my car key.
“At first, I thought they were car snatchers but it was at the open and crowds were there. Before then, someone had removed my back seat. When I asked them the reason for their action, they said I parked to pick their passenger.
“I explained and showed evidences that I parked to picked a friend that wanted to join me to Central Area. They refused to agree. They insisted I pay N5,000 before they would release me. I pleaded with them but they ignored my plea. I ended up paying N2, 000, after I spent hours with them. It was a horrible experience.”
A commuter, Mercy Atang, said the activities of the touts are becoming unbearable to motorists and should be checked forthwith. She said her fiancee was seriously harassed, intimidated and abused at Area 3 junction by these touts: “I joined him to work on that fateful day and he stopped at Garki Area 3 junction for me to alight.
“Before he could say final words and perk me as usual, two boys rushed in from where they were hidden. They struggled the ignition key with him. They collected it from alongside his back seat, jack and wheel spanner.
“His offence, according to them, was that he parked to drop passenger as a private driver. They claimed that as a private vehicle owner, he is supposed to carry passenger. All explanation that he dropped his fiancee obviously fell in deaf ears. He ended up giving them N3, 000.
“Most annoying thing was that, while the altercation was going on, police patrol vehicle was passing and my guy was flagging them down, they looked at him disgustingly and moved ahead.”
A traffic police officer at Wuse Market bus stop who pleaded anonymity, confirmed that they work in synergy with the touts (Agbero) to maintain sanity on the road: “In addition to that, we offer little protection to them to operate and that comes with some rewards.”
From interaction with commuters and motorists, the activities of these fake traffic officials have gone beyond limit and need to be checked as quickly as possible.