By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU, Contributing Editor
They are everywhere, we may as well call them part of the challenge of living in urban centres. As confounding as they are, motor park touts popularly called “Agbero” in local parlance are a people that inhabit a world and subculture solely their own: unique for their proclivity to violence, political thuggery, social deviance and, what is more, a thrilling capacity for coining words and phrases that set social register in the society.
Decent people pray before living home in the morning not to have anything to do with them, yet, commuters cannot but avoid them since they are the lords of motor park minors.
Often haggard- looking, with penetrating eyes, disheveled most times, but in recent times, they have assumed ‘decent ‘ air by looking ‘respectable’ in the state-of -art clothes they wear complete with designers jewelry kitting their necks and wrists, making some of them look like a Hollywood mogul.
But beneath the veneer of this respectability lies a twinge of violent culture and their proclivities as cannon folders for politicians to foment trouble, rig election and sundry acts.
Otunba Fatai, alias “Danger”, is a name that rings bell in Agbado station, Opeilu, Adiyan and that axis. Not that he has made headlines as a budding writer, singer or promising thespian, yet he is more popular than the familiar screen gods and goddesses we idolize.
Good- looking, hazel-eyed, with a disarming smile, his handsome face often assumes a permanent grin, yet, he is one of the most feared individuals in the locality. He is the Chairman of the local chapter of the tricycle riders association. He lives like a king complete with the appurtenances of a mafia don.
This reporter had accidental encounter with him at a hotel he owns in Adiyan, a Lagos suburb. As he walks up the long corridor into the large expansive alfresco bar, a medley of people acknowledge him by deferential greetings, like an emperor surveying his praetorian guards, he takes in his environment, but recognises our indifference, this reporter and a colleague.
Intrigued and annoyed by the sheer ‘effrontery of the slight, he makes enquiry about us, and was informed we were not regular guys. He orders drinks for everybody but we decline his generosity. He comes to us and we got chatting. There and then he gets to know our identity as newsmen.
His wife and children are in the U.S. In addition to the ownership of the hotel, he admitted to owning two standard primary schools and a thriving bakery plus ownership of two commercial vehicles plying Akure, Ondo State.
“The popular misconception that “Agberos” are lay-about without any ambition is very prevalent in our society, but it is not true. Though, there are some that are not responsible, a lot of us are decent people, with families and businesses. We are not paupers, we are the new middle class, and a lot of us are better off than many graduates on regular employment, and if you must know, we have many graduates in our midst. We should not confuse our public persona with what we really are.”
Lateef Akanji lives in two bedroom flat in Ijaye, Ojokoro, a Lagos suburb. He is a road transport worker in Ogba, a euphemism for touting or Agbero. He is one of the boys saddled with the responsibility of collecting daily dues from commercial drivers. He told this newspaper that he “goes home with an average of N7000 daily,owns a commercial bus and has a large retail shop being managed by his wife. ” My two children attend a private school where I pay N25,000 each as school fee, and I also have a small block industry with a staff of three”, he admitted to this reporter in a chat.
Mutiu Okanlawon, is one of the officials of motorcycle riders association in Ijoko, near Sango. “My brother I take home an average of N8,000 daily, I have five motorcycles on the road, and two hectares of cassava farms with three permanent staff. From the cassava farm, I make an average of three million annually, the manager of the farm is a HND holder. I pay him N25,000 monthly.”
Continuing, Okanlawon declared that “the people you press call touts or Agberos are responsible people with businesses of their own.”
Falodun Ajao is a regular Agbero in Boundary, Ajegunle. At 29, he has two wives, five children who are in private school, yet he manages to make his home front look respectable and peaceful.
“I have made the two wives comfortable by securing well stocked stores for them with different wares, and I have a commercial vehicle that makes money for me. My two brothers are in university, and I take care of them “, he blurted out with glee.
The perception that touts are disreputable scum of society is fast losing appeal and adherents, as more and more touts have succeeded, with chains of small scale businesses and families. Many of them are more comfortable than bank executives. They are always seen seating apart in motor parks decked out in expensive fashionable clothes and expensive wrist-watches and they often date society ladies.
The rank of M.C. Oluomo is the upper crust of the transport bourgeoisie who wine and dine with the movers and shakers of society, the lower and middle ranks that control different bus stops like Fatai and Lateef are living large, even when educated Nigerians with good jobs are complaining.
This new class of “middle class business men” is hardly miffed by the downturn in the economy; their money is daily and comes with ease, just a little application of muscle and brawn.
Dr. Jinadu Ojo, who teaches Sociology at the University of Ilorin told BusinessHallmark that “we may need to reevaluate the concept of a middle class to include the new entrants, the bourgeois touts.” He said that some touts are very rich, and live large, travel abroad for vacation and send their children abroad for quality education.