Touts along the motor park have been a source of curiosity to many as they assist taxi drivers, whether solicited or unsolicited to fill their cars with passengers. How did they come to be there? Have they been able to accomplish anything good from money earned? And most importantly, are they necessary? Yira-Eeba Bekee examines life generally for these men across motor parks in Abuja.
They are almost at every junction in Abuja expending their energy, attempting to help taxi drivers fill their cabs with passengers. As early as people start travelling and as early as commercial drivers start hunting for passengers, they also are out from dawn to dusk. No matter how scorching the sun might be, you still find them there relentless in their pursuit. They never seem to give up so that they no longer feel the discomfort of the scorching heat.
Or perhaps it’s the zeal, the desire, that determination to make a living, to survive that drives them. This might also be coupled with how they started out their lives on the streets. What matters is no matter how little and irrespective of people’s views on the job, whether or not it is something legal, they are not out indulging in vices that could be harmful not just to them but the society at large.
The touts found in the motor parks are a large group and come in two categories. One is a well organised group of men who claim to belong to the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), while the other are men who do not belong to any union but are just trying to make a living.
The former charge a compulsory amount of N250 for every taxi that stops by the park to pick passengers while the latter are at the mercy of the taxi drivers. They are tipped N10, N20 or N50 as the case may be. While some drivers give them a little money, others do not, and would rather drive off, viewing them as nuisance, as they had not asked for their assistance in the first place.
Again, other drivers would take advantage and then just zoom off, while others conscientiously are bent on giving at least ten naira, than to rather give nothing. LEADERSHIP Sunday joined a taxi and overheard and observed a conversation between a taxi driver and a tout. The driver outright told the tout, “Guy, I no get ten naira to give you” and drove away. The tout had this look on his face that of utter disappointment, as his face fell. He was hoping to get something, no matter how small but he ended up getting nothing but that does not mean the day has ended for him. He still continues his job. Which begs the question, why do these men not join the NURTW?
For those who belong to the NURTW, is the business lucrative? Felix Abua a member of the union says he has been in the business for ten years. He is a SSCE holder. When asked how lucrative the job was, he said he is only managing and that he joined the union due to lack of employment. He said he would not hesitate to leave with the speed of light if he finds a better job. When asked how he joined the union, Abua explained that he just decided to go to the park one day and when he got there, he made his intention known to the chairman of the park.
He told the chairman he wanted to work there and that was how he got the job. When asked if a compulsory fee of N250 was levied on every taxi that came to the park, he said taxi drivers are charged based on the sizes of their taxi but the least amount is N250. Meaning if you come to the park with the normal taxi size (salon car), you will be charged N250 but if you come with a Sienna, the price increases.
According to him, everything is done orderly and if the drivers corporate, they have no problem with him but if a driver fails to comply, that is when there is going to be a huge problem because if care is not taken, he will be seriously beaten! When asked what he has accomplished, he said he has been able to rent an apartment of his own and he single-handedly fends for himself. As to whether or not law enforcement agencies interfere with the carrying out of his duty, he said no but then he has a major challenge this season, the scorching sun.
Jonathan Ike is also a member of this union. He has worked at this job for seven years. He joined the union after he dropped out of the University of Port Harcourt (UniPort). When asked how he started the job, he told LEADERSHIP Sunday that he came to the park and declared interest in the job and that was how he got it. According to him, he took this job because he could not find a better job and that if a better opportunity comes, he would quit. As to whether the job is lucrative or not, he says he works three days a week and he is paid sixteen thousand naira (N16, 000) per week. When asked what he has accomplished, Ike said he has younger siblings and he assists in training them.
It would be interesting to know that amongst these workers are graduates too. Samuel Peters who has worked with the union for less than a year is a graduate of the Auchi Polytechnic. He prefers the job because it does not take much of his time and it allows him enough time for other things. In his opinion, he sees the work as a work for street boys and a foundation to build on.
Meanwhile, Godwin Okere has been with the union for less than a decade. He would like to quit if he finds a better job like every other colleague of his mentioned here.
It was gathered that the money amassed by NURTW workers from this job is a form of revenue generation and it is remitted to the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC). There are also some workers along the road selling stickers, and motorists stopping by to buy them. This is also another means of revenue generation and remittance to AMAC.
From the comments made by the men working in the motor park are clear reasons why they have decided to opt to be touts and others workers with the union. Judging from what some have been able to accomplish from their earnings on the job, it is quite lucrative, as they sometimes earn close to what a corps member is paid in a month in days.
In an online interview report with the media, the chairman of the NURTW, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) chapter, Prince Isah Dahiru said members of the union are not touts, further adding that touts are illegal. Quoting him directly, “we have done a lot of sensitisation. We have conducted several seminars and conferences all in an attempt to get our people know what they stand for and what they can do in all circumstances. Some of our members are graduates; the era when our members were seen as agberos has gone forever.”
He further went on to explain that there are now checks and balances mechanism in place, and any member that violates the code of conduct as stipulated in their law books are sanctioned adequately.
Regarding the touts he said, “We have a process where all the touts within the parks are flushed out because they do us more harm than good. Take for instance the Jabi motor park, our members have uniforms they wear regularly except weekends. This helps people to identify them at all occasions. We are aware too of some illegal motor parks at some places which are usually dominated by agberos. Once we notice such parks, what we usually do is to inform the Special Task Force which was recently set up by the FCT Minister, comprising the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), the police, Federal Road Safety corps (FRSC) and the DRTS. Our members are not touts. Touts are the ones running illegal parks”.
On a general note, it is assumed that the workers at the park are usually aggressive. But however a look beyond the rough exterior gives you a glimpse of the good and the survival spirit in them. Perseverance and hard work are some of their good qualities. The NURTW workers can take these touts under their umbrellas to encourage them, while the federal government can do more for the NURTW workers, who may appear to do less, when in actuality they do more. If they integrate the touts at the motor park, they would be indirectly taking men off the streets and giving them a means of livelihood.