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Racketeering, extortion undermining LASTMA’s efficiency

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[FILES] LASTMA officials impound a vehicle. Photo: Eniola Daniel

In Lagos, the fear of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officers is the beginning of wisdom for motorists.

Not only have the agency’s officials become emperors on the major highways in the state, they have also turned themselves into tin gods, terrorising hapless road users at the slightest error.

It is obvious that the agency has since strayed from its initial mandate to install and maintain traffic control devices on the highways, develop a culture of regulation, control and management of state traffic operations; and management, control and regulation of traffic related issues within the city, among other traffic related duties.

From gathered reports of their escapades, it is being alleged that the officials are feeding fat to the detriment of motorists.

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Investigations have shown that some of them have private garages, where seized cars of traffic offenders are kept, pending when the victim is ready to part with agreed fine, which does not go into the government’s till, however.

Three weeks ago, commercial drivers protested alleged harassment and extortion by the outfit’s personnel. The demonstration, observed in phases across the state, grounded movement for days, as the aggrieved protesters prevented commercial vehicles and motorcycles from carrying passengers.

The recent viral video of one of the officers forcing out bribe from a victim in Oshodi was an eye-opener on the rot in the agency. The official did not only reveal their modus operandi and other strategies of extorting money from motorists, he also exposed how road traffic offenders from other tribes are exorbitantly charged and treated with disdain.

The officer, who drove the victim to a Point Of Sales (POS) outlet, where the sum of N10, 000 levy was deposited, said if the vehicle were to be driven to their office, they could charge as much as N150, 000. He indicted some officials at the top echelon of the agency in the racket, mentioning such names as Agba, Mogaji, Ogbon and Sawara, among others.

He listed Maryland, Oshodi and Ikeja (Centre of excellence) as the hotbeds of LASTMA officers ‘extortion’ brutality, saying, “We must meet daily target, because if you fail to do so, you must be ready to remit N50, 000 per day.”

True to his revelation, operatives of the agency have reportedly become thorns in the flesh of motorists along Opebi, Allen, Alausa, and Agindingbi, all the way to Ikeja.

The Guardian went as an undercover to Ikeja along axis, where LASTMA personnel are reportedly notorious for extorting commercial drivers.

It was observed that at least 10 officers are always on duty. While about seven or more may be in uniform, others are usually in mufti, collecting money from commercial drivers.

In one of the days, The Guardian observed that all the buses that dropped off passengers at the bus stop parted with N1, 000 each. And because the officers collecting the money were not in uniform, they were easily mistaken for members of the transport union.

Just a few metres away from the bus stop — inside Conoil filling station, another set of officers in mufti, at least two of them, are always stationed at the exit point. Their own strategy is to demand money for food or drink, which the commercial drivers have no choice than to oblige with at least N200, else they might be marked for sanction.

A yellow bus driver, who simply gave his name as Kazeem, told The Guardian, that ‘bribing’ the officers has become a necessity for commercial drivers on the axis, so the officers would look the other way whenever the drivers violate any traffic rule.

He said: “The kind of daily contribution the officers are making there is huge. Even, majority of us that are driving from morning till night cannot afford to contribute such a huge amount. As you are seeing them, most of them have at least two to three yellow buses (danfo). Is it their salaries they are using for that?”

In Oshodi, the experience is almost similar, but with a slight difference. While officers in Ikeja concentrate mainly on commercial drivers, who are their soft target, those in Oshodi feast on both commercial and private vehicles.

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A man, Chibuzor Ukaegbu (not real name), who visited Lagos a few months ago, had a tale of woes as a result of his encounter with LASTMA personnel operating in Oshodi.

“I parked my car, waiting for a friend before returning to Imo State. I was accosted by some of the officers. My plea for leniency and understanding fell on deaf ears. They eventually succeeded in taking N30, 000 from me.”

Despite the screaming of the kids, the car was towed away with the occupants before the driver’s arrival.

It is a similar story in Agege, Maryland, Iyana-Ipaja, Ikorodu, Mushin and other parts of the state, where LASTMA officials have reportedly become disreputable for extorting citizens and causing unnecessary gridlocks and accidents on roads, due to their illegal activities.

Majority of road users, who are alarmed at the return of traffic jams across the routes in the state, accused the personnel of failing in their responsibilities, and instead focusing on extorting motorists.

When the agency’s spokesperson, Olumide Filade, was contacted on phone, he neither denied nor owned up to the allegations. “We are going to come out with a press release, very, very soon,” he said.

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