Motorists worry as VIO cameras make big catches on Lagos ‘un-roadworthy’ roads
The Big Brother Naija has ended but for road users in Lagos, there is a Big Brother watching out for road traffic infractions. This definitely is not the prying eyes of the feared Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) personnel or the full complement of the governor and deputy governor’s entourage, which have lately been arresting traffic offenders, the actual Big Brother is the unobtrusive cameras of the Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS).
Once upon a time, the presence of the white on black Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) in any part of Lagos was enough to make the heart of any driver skip a beat even if your vehicle particulars are in order. But on May 8, 2017, former governor Akinwunmi Ambode ordered the VIOs to vacate the roads much to the delight of many Lagosians.
But those who taught it was ‘uhuru’, a Swahili word meaning ‘freedom’ from adhering to the law on being in possession of valid vehicle papers, are mistaken. Two years after, VIS new Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), a 24-hour camera across the state, which helps to detect vehicles with expired particulars, has now gone full throttle beyond the pilot stage.
To complement this technology-backed initiative, the VIS is now fully back on the road though with less visible presence. When The Guardian visited the VIS headquarters at the Lagos State secretariat, Alausa on Friday, the office was a beehive of activity in spite of the day’s downpour. Many defaulters from all strata of the society were seen coming to make a case, plead for leniency or reduced fine and eventually make payments to be off VIO’s hook.
A fully kitted Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) with a man in tow, who happens to be his driver came around, tried to use esprit de corps, but met a brick wall. His best efforts earned him a reduced fine of N10,000. Another man strolled in, saluted all the officers and introduced himself as a senior colleague from the state Ministry of Home Affairs and Culture. He made a spirited case for his wife who was arrested in Surulere for a cracked windscreen, it all came to naught.
As many of the defaulters waited to get their turns to be cleared, they lamented over ‘excessive’ fines sent to their phones, the unworthy state of many of the Lagos roads, the risk of attack if you decide not to run a red light at any of the dark spots in the city at night, why many of the rickety, Danfo buses and cars carrying smuggled goods roam free, the many plights of commercial transport operators who are besieged with countless receipts and tickets from one local government to the other and the absence of some critical transport infrastructure among others.
A motorist, Adeola Bodunrin, who had visited the VIS recently, said: “Let them perform their duties with due diligence on trucks, commercial vehicles and the smugglers’ rickety cars, then private car owners would do the needful; otherwise, they should stay off Lagos roads and stop making money for the state at the citizens’ expense. Also, our roads should be auto-friendly. I can’t begin to quantify how much I spend on buying fuel and car maintenance with the traffic and bad roads these past few days”.
But the VIS director in the state, Engr. Akin-George Fashola, said the fine imposed on traffic offence has nothing to do with VIS, “that was done by the Assembly. The lawmakers allocate fines that go with each violation. We only enforce the laws. The fine is just a deterrent from committing a crime. “For example, you own a Toyota Corolla, the law says you must have all the prescribed particulars at all times to drive on the road. So, you need a vehicle licence, roadworthiness certificate, insurance, and driver’s licence.
“Those are the four components for a private citizen. At the very least, you must have third party insurance which is N5,000; vehicle licence for Corolla is N3,800; the roadworthiness certificate for the same car is about N5,400. Everything all together is less than N15,000 for a year. Now, a fine for not having one of those is N20,000. If you don’t have three of those, that is N60,000 and not having a driver’s licence, that is N80,000. Now compare that to paying less than N15,000 for a whole year. It is best just not to be on the wrong side of the law.”
About the cameras, Fashola said: “Where they are, I can’t tell you except that they are located all over the state. We have fixed ones and we have mobile ones. Anywhere you see any of our vehicles, there are cameras installed on them. And don’t think if you are doing 120, the camera can’t catch you. That’s a lie, it can catch you at any speed.
“The way it works is the camera photographs your plate number and in real-time can check all the existing database that is available to the state like insurance, vehicle licence and roadworthiness.”
This new transition for the VIO in Lagos among transport stakeholders is what they refer to as the Toriola legacy, Hafeez Toriola, who was head of the VIS from 2008 till August 2019. Under his watch, he reorganized the VIS from five zones to 43 in Lagos, increased its revenue generation from N175.8 million to N2.24 billion and automated all VIS activities including the introduction of e-testing for drivers. There was a time Interpol came to Nigeria three years ago that when a vehicle is stolen, three things happen to that vehicle, either it is dismantled and sold as spare parts, or to alter the Vehicle Identification Number VIN/Chassis number as no two vehicles can have same VIN number or to export it out of the country. We discovered that out of 20 imported cars, about three or four were stolen. With our technology, once you input the VIN number, vehicle history will show up. If a vehicle is stolen abroad, it is reported with the police and the vehicle details flagged, which go into the vehicle history, especially any car from 2007.
“When the Otedola tanker incident happened last year, we were the one that revealed the identity of the owner cos our machine traced the vehicle history to Kano. The police were amazed. FRSC wants to buy it too. After scanning the debris of the burnt tanker, we were able to trace its VIN number after scanning it, from there we got the registration number and the number/name registered on it before giving the information to the police,” Toriola said in a previous encounter with The Guardian.