Various petty traders narrate their experiences.
Officials of the Abuja Environmental and Protection Board, under the guise of keeping the city clean, routinely extort money from street traders; forcing the helpless victims to either part with their meagre income or lose their wares, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation reveals.
These officials, who go around the Nigerian capital in marked buses, harass the traders in the presence of gun wielding security officials usually police men.
The officials do not only commit their atrocities within the city centre, they also regularly extort money from street traders in the satellite towns. Sometimes, the environment officials, whose agency is saddled with protecting and maintaining the environment, carry out their nefarious activities close to government buildings.
In trying to execute part of their mandate of stopping street trading in the Nigerian capital, the officials also make illegal money for themselves.
The Abuja secretariat incidence
On June 12, hawkers in front of the Federal Secretariat in Abuja were harassed by officials of the AEPB who arrived in a marked white bus with the number 50 printed on it.
A PREMIUM TIMES reporter, who witnessed how the hawkers, mostly women selling perishables ranging from carrots, groundnuts, fruits, and corn ran away clutching their goods as the task force officials arrived.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES after the task force had left, many of the hawkers said similar incidents occurred everyday with the officials giving them two condition: either give them bribe or have their goods confiscated.
“They used to collect bribe here, every blessed day different faces come, we will give them money and the next day another set will come and say if we don’t give them they’ll pursue us. After sometime you’ll see another set of people with different faces. If you stay here small their motor will still come with different set of people,” Happiness a groundnut seller, said
Another banana hawker, who identified herself as Grace, also narrated her ordeals in the hands of the officials.
She said the hawkers at the secretariat contribute money which is given to the task force officials for them to allow the hawkers sell their product.
“I sell Banana. This people (AEPB officials) come here every day. It’s been happening for long and we are told they are the Abuja task force,” Grace said in Pidgin English.
The middle aged banana seller said the traders usually contribute money for the officials.
“After we’ve given them the money, another set of officials would come in a similar bus to seize our goods into their vehicle; or demand their own bribe,” she added.
Another trader, Esther, told PREMIUM TIMES that most times the traders contribute between N100 and N1, 000 to pay as bribe to the officials.
“All of us here contribute N100 each for each set that comes here. One time, one particular set came and said we will give N1, 000 each before we can stay here for our business, we gave them; and before you know it another set came with a different bus and different faces. Sometimes they come three times in a day and we ‘settle’ them on each occasion,” she said.
When a PREMIUM TIMES reporter approached the AEPB officials at the secretariat to ask questions on their activities as well as the bribery allegations, they became aggressive and almost started a fight.
The officials queried the reporter’s reason for asking questions and taking photographs of their activities. They eventually drove off in their mini bus.
A witness also narrated a similar incident by AEPB officials at Bisso Street in Wuse Zone 6.
“I was parked in a corner in Bisso Street, Wuse Zone 6 when a Toyota Hilux AEPB van with six men: some dressed in a black AEPB polo T-shirt while others wore an AEPB crested vest drove towards some hawkers, harassed a corn seller and carried her goods,” the witness, who identified himself as Sani, said.
“Then there was this other man selling provision in a wheel barrow all on the same street that walked towards the passenger’s side of the AEPB marked Hilux van. I watched him closely as he gave some money to the passenger in the van and they drove off, sparing him from the same ordeal the corn seller faced,” he narrated.
Several similar incidences involving extortion and harassment by the AEPB officials were narrated by witnesses and hawkers in various Abuja satellite towns including Lugbe and Gwarinpa.
While the illegal activities of its officials continue, the AEPB management claims its officials are not involved in illegality.
When contacted, the spokesperson for the AEPB, Sam Musa, said all the allegations are false.
“How can you say they harass hawkers to give them money, they don’t! What’s the name of the person, and what type of task force, they are many task forces in town, there is task force from AEPB and there is task force from Abuja Municipal Council and our own task force always goes with a team leader with numbered uniforms and police officers too,” Mr. Musa said
When told that the White Hilux bus of the secretariat incident had number 50 inscribed on it, while the Toyota Hilux van of the Wuse incident had the AEPB boldly written on it, Mr. Musa still insisted that officials involved were not part of the AEPB.
“That particular task force is not AEPB task force, please don’t quote AEPB, it’s not AEPB, our task force are tagged with their numbers and they move around with their supervisors,” he said.
Mr. Musa also said although the AEPB had the responsibility of keeping the Abuja environment clean, there were other task force that operate in the Nigerian capital. He claimed the other officials hide under the umbrella of AEPB to extort money from hawkers instead of making sure that they stop doing business as usual in prohibited areas.
“Yes, we are in charge of Abuja; it is not only AEPB that has task force, we have task force from municipal (Abuja Municipal Area Council,” he said
Efforts to get the reaction of the Abuja police on why police officers assist the environment officials to perpetrate the extortion and harassment were unsuccessful.
The Abuja police spokesperson, Atine Daniel, did not pick her calls and asked that PREMIUM TIMES send its questions by SMS. Over a week after the message was sent, the police spokesperson is yet to respond to our enquiry.