Why Lagos State May Need M.C. Oluomo, Baruwa and Other 'Agberos' - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Monday, April 18, 2022

Why Lagos State May Need M.C. Oluomo, Baruwa and Other 'Agberos'

 •Sanwo -Olu, Baruwa and Oluomo

The Daily Crucible | Monday, April 18, 2022

By Femi Kusa

WHEN I heard from Mofe Oyatogun's early rush show on star fm 101.5 radio in Lagos last week that AK 47s were brandished during a Lagos motor park brawl, I immediately telephoned a gentleman close to the corridors of power who should know. Literally speaking, worms rumbled in my stomach when he  confirmed the had news. I call the news "bad" because where those assault guns were brandished was in my neighborhood backyard, far far away from Kaduna, Niger and plateau states, hot beds of AK 47 activities where hundreds of people may be slain in one night by terrorists and bandits. These are centers not of excellence but of human Carnage where a genocidal war may be mistaken for terrorism and banditry.  Has the ugly bear come to peaceful Lagos? I wondered.
       Motor park life has always been rough and, governing it, violent, sometimes deadly. But, like many people in Lagos , I have neither heard of nor seen AK47s join the fray. Even now that the police are blowing the whistle and reading the riot act, I will not join calls for the baby to be thrown out with the bath water. I do not hate the Motor park People and would not go for their heads, for the simple reason that they prevented Biafran soldiers from capturing Lagos during the Nigerian civil war and may be useful in preventing the Northern human Carnage from exploding on Lagos. I see them, rather as those bad fellows among us, if we can describe them as such, who have their own good days. How many of us remember that they stopped the Biafran army from invading and colonising Lagos during the 1967-70 Nigerian civil war? Did they not help to curb the high wave of home, street and highway robberies of the 1990s in Lagos? May they now not be working and sleeping with one eye and, with the other, keenly watching those strange fellows dangerously swelling the population of Lagos every day and giving us security nightmares when we remember Kaduna, Niger and plateau states among devastated places in Nigeria? These thoughts led me to revisit the AGBERO  question in Lagos against the background of their usefulness in the Nigerian civil war and of the blessings they may be to a Lagos society who knows their value and has the capacity to manage and develop their potentials as human capital


