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Smart Ways Police Control Traffic

By Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt) and Ijeoma Opara (Lagos)
31 May 2015   |   2:30 am
Owo da! Owo da!! (Where’s the money! Where’s the money!!) These are brazen demands you hear, now and again, from touts at motor parks or bus stops, especially in the South West. Ironically, the discharge of this ‘fiscal duty’ is cleverly aided by policemen posted to control traffic.

Section of the gridlock at Rumokoro (Inset: A policeman on duty) PHOTO: ANN GODWIN

• Residents Lament Gridlock At Rumokoro
• Blame Impatient Drivers, Not Officers’ 

Owo da! Owo da!! (Where’s the money! Where’s the money!!) These are brazen demands you hear, now and again, from touts at motor parks or bus stops, especially in the South West. Ironically, the discharge of this ‘fiscal duty’ is cleverly aided by policemen posted to control traffic.

While the former get a cut from daily takings squeezed from commercial bus operators, the latter get a merry addition to their monthly stipends. At the Okota-Ago and Ilasa-Isolo axis of Lagos metropolis, these collectors can be seen waiting at the roadside.

And standing in the middle of the road are policemen ‘controlling’ traffic in a smart formula that allows privately owned vehicles to pass unhindered. Commercial buses also pass unhindered depending, of course, on how quickly they are able to ‘interface’ with the boys at the roadside.

One commercial motorist, pained by the extortionist tag team, said: “I drive this mini bus on the Cele-Ago axis. When you are coming from Cele, where you load passengers, the policemen would collect N100 from you.

And there are four such points before you get to the last bus stop at Ago. The problem is that they (policemen) use these touts to collect the money.

Had the policemen been collecting it themselves, it would have been a lot easier. At least, they will forbear sometimes.

But using these touts makes it more disturbing. I am not happy with this. These people take collecting the money as a right. And if you don’t comply, the policemen will force you to park your vehicle.”

Another driver who plies the route, lamented: “They collect money as early as 5am, demanding N100, even when you have not worked for the day.

In a day, you are forced to pay at least N400 in the morning and N300 in the evening, unless you devise means to outsmart them.” Matthew, another bus driver, lent his voice to the complaints: “They (policemen) don’t care about private vehicles, whether they are driven by armed robbers or kidnappers.

All they look out for are the commercial vehicles. This has even become a norm for us; we gather the money together and keep it aside every day, waiting to hand it over. We don’t even calculate that as part of our daily income.

This is because whether we like it or not, we must pay the money. “These policemen and touts know most of us who ply this route.

And so, it is very difficult to outwit them. In fact, each policeman has about 20 drivers under his jurisdiction, the entire sum being his take home for the day. Now, you know how much that is. We are made to pay very early in the morning.

There is also what is termed ‘late hour’ fee.” Like the proverbial two elephants in a fight, passengers, like grasses, are made to bear the brunt of the extortionist game between the policemen-touts on the one hand, and commercial bus operators on the other.

They get venomous aggression transferred to them and many a no-nonsense, hard faced transactions. “The drivers and their conductors sometimes behave like madmen.

They shout at you, insult you and even try to swindle you. If you complain about the battered condition of their vehicles, they respond with abusive remarks. But it might be difficult to blame them outright.

With all the money these touts collect from them, one simply wonders how they make ends meet,” said Emeka, a passenger.

But one respondent, Sunkanmi, who lives in the area, thinks the bus operators are to blame for the scenario.

According to him, they put themselves in the line of exploitation by failing to have their vehicle papers up to date.

“If their motor particulars are intact, they will be able to look the policemen in the face and question the persistent demand for money.

And if push comes to shove, they will be able to take their case to any level of arbitration because they have their papers complete.

But you can bet, stop these operators at random, and you will find that nine out of 10 have incomplete particulars. The logic is simple. If you turn yourself into a football, you should not complain if everybody kicks you around.

That’s the issue.” RUMOKORO Junction is located in Obio/Akpor Local Government and it is one of the busiest hubs in Rivers State. Its roundabout is at the centre of the popular East-West Road and connects many important public and private institutions.

