In this period of recession, there is plenty of avenues through which the country could rake in money which are not being tapped. One of such avenues is the maximum use of car park spaces, which has been left at the mercy of touts and private persons. The other side of the venture is that the money finds its way into private pockets and government is still left with nothing.
I was really motivated to investigate the racketeering of car park spaces when it became obvious that there are so any cars on the Island, and each seeks where to park, and so creating revenue for the street boys, which the government should have harnessed.
Consequently, many people have at one time or another yielded to street boys popularly known as ‘area boys’ and paid ‘fines’ for parking spot on the street or market environment. The boys, as a syndicate, work very hard in the sun and collect money from people, including private motorists and public transport drivers daily. Some of them confided in our correspondent, saying they are training their children and would rather do what they are doing than being armed robbers or idle.
A middle age Lagos resident, Clara, who visited her friend on Lagos Island was startled at the rate a particular man, according to her, who looked untidy, was smiling at her as she was driving down the popular Broad street on Lagos Island. She said the boy kept close pace at her car, waving and making signs, directing her where to park her car. “I was worried as the boy followed my car as I slowed down and my trafficating light was on, indicating that I was ready to divert. I was frightened by the closeness of the stranger thinking that he may be up to something, possibly to rub me of my belongings. Proactively, I wound up my glasses, luckily; my car’s air conditioner was perfectly in order. He only went back when the gate of the company where I was going was opened by the security guards,” she narrated.
Joy’s experience perfectly paints the picture of what happens all over the Lagos Island or rather typify what an average car owner in Lagos goes through almost every day while trying to park. Our investigation proved that regular visitors of some popular markets in Lagos such as Balogun or Idumota, Mushin, Oyinbo, Oshodi, Ladipo and many others have so many things to worry about. Among their headaches is where to park their cars. In such markets, the likes of the boy that terrified Clara are witnessed directing people where to park after which they collect money from them in what our investigation revealed was a racket of a group of individuals who came together to tap the resources government overlooked.
At the Marina, by the Mobil Fuel Station, a large expanse of land exists which many believed is within the purview of the state government, but our invstigation revealed otherwise. It was obvious that the car park is being managed by a syndicate which claimed that they were on concession, in an agreement reached with the government.
A supposed staff, who craved anonymity, and failed to disclose the name of the company which has the concession, told the Boss that much as the business looks legit, the staff are the ones that perpetrate the racket because according to him, ‘everybody dey chop from somebody’. He was insinuating that the company does not make returns to the government.
“We are a company which legitimately concessioned the park to make returns. However, the staff here do not make all the returns to the company, which in turn makes little or no return to the government. You know, everybody dey chop from somebody,” he said.
Further investigation showed that Marina habours most of these boys. While descending Marina Bridge to connect the markets, you are sure to be ‘warmly’ welcomed by some overzealous boys beckoning you to come and park at a specific space under the bridge of Akpomgbo. The boys bother less who is in the car or whether you are going to an office with a parking space. The moment they sight you descending from the bridge, they keep waving and directing your car until you are out of their sight. To wary visitors, that might be strange to him.
I had walked up to one of the boys whom I noticed was patronizing motorists to park a designated area. I complained to him that I had nowhere to park my car. Of course I had none. The mere mention of ‘car’ and ‘park’ set his ears to attention, and he responded automatically ‘wey am’.
He went ahead to tell me that ‘nothing spoil’, and that he would find me a place no matter what. My query on the amount he would charge was return with ‘make I see the car first’. He explained that cars are charged based on their make, and sometimes the type of person behind the wheels, adding that the flat charge is N200 on an hourly basis.
If one should make a mental calculation of all the cars that parked at the venue and other adjoining street corner, and multiply the number by N200, it will be obvious that government revenue is busily falling into private pockets.
“I don’t believe that these people are robbing the government. All they did was discover an avenue to make money, and they are making very good use of it. If the government is sensible enough, they would have known that the car park businesss is a gold mine worth tapping into,” said a respondent who spoke to the Boss.
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Yemi Abolade, Oshodi resident said: “In my area in Oshodi, the so called street boys make whole lots of money. Of course, their hearts gladdens at the sight of visitors because they are sure nothing less than N200 will come out. But they don’t approach the residents.”
In Surulere, it is a similar story; before a stranger parks his or her car, some boys will emerge from nowhere to ask for money, in a local parlance ’anything for the boys.’ Sadly, the story is the same with most public buildings or commercial areas because of the space constraints in the city.
Lagos’ neighbourhoods with event centres and halls also suffer headaches during occasions and events. This is because most of the facilities do not have enough spaces for vehicles to park.