For many commercial bus patrons in Lagos, the AGBERO is a fiend. He is uneducable, unkempt, noisy, destructive, wild, riotous, an inquisitor and intimidator. He earns homongous daily income from gutter life. But he does not know how to invest it in ways and means that will eventually take him out of the gutter. He has no respectable means of income outside forcible extortion of levies from passenger bus or motor bike taxis, which are then passed on to passengers in the forms of exhobitant transport fares. In Lagos, transportation account for between 40 and 50 percent of the monthly budget of the bus user. The bus user knows his blood and sweat ends up in the pockets of "AGBEROS" and, so, hates them like the dunghill. They hate the government, too, whenever it treats them with kid gloves. They do not see what some senior citizens of Lagos  may be seeing...that "AGBEROS" once saved Lagos from becoming a battle field of the Biafran war .
      How Many people in Lagos  know the history of the "agberos"? To their credit, the agberos of my generation saved Yorubaland from Biafran military conquest and are even better configured today to rid the land of military invasion by terrorists and bandits which many people fear may happen but against which they do not have a solution. The "Agbero's"started off as passenger marketers for passenger vehicles in designated motor parks. In those early days, business life in the parks was disorderly. About 10 passenger vehicles bound for the same route canvassed for passengers at the same time. If I was at the bottom of the queue but I had an enterprising "Agbero"(Passenger scout) working for me, I may be the first to leave the garage. I may make as many as three runs where my competitors serviced by inefficient "Agberos"made only one.
     Then came the Biafran war(1966-70) or the Nigerian civil war. The south-west region, Homeland of the yorubas, had been in opposition to the federal government for about a decade. In the civil service as well as in the military, the yorubas population was decimated. So, they were prostrate when Lt.Col.Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu military Governor of  the Eastern region, Justifiable or otherwise, depending on which side of the fence you are, fired the first shots of the war. The war was meant to be between the east and the north. Some people say the east was the aggressor because, in the 15 January 1966 coup,  political leaders of the north, West and Mid West were slain but those of the East were spared. Notably, these were Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, (Ceremonial President of Nigeria), Dr MI Okpara (Premier of Eastern Region) and  Nwafor Orizu (Senate president). Senior military officers of northern and Western origins were killed as well. The coup was planned by Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Timothy Onwuatuegwu, Chris Anuforo, Don Okafor, Humphrey Chukwuka and Adewale Ademoyega. 
Some Nigerian political observers of that time believed the military would have been kept out of politics if the ceremonial president, Dr Azikiwe, encouraged parliament to find a replacement for prime minister Balewa and got the government to put down the revolt and prosecute the coup makers. But Dr Azikiwe had gotten wind of the approaching coup and left Nigeria for medical treatment abroad. In that case, Senate president Nwafor Orizu ought to have stabilised the government, if Dr Azikiwe would not return home. Rather, he invited major Gen JTU Aguiyi Ironsi, the most senior surviving officer, to take over the government. Gen Ironsi took over as supreme commander of the armed forces. The north was bitter at the killing of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, spiritual leader of the Moslem North and political leader of the entire Northern Nigeria, and the sparing  of eastern politicians. The North was blood thirsty but anti-nihilists supported the East for not shedding blood. The East had a reasonable excuse for not killing it's politicians. Most Easterners were Catholic and the pope was visiting. They will not wish to shed blood to ruin the papal visit. This infuriated the Moslem North. The Nigerian press worsened the situation by repeatedly describing the coup makers as Nigerian heroes who delivered the country from political mayhem, and by clamouring for their release and protection. Gen Ironsi was caught in cross fire. Soon, there was an uprising against Easterners in the North which was more genocidal than anything else. Gen Ironsi went on peace missions to the East and to the North, meeting with traditional rulers and opinion leaders. During his visit to Ibadan for the same purpose in the Western region, Northern army officers assembled Eastern army officers for a meeting at the Garrison in Abeokuta and executed them. The news rocked Lagos and other military formations in Nigeria. In Lagos, Gen Ironsi had made many northerners his body guards, maybe as a way of winning Northern trust. Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe was holding the forte for him in Lagos. He sent Theophilus Danjuma to Ibadan to see to Ironsi's well being. Danjuma reported that, when he got there , he found some northern soldiers on the grounds of State House. These soldiers had arrested the security details of Ironsi and disarmed them. Danjuma said he tried to talk them out of abducting Ironsi, and his host Adekunle Fajuyi, but he "lost control." Gen Ironsi himself was abducted in Ibadan, along with his host, Lt col. Adekunle Fajuyi and executed. Three or four days later, lt col Yakubu Jack Gowon took over as head of State at the age of 31 and ad supreme Commander of the Nigerian armed forces. Lt col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Gowon's peer by rank and governor of the Eastern Region, would not recognise Gowon as supreme commander, although he recognised Ironsi as such. Ego must have played a part in Ojukwu's rejection of Gowon, although he had a point in insisting that military appointments be by seniority. Ojukwu was a history graduate of Oxford university. Gowon trained as a soldier in Nigeria  and foreign military institutions. After his overthrow, Gowon would head for Warwick university in the United Kingdom where he took bachelor's, masters and bachelor's degree in political science . Ojukwu , educated at Oxford university refused to recognise him, preferring that brigadier Ogundipe be in charge. Northern soldiers had sidelined Ogundipe and Adeyinka Adebayo. The Yorubas had very few gunners if any in the army. The coalition federal government of the North and the East had literally and politically dismantled the region and sent some of its leaders to prison on manipulated charges in a flawed judicial process. To stabilise the new regime, Gowon brought chief Obafemi Awolowo out of prison to become his deputy as vice chairman of the federal executive council. Chief Awolowo and other Yoruba leaders made several attempts, including a visit by Awolowo and his team to the East and a meeting between Gowon and Odumegwu Ojukwu in Aburi, Ghana to reconcile the north and the East and their leaders. These efforts failed and led the East as Odumegwu-Ojukwu said with no option to seceed from Nigeria under the national name Biafra.


