Nigeria's leading finance and market intelligence news report.

Bribery, extortion thrive as LAGESC, Taskforce officers frustrate small businesses in guise of enforcing law

…I pay some amount of money every Friday; we just call it ‘KAI money’ - Trader

Owners of roadside/small businesses in Lagos State have lamented the negative impact of the activities of the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC) and Task Force on their businesses.

They say both LAGESC and Task Force make doing business difficult and cause huge losses, as they called on the government to provide affordable shops for them.

* indicates required

From one government administration to another, the sanitation corps, formerly known as Kick Against Indiscipline, (KAI) and Task Force officers have caused pain to Lagosians trying to make a living by selling their goods by some parts of Lagos’ roads.

LAGESC operating in Ipaja

According to multiple sources who spoke to BDSUNDAY, LAGESC operatives move round the state brutally chasing traders and confiscating their wares. The hot zones are Ketu, Ojota, and sometimes Oshodi.

“During Ambode’s administration, they arrested me and took all my market. Since then, I’ve not recovered from the loss. I lost almost N150, 000. I was sent to Kirikiri for six months because they said I was selling at an illegal place,” Olamilekan Omoyajowo said.

Omoyajowo, who hails from Ekiti State, sells small snacks at Tipper Bus Stop, in Ketu. He told this reporter that since the incident occurred, and after his exit from the infamous Kirikiri prison – a home for notorious criminals- his children have not been going to school because business has not been the same.

“My children have been at home and not going to school since then due to the loss. This is my country. I’m trying to hustle and they’re arresting people,” he said.

As he called on the government to intervene and find a solution to the problem, he wondered the logic behind arresting and jailing people for wanting to survive.

“Does it make sense to send people to kirikiri because we’re looking for what to eat?” he asks rhetorically.

Also selling insecticide around the same location is Tunde, Omoyajowo’s brother, who unsurprisingly has similar experience.

LAGESC van packed at Maryland

Before sticking to selling insecticides, Tunde said he also produced air fresheners, disinfectants like “Dettol” and “Izal”, but he quitted due to the incessant raiding activities of LAGESC and Task Force.

“I stopped because of these people (KAI, Task Force) that are disturbing us. Sometimes, they come and pack our wares and they won’t release them. Once that happens, it becomes wasted products.

“We don’t have money to get shops, so we have to manage where we see. If they (government) can give us shops, we’re ready to go there. Selling by the road is even risky,” he said.

That of the Omoyajowo’s is not a tale of genetics; the plight exists elsewhere and shared among petty traders in Ojota.

Traders work in fear at Ojota Bus Stop. Mondays are most frightening as LAGESC and Task Force operatives come “like a thief in the night”.

“If they come to pursue us, those that don’t see them quickly enough, they will carry their market and go. I’ve not been caught, but many people had their market taken during Fashola’s time. They had to do an undertaking that we would not sell our market again,” a jeweller, known as Bose, said.

BDSUNDAY learnt that sometimes, the raiding continues for a week, leaving no room for people to make sales.

“They said they are government workers; that their oga (boss) wouldn’t want people to sell along the road. But I’ve checked it, where we are is not close to the main road, but they will always come, and when they do, they wouldn’t want to see people that don’t have shops. All these little space we’re occupying, they don’t like seeing people doing business here,” a source said.

Alleged criminal behaviour: bribery, extortion –‘KAI money’, auction of confiscated goods

Speaking to BDSUNDAY, Tunde confirmed that money was usually being given to these officers for them to be allowed to sell. According to him, when he does not have money, he buys them drinks.

“We pay them for us to have rest of mind to do business. If we don’t have money, we buy drinks for them,” he said.

He also said that sometimes when products are confiscated and taken to their office in Alausa, they are not released even after payment.

“They arrested me three times (last year) because they said I’m selling at an illegal place. When I was arrested those three times, I was taken to Alausa where I paid N10, 000 (per arrest). But my goods were not released. I had to go back to my village in Ekiti State to borrow money from my brother to start the same business again,” Tunde said.

But in Ojota, the extortion is worst and happens in an organised form. BDSUNDAY found that traders within the zone pay N200 every Friday. This money is known as “KAI money”.

“I pay weekly money. Every Friday, we pay N200 (two hundred naira) per person. We just call it KAI money. Everybody is aware that KAI collects money.

“On Thursdays, I normally pay N500, especially during the environmental sanitation period, and they will allow me to sell. Not only me. There is a woman there, (pointing to the direction) some of them who sell food, do also pay money, that’s Thursday’s money N500,” a source said.

According to the source, if you want to sell during the environmental sanitation period, “you will pay N500 then they will allow you…just that you won’t put an umbrella.”

“After you settle them (LAGESC), Taskforce will come, and they come with full pressure. There was a day they scattered my box, the one I use in selling. They scattered it, and they carried my umbrella rim, hit it and it broke into pieces. When I came the next day, I had to call a carpenter to amend it. Once they come, they carry people’s markets to Alausa; then you can go and bail it,” he said.

But despite the monetary benefits allegedly enjoyed by LAGESC and Task Force officers, they still disrupt their business activities. Also, once caught, bailing does not come cheaply as you will either be short of goods or not have them released at all.

“The thing is affecting me because sometimes, they bring their truck, and anyone (goods) they carry, that one won’t come back again. It happened to me last year when they carried my market (wares), I used N15, 000 to bail it, and when I was bailing it out, it was no longer complete. I paid the N15, 000 at their office in Oshodi, Opposite Arena, they have an office there,” said another trader who gave his name as Joshua.

