• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Preying on drivers: Fake officials take over Lagos roads, extort motorists

Armed robbery attacks in Lagos suburbs on the rise as police continue to stay away

Among the growing concerns for motorists in Lagos State at the moment are the illegal activities of some unruly miscreants operating under the guise of local government officials.

Recently, Bode Adepoju was heading towards the Marina Bridge towards the UBA Building when he was flagged down by these officials. His offence was simple- his passenger was not wearing her seatbelt. So, he had the option of being given a ticket or pay some huge amount of money to the officials; they were equipped with their point of sale (PoS) machines.

Their major haunt are the highways, where they lay in wait to impound and tow away vehicles of their victims for whatever imaginable or conceivable offence committed unknowingly or outright intimidation.

Read also: Beware of fake sites, Police, JAMB warn candidates

Oftentimes, the victims of these miscreants are private car owners who unknowingly break these traffic laws.

The state government, through the Ministry of Transportation had repeatedly announced a ban on the activities of these ununiformed officials claiming to work for local government on traffic management, but who use the opportunity to extort money from innocent motorists over flimsy or spurious violation of traffic laws.

With no one to call them to order, they have recently expanded their illegal activities by positioning themselves at bus-stops and along highways, imposing various levies on private vehicle drivers with impunity.,

The suspects often patrol with a rickety towing van, with uniform men of the police force while on the lookout for perceived erring drivers to stop and tow-away their vehicles after dubiously establishing a case of contravention of traffic laws.

They often operate in gestapo style, obviously under the influence of alcohol and drugs, all in a bid to intimidate their victims.

Indeed, it has been revealed that transport unions operating in Lagos State under the aegis of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, reportedly make as much as N123.078 billion yearly from collection of levies.

The Lagos chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, locally called ‘agberos’, generate about N123.08bn annually, which could service the annual budget of Nasarawa, Niger, and Yobe states put together, a statistical report by the International Centre for Investigative Report has shown.

According to a recent report by International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, the estimate came from what was paid by commercial buses, tricycles and motorbikes operators in the metropolis.

Despite the enactment of the Lagos State Traffic Law on August 3, 2012, banning any form of touting, levies or activities of officials at motor parks and bus stops, recent developments have shown resurgence of illegal activities across major highways.

Some of the notable areas where these illegal officials operate include Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Ikorodu Road, particularly, by Ojota, Ketu axis, Gbagada, Funsho Williams Avenue, Obalende, Ikeja, Western Avenue, Marina, Lekki phase1, Ikate roundabout, among others.

At bus-stops, and along the highways, any innocent motorist accosted is often charged with violation of traffic laws such as illegal parking, dropping of passenger(s), traffic obstruction, among others, with corresponding levies.

The unruly attitude and mode of operation of these miscreants often terrify motorists and other road users. They carry out their illegal operation without fear as operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, and other law enforcement agents are never in sight to challenge or arrest them.

The activities of these miscreants had earlier been curtailed before their current resurgence.

On account of this development, more unsuspecting motorists are being made to part with their hard-earned money as fines and other illegal collections.

The miscreants usually emerge from their hideouts once a motorist is pinned-down; they pounce on the driver, making all sorts of allegations and at the end of the day, demand for bribes in amounts ranging from N50,000 and above, depending on the type of vehicle driven by the victims,

Motorists recount experiences

Narrating his ordeal, a driver of private car owner, Sylvanus Francis, said: “Last week Wednesday, I was driving my boss to the office from Abraham Adesanya Estate area. On getting to Ikota School, my Oga accused me of driving recklessly; so, he told me to pull over around Ikota opposite the Mega Chicken building for him to take over the steering.

“As soon as we alighted to swap positions in the car, three rough-looking guys accosted my boss with a towing van and blocked our vehicle in front. They accused my boss of illegal parking along the highway.

“They threatened to tow away the vehicle to their office unless we pay them a bribe which my boss vehemently refused but rather demanded for their identities which they could not provide.

“One of the miscreants had earlier jumped into the car. But when he heard my boss making a call to the police, he became jittery and started pleading with my boss to stop for him to get down. My boss refused, while threatening to take him to the state Police Command. He became desperate at this point and engaged me in a minor struggle with the car in motion while other gang members pursued us with their rickety van. We eventually stopped for the fake transport official to alight. At this point, he and the other gang members started begging my boss for money, saying they were hungry. We sped off thereafter. That was how we were able to escape from being extorted.”

Also, a car owner, Babajide Ayeni, narrated how he was almost extorted at Cele Bus-stop along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway recently.

He said: “On that fateful day, I was driving from Ago-Palace towards Cele Expressway to connect Mile 2, enroute Apapa, when I pulled over to check on one of my tyres after a fellow motorist called my attention for pressure gauge.

“As soon as I stopped and alighted from my highlander vehicle, two men, having no identities on them, accosted me for stopping along the road. I told them what I intended to do but they wouldn’t listen. They threatened to tow my vehicle to their office. I maintained that I had not committed any traffic offence. But the moment I identified myself as a journalist, they became less-aggressive and subsequently allowed me to go. But they also did not forget to beg me for money. But I told them there was no cash on me and drove off.

“These fellows act with impunity, as if there is no government to check their activities. Their atrocities in Lagos are really getting out of hand with no governmental authority to call them to order. They don’t care. Immediately they see any private vehicle they swoop on it, claiming that the driver has committed a traffic offence.”

He, therefore, urged the state government to enforce its laws to curb such illegal activities which sometimes result into avoidable accidents.

Ayeni noted that government’s failure to enforce the law restraining the miscreants from parks remained a major setback, as they have heightened fears among motorists over the menace which sometimes leads to bloody brawls.

Recall that on August 11, 2022 the Ministry of Transportation placed an indefinite ban on the activities of its enforcement team, the M.O.T Taskforce, as part of measures to streamline transport operations in Lagos State for better effectiveness.