Some other people blame the war on reprisal genocidal killings of igbos in the North. Some ibos blame the western region for not coming to the aid of the Eastern Region well enough. These people even made unfulsome allusion to the warning by chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the yorubas, to Lt.Col. Yakubu Gowon, Nigerian head of State that..."if through acts of commission or omission the federal government allows the east to go, the west will also go". Igbo intelligence interpreted this statement to the rank and file or rustic igbo that chief Awolowo gave the east assurances that the West will back it. The Interpretation, according to  Yoruba leaders, was fraudulent in that interpreters failed to read that conditional excerps along with the main body of Chief Awolowo's address to Col.Gowon. In the Co-allition federal government of the Northern and Eastern  regions, the Western region had been decimated in the civil service, the police and in the armed forces. So, where was the military support the eastern region was counting on from the western region as a balancer in a Balance of Power System in its conflict with the Northern Region? The Eastern region had withdrawn the reminant of its own military personnel after killings by northern soldiers in the barracks and in their homes to "Biafra to defend their motherland."


In the view of many yorubas, Lt.Col Odumegwu Ojukwu made a mistake in his survivalist relations with the Yorubas. According to this opinion, he sought to drag them into the war and turn their land into the battle field, and not Biafra into the battle field or theatre of the war. Meanwhile northern troops had effectively surrounded a western region which had no troops. After northern coupists arrested head of State major-General J.T U.Aguiyi-Ironsi in Ibadan during his state visit to western region, Major General Babafemi Ogundipe, the next most senior officer, could not take control of the army because northern soldiers Aguiyi-Ironsi surrounded himself with refused his orders. Even Col Adeyinka Adebayo who had been brought home from a training course in the United kingdom was not acceptable to the north. 
Adebayo, chief of army staff in 1965, that is before the coup, had to pledge loyalty to his junior officer, Lt Col.Gowon and rewarded  with assignment to Ibadan as military governor of western region as replacement for Col Adekunle Fajuyi who was killed along with Aguiyi-,Ironsi. The coupist did not come for Col Adekunle Fajuyi. But he told them he could not surrender to them his guest and leave  while his guest was killed. Had he done otherwise, that would have left the Ibos the impression that the yorubas stage -manged Ironsi's arrest and murder! This is great sacrifices that are little valued in Nigerian ethnic suffused politics  and social life. Meanwhile in Lagos, northern soldiers predominated everywhere, from myong barracks at Abule-ijesha, Ikeja cantonment, Abalti Barrack, bonny camp, doddan barrack, Ojo cantonment, Abeokuta Garrison and other towns, to mention a few. How does a people fight who have no soldiers and guns? This was what Chief Awolowo told Lt.Col Odumegwu Ojukwu at their peace talks in Enugu. 