Bose, who was mentioned earlier, said: “If you’re caught, your goods won’t be returned. They will sell it at auction prices. Those ones are the ‘Task Force’. KAI returns goods after warnings.”

She explained that when you’re caught and taken to their office, you would be asked to do an undertaking not to sell anymore. According to her, the undertaking involves capturing your details and a photograph. “So, to avoid that, sometimes a bribe is given,” she told BDSUNDAY.

Given the high cost of living in Lagos State, many residents are making efforts to pay bills. So, it is not strange to find people hawking in traffic. Those who cannot face the risk of running after vehicles to make sales engage in street trading.

More so, many street traders told our reporter that they lack funds to rent shops, this means that poverty is also stimulating hawking and street trading.

“If one has money, one would rent a shop. But there is no money, and renting shop is expensive. Even by the roadside, we still pay money to the owner of the store where we keep our products. We pay to council for tickets. But KAI and Taskforce won’t let us do business. I was asked to pay N250, 000 at Oshodi, but how do I do it?” a source said on the basis of anonymity.

Pro-street trading commentators have argued along this line, using the Oyingbo Ultra-Modern Market which currently lies empty as evidence.

Since it was commissioned in 2015, the market is reported to be empty till date due to the high cost of rent.

Similarly, out of the 3,800 shops at Tejuosho market, only 1700 are open for business (as at last year). 2, 000 are locked up. The smallest shop at the complex goes for more than N180, 000 ($500).

The prohibition of street trading

While pursuing a dream of a megacity, the state government did not consider this before kicking off its anti-street trading campaign when it announced the full implementation of the law prohibiting street trading and hawking in 2016.

Trading at Maryland Bus stop attracts a fine of N100, 000. But traders are gradually returning

In a live television programme, former governor of Lagos, Akinwunmi Ambode, had said that the enforcement was in line with Section One of the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law 2003.

He said that the clause in the existing law says the buyer and the seller are both liable and that they would be fined either N90, 000 or a six-month jail term.

Both Ambode and those at the seat of power in the state had consistently maintained that the decision was to ensure free traffic flow, and eliminate potential security threats.

“What we are doing on traffic is that we are introducing new strategies to eliminate traffic, but Lagos, being a cosmopolitan city, you cannot totally eliminate it but now this is the case, in the next few days, you will see on the street of Lagos signs that will be warning you that buyers and hawkers should be aware that there are consequences,” he said.

He said his administration had also concluded plans to roll out a campaign which would warn motorists and hawkers of the restrictions and the penalty for defaulters.

The contribution of the informal sector to the state’s IGR

The contribution of the sector to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state is immense. The state government estimated the value of the informal economy at N7.615tn ($48.2 billion) in 2013, with approximates 5.58 million people employed in the sector according to the Labour Statistic Collaborative Survey, quoted in a report by BudgIt.

The informal sector is projected to have contributed approximately 40 percent or N111billion to the internally generated revenue pool of the state and local governments, according to the reports. In 2015, at the state level, an estimated 40 percent of the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) came from the informal economy; while the value of the sector’s economic activities was estimated to reach N9.87trillion in 2016.

In addition, the sector has positively impacted the state’s economy in terms of job creation, which some analysts put at 68 percent of the total jobs in the state. The National Bureau of Statistics estimates that there are approximately 2.38million men and 3.2million women that make a living in the sector in Lagos. This represents 65 percent of the working population, and accounts for approximately 42 percent of economic activities.

Economists explain informal sector as that part of an economy that is neither taxed nor monitored by any form of government, meaning there is little or no regulation of economic activities in this sector. According to statistics, the sector accounts for about 15percent of employment in developed countries such as the United States. But sub-Saharan Africa, it is 72percent, and if agricultural employment is included it is beyond 90 percent.

Undeniably, the significance of the informal sector to Lagos state’s economy cannot be trivialised. Still, it is shocking and myopic to see persistent efforts from the state government to ban informal economic activities.

A research analyst at Growth and Development Asset Management Ltd, Omobola Adu believes that banning street trading without creating alternative jobs will not be effective for Lagos State because they will be back.

“They talked about them going into the market, but research showed that it is actually cost-effective for them to be on the streets than to be in an organised place because you have to pay for that space.

“In terms of how it will affect the economy, let’s think about it in terms of direct effect. Direct effect will be on the traders, you are reducing people’s disposable income, so if you are not going to create alternative job, you might get free flow of traffic, but you are also going to reduce the income people will make, you are going to push more into poverty,” he said.

But looking at it from an aggregate level, Adu said it affects the revenue of the state as the amount of money that would be spent by “these people which will also get into the state’s revenue will also be reduced.

“If you are not creating an alternative job [or affordable location, it’s not a win-win situation. The government will lose in the long run and more people will go into poverty,” he said.

Efforts to speak with LAGESC officers, Corps Marshal

Countless efforts to reach some officers of the agency deployed to Ojota to get their views were unsuccessful. Also, efforts to speak with the Corps Marshal were futile. The reporter contacted the public relations officer of LAGESC, Kehinde Adebayo, who requested questions to be sent to him and promised to get them across to his boss. The questions were sent via Whatsapp and follow up calls were also made to get feedback, but there was no reply till the time of filing this report.

 

Desmond Okon

 

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.