#Bounce Exclusive: How Touts Run Court Businesses In Lagos
"Welcome sir, do you need affidavit?" "Do you need police report?" "I can help you get it."
These are some of the things you will hear as you approach the premises of the Lagos High Court in Ikeja, the Lagos State capital.
A visit to the area right from the Ikeja Roundabout, through to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) to the gate of the court is like a visit to the market where you are confronted by sellers who invite you to come and buy their wares.
In this case, the wares are affidavit, police report, marriage certificate and a host of other documents.
When Bounce News visited the area, it observed no fewer than 100 touts, majority of them young girls and women, engaging in documents touting as a means of livelihood.
Many of them have their ‘offices’ situated within the expansive garden opposite LASUTH, while some often crowd themselves in some buses parked at the entrance of the Police Training College and the High Court’s entrance.
A broken down yellow bus in front of the pension gate now serves as shelter and a mobile office for the touts.
These touts could be seen calling on almost all passers-by to come and patronise their “expedited” services like obtaining affidavits and other legal documents for a token.
It was discovered that some of them sometimes take their trade to the traffic on Oba Akinjobi Way with the desperate ones among them calling out for customers.
These touts have formed a syndicate that carry out the illicit trade of procuring both genuine and fake court affidavits and police reports, among others, for those who want “express service".
Investigations revealed that these touts have access to some senior members of the judiciary as well as police officers in the Area F Police Command Ikeja, a fact which facilitates the smooth running of their activities.
The menace of touting around Ikeja High Court has outlived several Chief Judges of the state, even as the authorities have received several complaints from those that were duped by the touts.
Acting on these complaints, the Lagos State Government Environment and Special Offences Task Force in Alausa had on several occasions raided the touts.
Bounce News gathered that within the past two years, no less than four major raids had been carried out by the task force with the aim of cleaning up the court premises.
It was discovered that whenever a raid is carried out, there would be a lull for a few days and after that the touts would blossom again.
Patronising touts, however has its merits. Time is saved as they are promptly attended to by court officials.
They also help their clients to overcome some technical hurdles required by law.
For example, under the Evidence Act, every person making any statement on oath (deponent) must be physically present before the Commissioner-for-Oath or Notary Public to personally recite the oath.
But, by going through touts, a client who wants to sign oaths for other person(s) does not have to bother himself with this hurdle. A tout can always fill in the gap. In a flash, the touts return with the document duly signed and stamped.
Again, the law stipulates conditions for the issuance of affidavits but these conditions are daily circumvented by touts and court officials who brazenly bend the rules.
For age declaration, the law stipulates that no declarant under the age of 50 can swear to an affidavit personally. He or she is required to come along with an older person such as the mother, the father, an uncle or an elder brother, who would inform the commissioner about his knowledge of the time the declarant was born, as well as provide other necessary data about such a person.
This provision of the law is circumvented as court commissioners sign declarations for these touts without following stipulated procedure.
This is also the case with other documentations in the court such as loss of items and change of name.
When our correspondent approached one of the touts to help him obtain a police report for some alleged loss of personal documents, she agreed for the sum of N3,000.
She insisted the amount was the lowest she could collect as she claimed she would have to settle the police officers who would sign the report.
However, when our correspondent visited the reception of the office of the Area Commander, Area F, the police officer on duty agreed to accept N2,000 for the police report. This shows a difference of N1,000 from the amount charged by the tout
It is, however, unclear whether officers who sign the report still give commissions to touts when they bring such businesses.
Speaking with Bounce News, an official of the Lagos State Judiciary who preferred anonymity admitted the challenges to control touting is daunting.
He said “It is difficult to control them because the courts and the premises are a public place. You cannot start to screen everyone coming to court, neither can you look at the people and turn them back on the suspicion of being touts.
He said the authorities would continue in their efforts to rid the premises of the court of touting activities.