Lt.Col Ojukwu, according to Yoruba intelligentia, had his own agenda. The Yorubas had to be forced into the war one way or the other. He probably assumed from the capitulation of Ogundipe and Adebayo that yorubas were simpletons or cowards who preferred life to death and would chicken out in any confrontation with an aggressor. So, he hired mercenaries to help bomb Lagos and civilian population sites. He overrun the then Bendel state(now Edo and Delta state) with a willing and substantial Igbo population and support in a military march on lagos. His forces were led by Yoruba man Victor Banjo who was detained in the East by Gen Ironsi. Banjo was Ojukwu's friend in the army. Banjo captured the Mid West region in two days and, as Ojukwu decreed, declared it republic of Benin. That area comprised present day Edo and Delta states. Banjo was shocked when Ojukwu appointed an Igbo, Col Albert Okonkwo, as military administrator of the republic. Banjo wrote to Ojukwu to express misgivings and make suggestions. Ojukwu replies that all decisions regarding the war will be exclusively made by him and that Banjo should proceed to Lagos and capture it for an Igbo military administrator that he would send. Banjo declined to do this and Ojukwu executed him for disobedience. Had Ojukwu succeeded with his plan for an Igbo military administrator in Lagos, the Western Region would have come under Igbo governance. Yet that was what chief Obafemi Awolowo and their action group party prevented about a decade earlier when Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe tried but failed to be premier of Western Nigeria. The NCNC (  National council for Nigerians and the Camerouns )which Yoruba man Herbert Marculy found to press for Nigeria's independence had won elections almost hands down in the Western Region and was to form the government. Upon Marculy's death, the NCNC leadership invited Dr Azikiwe from Ghana to lead the party in the quest for national cohesion before those elections. Dr Azikiwe sought to govern the western Region as the leader of it's winning party. When the Yorubas discovered what they were going in for, another foreign rule after European rule, they migrated from the NCNC to their lesser party, Action Group , which Chief Awolowo led, and made chief Awolowo premier of their region. In the view of many yorubas, therefore, Victor Banjo died a hero's death. 
     If Banjo succeeded in leading Biafran soldiers into the western region, or if after his death Ojukwu succeeded in doing this, this would entice the north to militarily crowd in on the west and defocus them from Biafra. Many yorubas thought Ojukwu undid the Igbo cause with this move for there had been earlier agreements among the Western Region, Mid Western Region and the Northern region that troops will not be deployed through the western and mid western corridors to the East. That would have left the north with an only option of slugging out his problems with the Eastern region along their northern-eastern border. But Ojukwu did not like this for this will bring the war to the east. He  would rather want the west and the mid West to be the battle grounds. 


As Biafra forces romped towards to west with the red devils, bullet-proof military armoured tanks made from train coaches seized from the Nigerian rail way cooperation NRC, the west had no troops to engage them. But, then, suddenly, an idea broke through like a silver lining in cloudy sky..."Agbero"in motor garages in Bajulaiye, Igbobi and other places in Lagos were rounded up, taken to Abeokuta and given one or two weeks training on gun handling before they were sent off to Ore a hot war zone. 

Alhaji Tijani Isiaka, for several years the Chief Transport officer for several generations of governor's at the Lagos Secretariat, Alausa, nostalgically recalls the events of that time. He was a motor mechanic somewhere on Aje street near Yaba, Lagos. One day, soldiers came and took many people away. He was taken away to offer the army motor mechanic services. Other people were taken directly into the army and sent to Abeokuta for training. Many areas of Lagos were similarly combed for volunteers and draftees who, supported by regular soldiers, confronted the Biafrans at Ore and pushed them back, beyond the borders of present day Edo and Delta States into Biafran land. Had they not been available, the Biafran Army would have taken Ore, Akure, Owo, Ondo and major cities of the west, consolidated and then headed for Lagos, taken ijebu Ode, Sagamu and, perhaps, Abeokuta on the way. Badagry, too, would have fallen. 
So would have places like Egbado and Yewa. The Biafrans, in fairness  to them , said their intention was to set up an Oduduwa republic in the west in the manner they set up Republic of Benin in Benin city. But why appoint an Igbo as military administrator of Oduduwa republic? Could Victor Banjo not have headed the administration of his motherland? Did Ojukwu suspect that Banjo may not be taken orders from him? Why did he wish to control the mid west region and the western region? Gowon did a better job at this when Biafra capitulated. He appointed Ukpabi Asika an Igbo, not a Yoruba or Hausa/Fulani, as the civilian administrator of the east central state, as the core Igbo land was named under a new 12-state federal structure. And why was Banjo executed for objecting to this? Was this an evidence that the Yorubas were depopulated from the army by the north and east coalition government?
     Till this day, many igbos believe the Yorubas misled them into the war with a support Chief Awolowo promised but never gave. Ibo intelligentsia said such a discussion took place during Chief Awolowo's meeting with Lt col Odumegwu Ojukwu. The yorubas do not know chief Awolowo to tell them lies. Infact, his problem was that in Nigerian politics, he was too plain and not a politician. General Olusegun Obasanjo was conducting an election to choose a successor between him and Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Chief Awolowo told Gen Obasanjo to his face that, if he became president, he will probe the Obasanjo military administration. During campaign in the east, he told Igbos he would ban the importation of dehydrated stock fish from Canada because all it's nutrients had been extracted for animal feed and other uses and the dry fish was a nutritional waste for human consumption. Elsewhere in the east, he told another campaign rally he would ban the importation of used clothes(okrika), and major import business of the Igbos, because it was killing the fabric and garment business in Nigeria and killing jobs as well apart from being degrading to Nigerians as second class or third class citizens of the earth. Chief Awolowo characteristically said he never made to Lt col Odumegwu Ojukwu any promise of Yoruba support for Biafra. The proof came when Nigerian troops captured the tapes of their meeting in Enugu and no such discussions were noted in it. Lt col Odumegwu Ojukwu did not comment on this when he returned to Nigeria. Lt col Gowon, as he then was, never said, till this day, that such a thing transpired. Gen Gowon (rtd) is still alive!