As a result of heavy vehicular movement, some 10 to 15 police officers are posted there everyday to impose sanity on the maddening traffic.

Investigations, however, reveal that instead of the officers to go about their primary assignment, some of them have turned the junction into avenues for making extra bucks.

It goes without saying that, in Port Harcourt, some areas are juiciest for any police officer dreaming of quick money.

They are: Rumokoro, Mile Three, Rumuola, and parts of Mile One. One officer, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that the traffic officers lobby to be posted to these areas, adding that those who operate in such places have built houses and own big shops in the city.

The Guardian found that officers at Rumokoro Junction often use touts to carry out their illegal activities.

The touts collect the money from commercial drivers, while the officers turn the back to indiscriminate parking, picking or dropping of passengers. Some of these officers also wear mufti whenever there is need to do business themselves.

The parking ‘advantage’ enjoyed by lawless drivers has unfortunately forced a change of heart in few motorists who had been using the legitimate car park and who have complained of low patronage within the space. Sadly, these officers who claim to be controlling traffic at the junction have ended up compounding the pains of innocent road users.

Once in a month, police authorities or men of the State Traffic Management Agency (TIMARIV) flush the area, clearing the traffic mess. But in less than eight hours after, the aberration resumes.

The large number of policemen at the junction has made TIMARIV rethink posting its officers to the area.

According to Acting Controller of TIMARIV, Confidence Eke, it is not ideal to post officers to a place where there are more than a dozen police officers, when the agency has several unmonitored areas across the state. “What we usually do is a mop up operation, once in a while, in areas like Rumokoro roundabout.

You know that the area is close to a police station and often you have about 12 to 15 officers purportedly managing the traffic.

Rather than post additional traffic controllers to such areas, we send them elsewhere because we see such posting as duplication,” Eke said. Trading on the road has not helped matters either.

The sellers, it was gathered, pay money to local council officials and policemen, who, in turn, allow them to display their wares on any available space along the road. Some residents described the scenario around Rumokoro as disheartening, wondering why such could happen at a junction two-minute walk from the Okoro Police Station.

One distressed motorist held up in the gridlock, Victor Daniel, said the state government should have constructed a flyover at the junction in order to ease the traffic jam.

He faulted the illegal activities of police officers at the junction, saying traffic controllers ought not to worsen the situation. Daniel said he closes from work at 4pm but waits till 9pm in order to pass the area with relative ease.

For Marshal Chinedum, a student of University of Port Harcourt, the gridlock is anything but student-friendly. “I work with the Director of Transport in my school and always, we receive complaints about traffic snarl in Rumokoro. It makes students who live off campus come to school late. And sometimes, they even miss their lectures,” he said.

Chinedum urged local authorities to ensure indiscriminate trading along the road is stopped forthwith. He added that all commercial drivers must be forced to make use of the park. Some business owners and bank workers in the area have expressed concern over low patronage, saying the gridlock hurts their dealings.

One resident, Mrs. Roseline Egba, said she has to wake up at 4am Sundays to get her family ready for church.

She, however, complained that no matter how early she leaves the house, the gridlock always ensured she arrived late. According to her, such situation could be averted if law and order are properly enforced.

One Mrs. Adaeze Igwe urged government to put an end to the menace of trading along the road, saying it exposes the traders to vehicular accidents or even death.

“The holdup is terrible! We have spent three hours here! If government can erect a flyover at this junction, it will save the situation; the police will not have opportunity to carry out their illicit business anymore,” said an Owerri-bound motorist trapped in the gridlock.

The State Police Public Relation officer, (PPRO), Ahmed Mohamed, however, said anyone accusing the police of contributing to the gridlock in Rumokoro is being unfair.

He blamed the situation on impatience by motorists who fail to cooperate with traffic officers’ directives.

He said the police are putting their best to tackle the traffic snarl at Rumokoro Junction. The Guardian, meanwhile, observed that since Monday a special team of police officers was drafted to the junction to prevent indiscriminate parking.

The junction could be said to be relatively free. But the special squad does not arrest a few motorists who pick passengers at the middle of the road. Reason: the motorists claim to be police officers.