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Changing roles of actors in informal transport

Changing roles of actors in informal transport


Continued from yesterday

Customers had informal transport service operators deliver freight from city to city. As this caught on, operators saw an opportunity to improve their incomes and latched onto it. Customers also got relief of receiving parcels and freight on the same day or at the most, few days apart. The era led to the process of registering private courier operators.

As of 2012, 256 private courier operators have been registered, according to Nwanoluem and Iwuoha. This however, did not stop informal transport service providers from continuing to render this service, in fact, this practice continue to date. It is also noteworthy, that some of the private courier companies use them as part of their logistical chain of parcel transportation and distribution.

In a nutshell, the informal transport sector then became responsible for not just passenger travels as it was earlier known, but it now had the role of transporting freight and parcels too. Thereby taking away revenue from NIPOST and creating a wide gap in the regulation of parcel delivery in Nigeria.
Since the 1950s, local government councils in Nigeria have been statutorily charged with the task of establishing, maintaining and collecting taxes and fees at motor – parks. The terminal officials were mostly designated as clerks. They man the entry and exit gates of the motor – parks, principally to collect tax and levy for the local government authorities and also to monitor daily transport activities at designated parks. They educate drivers on proper licensing of both vehicles and themselves. The local government authorities via terminal officials were supposed to also oversee route assignments, in practice route assignments are ignored, and “cream-skimming” is very common, that is the act of plying only profitable routes, at lucrative periods.

Towards the end of the 1970s things took a turn, because the clerks were alleged to be corrupt. The local government authorities started dealing directly with the shed leaders (those who take care of individual loading points), by selling ticket booklets to them in bulk for onward sale to their members, an act that continued with the advent of NURTW in 1978. This marked a turning point in the record of tax and levy collection from informal transport operators and in the roles of both the terminal officials and union officials. This practice is still prevalent today. Even though a mix of these practices is in reality what goes on.

At this juncture, the local government terminal officials’ roles shifted from active tax and levy collection to a somewhat passive one, where negotiations rule and monitoring of informal transport operation is basically done from a safe distance. This approach largely presents obstacles to tax and levy collection and robs local authorities of essential revenue. Embedded corruption coupled with the very weak ability of local authorities to regulate generally shortchanges the system.

Unions originally served as social networks, which thrived in the absence of official regulation. They engage in activities like managing driver–owner relations, remuneration, and job security. Earlier, they also serve as guarantors for loans on vehicle purchase and repairs, mediate disputes, and set rules to eliminate touting, as observed by Albert, O.A. (2007) in discussing NURTW and the politics of managing public motor – parks in Ibadan and Lagos.

Unions basically aim at improving working conditions for their members, but ignore matters of public good, like safety, vehicle upkeep, and coordination of routes and schedules. They are seen to only work towards guaranteeing the right of their members to do as they wish. Unions generally, coordinate with one another through branches under the umbrella body. Before the institutionalization of the NURTW in 1978, the shed leaders were collectively in control of the motor – parks. Only horizontal cooperation existed between the groups then.

The advent of the union created hierarchies within the motor – parks, thereby introducing both horizontal and vertical cooperation. The shed leaders transformed into the initial crop of union leaders and representatives. Up to this point, the association officials are mainly drawn from owner–drivers themselves.

As the Second Republic electioneering activities began, association officials assumed the role of campaign agents and dictators of political alignment for their members. Historian Laurent Fourchard surmises these roles thus:
“The politicization of the management of motor – parks started in Lagos as the capital was the place of two concurrent powers: the Federal governments, the President Shehu Shagari, and his party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) on the one hand. And the Governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) on the other hand. NPN decided to enlist the support of members of a new union, the NURTW created a year before, in 1978 under the leadership of Adebayo Ogundare, known as Bayo success, who was given the assignment of winning all the motor – parks in Lagos over the UPN. He did so in mobilizing his large clientele of drivers during the 1979 electoral campaign and in resorting to violence and killing of his potential opponents in motor parks of Lagos.”

The major metamorphoses in roles of unions happened during the Second Republic (1979 -1983), when the control and management of motor – parks and bus stops became the epicenter of political antagonism, when transport unions usurped their management. Increased political engagement and usurpation of tax and levy collection functions cemented the roles of unions as formidable intermediaries between government and other actors in the sector. As stated earlier, union officials also assumed new roles as parcel agents, who receive payments from parcel owners for warehousing and safekeeping, as institutions like NIPOST and the Railways declined during those eras. Moreover, institutions such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) sought collaboration with NURTW. For example, in the later parts of the 2000s, the NURTW were solicited to provide logistical services during elections. The Guardian News web page https://www.m.guardian.ng reported on 3rd March 2018, that INEC sought partnership with NURTW on transport arrangement. Similarly, a report published on the 4th of February, 2019 on the Radio Nigeria web page https://www.radionigeria.gov.ng, stated that the Independent National Electoral Commission in Nasarawa State entered into an agreement with the NURTW to provide vehicles – and of course drivers, to convey election materials during the 2019 general elections. The reliance of INEC and the involvement of NURTW in the distribution of sensitive materials for elections created a new albeit unexpected role for NURTW. It was quite paradoxical that a highly formal and sensitive body as the INEC would rely strategically on one like the NURTW, that consist mainly of informal actors for logistics in such a sensitive endeavour as elections. This act has also trickled into the military, where informal transport service providers are engaged to move personnel.
Another group of actors that have played definitive roles and whose roles have evidently changed over time, given political and socioeconomic impulses at play at various times are the Agberos (Touts). Agbiboa, D.E. in another article published in 2018 x-rayed informal urban governance and predatory politics in Africa: the role of the motor – park touts in Lagos. Agberos came into existence during the socioeconomic influx of the mid-1970s when the material insecurities of the Nigerian Urban and rural economies generated a range of everyday practices for youth to get by and make the most of their time.