     The "Agberos" saved  western Nigeria from Biafran colonization in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, they formed some groups of "Area boys" in Lagos island, notably in Campos square and kakawa to protect their local communities against all sort of local vicissitudes. "Big boys" in these neighbourhoods, who were educated, talented and better connected with upper segments of society recognized their worth and tried to upgrade their status. Such fellows included Bola Ahmed Tinubu and prince Ademola Adeniji Adele, a graduate of Lagos State University (LASU) who would become Lagos island local government chairman and instrumental to making Moshood Kashimawo Abiola declare himself president in Nigeria in hiding in Isale eko .
When the structural adjustment programme(SAP) of Gen Ibrahim Babangida downsized personal and national life, the "Agberos" became a social menace to business people, especially Igbo traders and commercial houses in Lagos island. There were reports of every known business address paying" protection money" every month. This menace was sorted out by officially making the system , through the National Union of Road Transport Workers, take over management of motor parks which ought to be the responsibility of local governments. Lagos population was growing. So was the transportation business. The transportation business absorbed Agberos in three catagories...as drivers, bus conductors and ticketers who collected levies of taxes on behalf of the local government for motor park maintenance. They were well regulated in the beginning. But the regulatory appeared to loose control with population and transportation explosion which gave rise to larger numbers of Agberos without a corresponding groups in the number of motor parks. That was why almost every motor busstop would later become something like a motor park and the offices of Agberos.  If the "Agberos" become a menace we have all observed them to be to sane social life, this would have to do with their not being well educated and cultivated to become a better social group. Anytime their ticketing activities has been banned by the government, the rate of robbberies has grown. So the government has found it necessary to keep them busy. But the government needs to do more than this to protect the public against the nuisance that the Agberos have become on the roads and elsewhere. The government has always  tried, though. The problem is that Agberos always remain impregnable. Alhaji Attahiru tried his best as director of transportation before his retirement from Lagos State public service to modernise the physical outlook of bus drivers and their conductors. He tried to get them to wear official uniforms. But they refused. If they agreed, drivers would have a uniform different from conductors. Both will wear identification tags. They would keep their operations within designated routes. The goal of the reform was the security of passengers and better transport service for them. On the end, Alhaji Jide Tahiru ended a civil service career without achieving this goal and went to enjoy his retirement. If he Agberos know that they can do things better for their own good,  would they not have modernized their ways and means  on their own with the homongous cash flow in their hands and even modernise the Lagos transport system ? The Lagos transport system generated a monthly tax income which, in unofficial circles, has been estimated at more than 100 billion naira every month. On their own, the Agberos would have long done away with the molues and mini buses(danfo) and voluntarily replace them with Lag bus-type buses owned by individuals or their cooperatives. They have enough money in their hands to intervene in Lagos rail transportation. They do not have to lay rail tracks. They may purchase coaches and buy operational time slots from the Nigerian Railway cooperation(NRC) for train trips within and outside Lagos.This may even encourage the NRC to farm out it's train services and focus its energies on laying new tracks. 
An area of rail transportation we should begin to think about is the SKYWAY project in Dubai. The idea belongs to a Russian who did not find expression for it until 2018. The idea is a train, like an aeroplane, in the air. The tracks are suspended high above the ground . The train, without a driver, can run at about 500 kilometers per hour. In Lagos, for example, it can move containers from the ports to different ports in the federation where their owners can pick them up. A port may serve each state. The benefit of the SKYWAY to Lagos, as an example, are that port congestion will disappear, there will be no trailers moving containers, blocking roads and causing traffic jams,containers will no t fall off trucks, killing people and disturbing traffic. Trailer owners need not be afraid that their business is growing. They can invest in the project. So can the agberos. It is a suspended rail On the waterways, the Agberos can also make a difference with their cooperativeson the waterways.
