Do you want to get an affidavit for the loss of a document, or you want procure your Driver’s License on a fast lane; you want a letter of administration to the property of a deceased relation? Is it a death certificate for a deceased relation, or an affidavit of ill health to escape punishment in your place of work, or for excuse duty? Is it tax clearance or international passport quickly? Even if it is land documents that looks original. There is only one place to go- The premises of the Ikeja High Court and the adjoining old Secretariat, Ikeja which still houses some courts and other government agencies. Welcome to the world of touts that can make anything happen for you.
It does not matter how you want it, original or fake? In record time you can get it, faster that you can if you follow the “normal” or “official” procedure. It is all a matter of cash! For example, you can get your Driver’s License within a day, provided you can pay double the official amount. Death certificates and letters of administrations can also be arranged in a jiffy. Procuring affidavits is not big deal! You don’t even need to appear before a commissioner of oaths as the law stipulates. A tout can always fill in the gap for you.
Nobody can say precisely when the menace of touting at the premises of Lagos State High Court, (basically the Ikeja High and Magistrates ‘Courts and their environs) started, what it is not in doubt however is that despite perennial efforts by the authorities of the Judiciary, this social problem has been persistent.
The authorities had received several complaints from those that were duped by the touts and the concerned members of the public have consistently been inviting the Lagos State Government Environment and Special Offences Task Force in Alausa to carry out raids on the touts.
Gavel International found out that within the past two years, not less than four major raids had been carried out by the task force with aim of cleansing up the court premises. These raids have resorted in prosecution of some of those arrested but this has not stopped the nefarious activities of the touts.
Yet, whenever a raid is carried out, there would be a lull for a few days and after that the touts would blossom again. These touts have formed a syndicate that carried out the illicit trade of procuring both genuine and fake court affidavits and police reports, among others, for those who want “express service”
The “genuine ones” are obtained when the touts act a mere go-between for the customers obtain authentically signed and stamped documents from the approved court officials.
The fake ones are those imprinted with unofficial fake stamps and signatures forged by the touts. It appeared that majority of the activities of the touts involve the former method as only a sector within the larger syndicate use the second approach of using fake stamps and signature. It was even gathered that the “leadership” of the touts have outlawed the use of fake stamps as it has a damaging effect on their business.
Investigations further revealed that these touts have access to some senior members of the judiciary as well as officers in the Area F Police Command Ikeja, a fact which facilitates the smooth running of their activities.
This information was deduced from the fact since 2006 during the tenure of the former Chief Judge, Justice Adetula Alabi, it has become mandatory for the deponents to attach their passport photograph to the affidavit. This alone should have eliminated touting as the Commissioner-for-Oaths is expected to see face to face a deponent to an affidavit.
There are not less than 100 touts, consisting of a majority of young girls and women, with a sprinkle of young men milling about all the areas adjoining the Ikeja High Court. These touts could be seen every working day calling on almost all passers-by to come and patronize their “expedited” services like obtaining affidavits and other legal documents for a fee above the official charges.
They have now become so numerous and daring in their operations, which starts right from the Ikeja Roundabout, through to the General Hospital, Ikeja(i.e. under the bridge) to the gate of the courts, in the process turning themselves into a nuisance.
The word ”affidavit,” which is hurled at every passer-by, is of course used generically, for it is not only the illegal signing of affidavits the touts engage in. They also help their ”clients” to obtain police reports and produce a host of other fake documents, which include forged bills of lading, marriage certificates, and vehicle license.
The amount a tout charges on an affidavit depends on whether or not a person comes with a prepared document. If you have your affidavit already typed and only need the signature of the Commissioner-for Oath, you would be charged about N500. But if the touts would help you type as well as signing, you must pay between-N700-100.
Meanwhile the average official fee for an affidavit when it is already pre-typed is between N100-N200.
Patronizing touts however has its advantage Time is saved as ”accredited touts” are promptly attended to by court officials, who help 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. In a flash, the touts return with the document duly signed and stamped.
Gavel International further found that the latest in the raids on the touts procured by the Judiciary authorities was carried out recently. The raid which lasted for about three hours, led to arrest of some people including four women and ten men. Two of these even claimed to be members of the staff of the Lagos State Judiciary. They even tendered their identity cards to support their claim; the police however accused them of collaborating with the touts and took them away. But they were later released.
Speaking in an interview with Gavel International, an official of the Lagos State Judiciary who prefers anonymity admitted the challenges to control touting is daunting but stresses that the authorities would continue in their efforts to rid the premises of the court with touting activities.
He said “It is difficult to control them because the courts and the premise 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. Having said that we have consistently, invited the Task Force on the Environment from Alausa and they conducted raids in which many touts had been arrested and some of them being prosecuted.”
Responding to question whether some of the staff collude with the touts, he said “We don’t have any information to that effect. Please let anybody that has any credible evidence about any collusion with any member of our staff with touts or involvement in any nefarious activities come forward. We shall investigate and deal decisively with any worker found culpable. We will also appeal to the members of the public to stop patronizing the touts; there is nothing to gain from them. We have re-organized the registries to make processes faster, so there should be further reason for complain.
“If the people stop patronizing them and come right into the court to conduct their business, they (touts) would be without business and go away”
Investigations also revealed that as a measure to curb any incidence of abuse of the procedure in relation to signing of affidavits, the process has been streamlined. Before any registrar from level 07 upwards can sign affidavit as Commissioners-for-Oaths, but that has stopped. There are only five persons allowed to be Commissioners -for-Oaths. Three of these are in Ikeja and two in Lagos, no other persons are permitted to operate as Commissioners-for-oath. This development is designed to curb abuse affidavit signing process.
There is a directive in place that all payment of money for affidavits and other filings should stop by 2pm, so if you come after two the cashiers would not accept the money from you. You will have to come back the following day.
One of the touts in Ikeja offered to help our correspondent obtain police report for some alleged loss personal documents for the sum of N2, 500. That was the lowest she would go as she claimed she would have to settle the police officers in charge.
When our correspondent visited the reception of the office of the Area Commander, Area F, the police officers agreed to accept N2000 as the minimum price for the police report. This shows a difference of N500 from the amount charged by the tout, it is not clear however the tout would still be allowed some further commission if there is a sharing formula.