From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
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 at some locations, particularly motor parks.
They seem to have either taken the laws into their hands or unconstitutionally, assisting the state officials to do their work of maintaining sanity on busy Abuja roads. They have formed strong force and also assumed “lords” at the major bus stops and other strategic transit points in Abuja. They are conspicuously present at Nyanya, Area 3 and 1, AYA, Berger, Utako, Jabi, Dutse Alhaji and several other locations where people converge to board vehicles.
These touts unleash terror on innocent motorists and other commuters, particularly new entrants into the city with no idea of their operational location. 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 unlucky drivers after wasting their time.
Consequently, their illegal activities and constant harassment has discouraged these private vehicle owners, whom, most often, complement the effort of commercial vehicle operators in servicing the transport needs of FCT people.
Surprisingly, some commuters sounded sure that the touts enjoy full support of state traffic officials, hence the boldness and confidence with which they operate at day and night hours.
As a result, bus stops and major transit points are daily crowded with passengers at morning and evening hours, waiting for unavailable state and private commercial vehicles to convey commuters to different locations in Abuja.
With daily influx of people into Abuja, both Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and private commercial vehicle operators are unable to meet the transportation needs of the residents, hence the unusual and periodic intervention of the private car drivers.
Motorists and commuters claimed that the touts are responsible for distractions on the road, damage to cars as a 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 the ignition key with the driver, while others would speedily jump into the car to vandalise the back seat or other important items in the car.
Surprisingly, the harassment, intimidation and extortion are done in the open while the state traffic officials sit and watch from obscured corners. That justifies the allegation by motorists and commuters that they both work together.
A first time driver in Abuja, Kelechi Emezue, was a victim of the tout’s extortion. He said he innocently pulled off the road at Nyanya to pick a friend who had wanted to join him to Central Area, Abuja:
“Suddenly, some guys from nowhere rushed into my car and was struggling to remove my car key. At first, I thought it was car snatchers. But they couldn’t have done that in an open place where there was crowd. 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 to convince them that I parked to picked a friend that wanted to join me to Central Area, Abuja. They refused to agree. They insisted I pay N5, 000 as fine before they release me. I pleaded with them but they ignored my plea. I ended up paying N2, 000, after I had spent hours with them. It was a horrible experience.”
A commuter, Adebola Johnson, said her fiancee was harassed, intimidated and abused at Area 3 Junction: “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 hiding. They struggled the ignition key with him. They collected it 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 not supposed to carry or drop passenger there. All explanation that he dropped his fiancee obviously fell in deaf ears. He ended up giving them N3, 000 before they released him.
“Most annoying part of the drama 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 on.”
At Jabi Park junction, Mr Enoch Samson, said he was harassed by the touts who had wanted to take advantage of him: “I brought a friend to the park to join a night bus to Ibadan. On my way back I parked around the Conoil filling station to greet a friend.
“From where I was, I saw some guys, obviously not state officials but touts, removing my plate number. I allowed them to finish and quietly called them to fix it back. They thought I was joking until I pulled out my discipline belt and pistol. They fixed it back with apologies.
“They took note of me since then and always salute me each time they see me around. Those guys are thieves who are specialised in harassing and extorting people. Regrettably, evidence indicates that police are aware of their actions.”
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.”