 In the 1990s, doctor Ayo Ojo, a member of the Nigerian medical association in Lagos, tried to establish a passenger boat service between Lagos and Babdagryn. The project became too overwhelming for him as an individual and he  dropped it. A cooperative with homongous daily income can do better in this sphere. At present, much of the money goes down in food canteens on alcohol,energy drinks, assorted red meat and a hoard of women. It is not beyond government capacity to encourage Agberos to form themselves into co-operatives and to invest in their potentials as part of the human caapitaala of our society. To open their heads and hearts, about 300 of them, as a part of continuing education in their profession, may be sent abroad free of cost to them, to experiencelife as students or workers in transport systems. for periods ranging up to about 3 months, something good will rub off on them which they will bring back to Lagos state. It may be the beginning of a great transformation in the transport system of our society which a single individual may be unable to ignite. In the 1970s, I was close to a cousin of mine who was an "AGBERO" at palmgrove bus stop on ikorodu road. He belonged to the G.S Barma faction of the NURTW. I gave some ideas to him. With photographs of how motor garages and parks in England looked like. But it didn't sink. The motor park in ojota, Lagos , for example, could have come a 10 floor park, with one or two hotels, modern restaurants, banking halls and other offices. By now, every vehicle licensed for commercial business in Lagos could have been captured on a network system where Artificial Intelligence (AI) would collect the levies everyday and defaulters would automatically receive court summons. Under this system, there would be no need to violently collect levies on the streets, distructing traffic, delaying passengers and violently changing their governments. Everything boils down to education. But can we throw them away because they are not like us ? When the Biafrans headed for Lagos, who among us went to engage them? Who among our parents released us for drafting into the army? I was 17 in 1967. I did not understand the political issues at stake in the politics of that time. I was only adventuros and loved action. Lt col Ojukwu was my hero. His speeches were vigorous, his vocabulary tremendous, his points very well marshalled and persuasive. Lt col Gowon was too cool for me. Nevertheless, I loved the army and would have loved to enlist even if only as a cadet. My grandmother would not hear of this. She would say if I was going to Abeokuta I should collect two uniforms, one for her. That was the attitude of many parents. The Agberos didn't look back. They went to save the land which we still enjoy today. Who knows if, sooner than later, we may not need them again. Less I forget, some of them joined the Odua people's Congress (OPC) of Dr Fredrick Faseun to save us from armed robberies which the police could not protect us against. We would make a grave mistake if we dispense with them simply because they are not of our social complexion, and do not speak our language.Look around Lagos and tell me if you do not see strange faces everywhere , all not looking like Nigerians. They have no skills, no jobs, no money, no families, let alone family values, and they are, above all, homeless, sleeping under overhead bridges , robbing in the early mornings and late nights. Look at the inner streets. They are filled with motorcycles. Have we not heard that it is from motorcycles that terrorists and bandits fall upon their preys in Kaduna and other Northern states? Is the clock ticking away on us? Everyone I have seen who has become afraid of what Lagos has become in terms of its foreign elements has had no idea about how the time bomb can be diffused. I pray the day never comes when they would receive the call they are believed to be positioned among us to await. Who will come to our defence? Do you have a gun? If you do, can you protect yourself and your family for long?My  intuition warns me to recognize the "Agberos" for their nuisance value. The yorubas say ENI BURUKU L'OJO TIRE (The bad guy has his own good day). Thus , let us salute those political leaders in Lagos who are probably seeing very far ahead of all of us.

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