This “cohort of the dispossessed” according to Agbiboa, turned to informal transport in droves – touting at motor – parks. From the outset, agberos assumed the self – imposed responsibility of recruiting and organizing passengers who wished to travel by road, and for this they earned a fee or ‘a commission” usually paid by the driver. This group of actors is not to be confused with conductors. Following nationwide politicking that involved all actors in the informal transport sector, the Agberos especially became more and more significant to local politics and route associations, as they gained more and more ground, they started portraying themselves as those who ‘make things happen’ and they demand compensation for this role. Similar to the second republic, the politicking that birthed the fourth republic saw a growing role for the Agberos. The micro-politics of relations between transport owners, operators, and passengers, as well as the problem of political patronage and protection rackets implicating powerful unions and vested government interests became even more common, and the enforcers of these relationships are the “Agberos”. The tactics and strategies used by “Agberos” to navigate everyday risk and uncertainty reflected in their understanding of the political undertones that create or sustain certain roles in the sector. Increased political engagement of the Agbero’s, and the usurpation of tax and levy collection function by unions cemented their role as formidable intermediaries between government and union, and union and other actors, especially vehicle drivers. For emphasis, their roles now transcend the motor – parks, they partake in political campaigns and enforcement of the street codes, which gave them the clout to embed extortion and other kinds of corrupt activities in their day-to-day dealings. The rite to operate sometimes depends on buying the rite of passage from local government officials and sometimes the police.
Another cohort, the Conductors, ride along with the drivers in buses, their main duties include recruiting, organizing and ushering passengers into the vehicles, at the stops and en-route, receiving payment from passengers and any other role as may be assigned by the driver. Conductors act mainly as intermediaries between the drivers and passengers. The institutionalization of identity politics during the SAP era, with its negative consequences on the nation, meant that politicians saw politics as a do-or-die affair. Politicking now involved jettisoning the rule, while the personalization of governance became the order of the day. As a consequence, fecundity for ethno-religious manipulations increased as highlighted by Jega, A. in a publication titled “Identity Transformation and Identity Politics under Structural Adjustment in Nigeria. To support their course, politicians needed a ready hand to pursue their agenda.

The politicians recruited “conductors”, “area boys”, “Yandaba” and the “Egbesu Boys” for campaigns, after which they were “settled” with motorbikes, rickshaws, and minibusses which most of them deployed in providing informal transport services, thereby affording the opportunity for some to become an owner – drivers or owners. Others went ahead to become dreaded “career” political thugs. The mostly nonchalant posture of government and politicians towards regulating the transport space further entrenched activities of ethno – cultural, ethno – religious and political groups as observed by Ajayi, A. I. in a treatise that discussed military regimes and nation-building in Nigeria: 1966 – 1999. Groups, that according to Ajayi, waxed stronger in the defense of parochial or sub-national interests through the agency of ethnic militia organizations like Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), Arewa People’s Congress (APC), Bakasi Boys, Egbesu Boys, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), and later, the terrorist movement Boko Haram. The link to informal transport sector here is the fact that motor park boys were among the main recruits into these groups. Other intermediaries such as vehicle loaders or load carriers are also seen around garages and places where transport operations go on. They have similar demographics as the conductors, but do not necessarily have the links to be made so yet. They typically wait to be called upon to render service. These intermediaries kept their roles and spaces at the interface between unions and the state and between operators and the unions.
The fallouts of the political, economic, and social indicators prevailing during each epoch manifested into highly discretional practices, characterized by arbitrary changes and an operational environment created and modified at the whims and caprices of actors in the sector, as influenced by their composition and roles, leaving users most times without a say. No doubt, actors in the informal transport sector reinforce formal transportation and help people achieve mobility where other options are nonexistent. This does not mean the sector should be left to largely self-regulate. Because an unregulated and unsupervised informal transportation sector will produce unwanted outcomes, therefore some degree of regulation is required, especially in low-income – high unemployment environments. Existing institutional capacities should form the bedrock of implementation strategies. Incremental changes can be imbibed on an “as-needed basis”.

The loose internal organizational structure and weak operator-to-operator interaction offer regulatory opportunities and advantages towards implementing reforms. Improved vertical and horizontal information flow between regulators and the regulated, underscored with seamless inter-agency cooperation and information sharing would be required for positive changes to occur. The over fluidity in roles of actors would have to be checked by registration and ultimately licensing. Reliance on operator cooperatives as instruments of organization and self – regulation would only yield minimal control, in ways wanted by the controlling cadre.

The controlling cadre orchestrates resistance to new initiatives mainly as a self-preservation tactic not usually for sector development. The manifest horizontal integration and fragmented ownership structure attest to this. It is possible to systematically organize the informal transport sector when what to manage and how to manage are identified.
Shittu AbdulMajeed Olaremi, Ph.D
Department of Urban and Regional Planning
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria & African Urban Mobility Network.

Email: shittuabdulmajeed@gmail.com

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