“Do you know that most weekends and Sundays, it takes several precious minutes, sometimes hours, to drive on roads that should take not more than 10 minutes in my street. So these boys collect money from visitors to our area and the reason is simple. Vehicles are parked on all sides, blocking vehicular movements and making passage difficult,” said Idowu, a resident of Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja.
Over the past decade, workers and commuters in Lagos have generally become accustomed to the inherent problems that come with inadequate parking facilities. Double parking and extortion-like car parking fees are just a few of many routine practices for car owners across the city.
Similarly, visit to most offices, markets and shopping malls in Lagos showed many of them do not have enough space for their staff and customers to park. This has left buyers and shoppers with no choice than to utilise adjoining open or residential spaces under the supervision of urchins, popularly known as area boys. Most vehicles have been lost in the process, vandalized, crammed or towed on a regular basis.
The boys who wave at cars disclosed that business is a money spinning venture, and has made it a full time job they could sign in to every morning and sign out from every evening.
Matthew, a resident of Orile, resumes work at under the bridge of Akpomgbo to wave at car owners on daily basis as his job description. Though he denied spending all his time on the vocation, one wonders when he does other things.
For Matthew, the problem of inadequate parking space is a money spinning venture for them in Lagos state.
“There’s no enough space for people to park their cars in this area, everywhere is occupied by buildings, so that’s why government created this place for parking space so that those boys that are jobless can see something doing, and that they are not just idle. The car owners pay N500 for a whole day,” he said.
He explained further: “We make more than N10 000 in a day but the money is not for us. It is the people that collected approval from the government that take the money but there is certain amount they will remove from there, they will now give us the rest to share. At the end of the day, I’m sure of going home with not less that N1, 500 in a day. Sometimes if we don’t meet the target they will collect the whole money from us like that. They sill just give us small thing. Sometimes we hit more than the target and if that happens, that will be our own gain and that’s why we try to work harder.” He added that they are more than five working under one boss who supervises what happens there and it is the boss that will account to the overall boss who will settle the government.”
The Boss efforts to track down did not yield fruitful result as he was said to be in another location, and did not ‘return’ on the two occasions he was sought for, and it is not ascertained whether returns are made to the government.
Another of the boys, Kazeem, cut in: “Government did not provide enough parking spaces in Lagos and the place they provided are too expensive for some car owners. You can see Marina car park there, they pay N700 and their money reads per hour but for our side, we don’t charge per hour and you know we are using roadside. If you tell them to pay for hours, they will go claiming that the cars are parked at owner’s risk. But here we collect N500 no matter the hours.”
The bitter truth is that educated people are also found among them. One of them is Azeez, a graduate of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic. “I have not been working here for a very long time I come here only on Saturdays. I just graduated from Moshood Abiola Polytechnic and I am doing my industrial attachment. I am doing this for the mean time so that I wouldn’t be idle. I have a boss that I report to and he also has a boss too. I am not aware of the total day package but any time I close for the day I will be given N1, 500,” he explained.
They still have their complaints: “Things are too hard in this country, even people that come here with fine cars, to pay N500 is a big problem to them. I have collected N200 and N150 today, what do I do. Some will even want to park on credit to pay next time and if dare try it you will not see them again. Some people are very rich but have a very tightfisted hand.
Mrs. Bola Aboshi was one of the car owners who spoke to the Boss: “There’s nothing we can do, you know it is their land, they are Lagosians; you cannot carry the land in your town to this place. If we don’t cooperate with them they might vandalize our car. They collect N500 and it is okay because if you say you will not pay they may destroy your car which may even cause as much as N50, 000 to repair and when you come back you will not see any of them.
“If they engage in riot here, they will destroy so many things and if you ask people selling things here they will deny knowing any of them whereas they know all of them. It is even good to have a space to pay and park and when you come out you will drive your car away in peace not in pieces.”
But she added: “One is not totally sure the car is safe but you really don’t have any choice if you don’t want to be late for an appointment or your engagement. The boys charge more and sometimes make away with valuables. But it is a choice one must make if you don’t want to have your vehicle towed for parking just anywhere.”
However, a source from Lagos Council Development Area in the Transport Department who pleaded anonymity revealed that the boys seen under the bridge of Akpomgbo are working for people whom the place have been franchised to. “What the people do is that after gathering the money, at the end of the year they pay a specific amount to the local council,” he said.
What is not clear is whether the money is actually remitted, and if it does, who is responsible.
Respondents stressed that the issue is not about providing these spaces, but monitoring the generated revenue as government’s non-chant attitude is the reason the street boys have cashed in that to make money for themselves.
A town planner, Dr Adebayo Adebiyi, however blamed the problem on the government, saying that providing a parking space is one issue that is best addressed long before structures are built. He said that most of our cities and streets are jammed. There was no adequate provision for spaces where vehicles should be parked. Since development has overtaken provisions, such challenges are inevitable.