• Monday, July 22, 2024
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The unbearable menace of traffic officers in Lagos

The unbearable menace of traffic officers in Lagos

Early December, 2021, a magistrate court sitting in Lagos ordered the release of a vehicle impounded by officials of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit, popularly known as task force, over an alleged traffic offence.

The magistrate court also discharged and acquitted the driver of the vehicle, Sunday Emem, of the charge of driving against traffic.

It was reported that while driving his boss, Adeolu Oyinlola, on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway on August 14, 2021, Emem was accosted by one of four policemen around the BOC Gases area, Oshodi, for allegedly passing a uni-directional road popularly referred as ‘one way’.

Onyinlola was said to have made several failed attempts to explain to the policemen that there was no indication on the road as a uni-directional way.

A report quoted Oyinlola, who is the Executive Director of a rights group, Advocacy for Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative, of admitting that his vehicle was impounded after he refused to part with the money demanded by the officers.

Emem was later charged before a mobile court on one-count charge bordering on driving against traffic before Magistrate L.K.J. Layeni. Emem pleaded not guilty to the charge. The case lasted four months while Oyinlola’s vehicle was in the custody of the task force.

Delivering judgment on November 25, the judge noted that during a visit to the scene of the incident, it was discovered that a traffic sign indicating a uni-directional road with a fresh cemented base was erected, which indicated that it was recently placed. This was perhaps quickly done by traffic officers to get justice.

In a 10-page judgment, as reported, the judge criticised traffic officers who allowed motorists to ply uni-directional roads (one way) and wait for their arrest when they could have stopped and corrected them.

According to the published report, the judge said, “Liability can only be sanctioned on the part of citizens where obligations and responsibilities are fulfilled by the government and its agencies. As it relates to traffic, officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, task force and any other agents of the state saddled with the responsibility to enforce traffic laws also have a duty to direct motorists on the available route or alternative route and provide detailed signage to ease traffic.

“More so, that traffic personnel/officers are at the Ewenla Junction where no signage was mounted at the time of arrest, they ought to have refused the motors from plying further the route rather than laying traps and getting them arrested. The defendant is not found guilty of driving in a direction prohibited by law punishable under Part III Item 27 of the Transport Sector Law of Lagos and he is hereby discharged and acquitted.”

Read also: Why LASTMA personnel are not liked by many

This judgment is commendable as it is heartening to many defenceless motorists in Lagos who have faced grieve moments with traffic officers. In recent times, the tempo of arrests, sometimes on flimsy excuses and subsequent extortion, have been on the rise, as if the officers were deliberately sent on this mission of extortion, either by self-conviction or by a master.

Surprisingly, they hide in different corners in Lagos waiting for traffic offenders instead of providing corrections as noted by the judge. They are everywhere in Lagos but some of their hot spots are Maryland, Okota Roundabout, Ejigbo, Cele Bus-Stop along Apapa Oshodi Expressway, Apple Junction in Amuwo-Odofin, Mile 12, Ikeja, Oshodi, Lagos Island, and many other spots.

To show they mean business and put fear on the motorists, the traffic officers engage corrupt police officers with guns and touts with sticks working with them in most of these areas.

Last month, two traffic officers arrested and jumped into a Nissan Pathfinder vehicle at NNPC junction along Ejigbo-Ikotun Road. The motorist’s offence was that the two front tyres crossed the indicated line before the red light. They directed the motorist to their office where he parted with N10,000 on a Saturday morning, November 13, 2021. It was not certain the money was paid into government coffers.

The officers have perfected their act as they go with iron thorns placed on alleged offenders’ tyres to force them to stop or risk the tyre bursting. There are so many of these unreported cases daily. The most vexatious aspect is that sometimes, they are not interested in their major responsibility of allowing free flow of traffic but looking for whom to arrest.

The November 13, 2021, incident at NNPC, Ejigbo, is sure proof that some of the officials of traffic control, especially LASTMA, have veered off from traffic control function to purpose of enriching their pockets through unilateral fines of various amount that perhaps do not go into government bag.

In many bus stops, the traffic officials employ ‘tax’ collectors for commercial drivers and tricycle riders daily. Commercial drivers pay an average of N1,000 while tricycle riders pay an average of N500. You can imagine the daily accruals. Sometimes, passengers will mistake the money collectors as members of the transport union. “This is why sometimes the police and LASTMA don’t arrest us when we pass,” a commercial driver told BusinessDay as the traffic officers focus on private vehicles.

At Apongbon in Lagos Island, the traffic officers allow vehicles to park on one lane of the two lanes road towards Costain. This forces vehicles going towards Costain-Stadium to use one lane and this causes heavy traffic for motorists descending the bridge.

Traffic duty in Lagos has simply turned into a racket resulting in a disdainful and demeaning image of some, if not all the agencies involved in traffic control. In the minds of motorists, the officers are out to extort for trumped up charges.

The arrest and detention of commercial buses for days could compel the drivers and the conductors of such vehicles to venture into uncivil means of livelihood as their business of commuting people has been truncated. This could jeopardise the already increasing insecurity in the land. In other climes, tickets are issued for payment while the motorist continues his business. It is after days when the payment is not made that the offender is arrested and prosecuted.

Some people would refuse to accept the notion that the increasing wanton arrests and fines are part of Lagos State government internal revenue generation drive. It will be unhealthy if Lagos, which in 2020 generated N418.99 billion accounting for about 32 percent of the 36 states IGR, will resort to this method over and above image of the state and interest of the masses who are already going through excruciating economic times.

Many people would align with Justice Layeni that traffic officers should be upright and apply human face in their duty, be more correctional rather than out to arrest in an attempt to extort money. This way, they can rebuild their image and earn respect from motorists. They are the face of Lagos on daily basis. Lagos and the larger society will be better for their correctional and upright attitude.