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Despite ban, Lagos council officials still extort, prey on motorists

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A car about to be tolled away by Lagos state local council

In January 2017, the Lagos State government banned local councils and their officials from controlling or engaging in traffic duties, maintaining that doing such was not within their purview.

This was after hundreds of complaints about the role and conduct of local councils’ officials in traffic laws enforcement, as well as traffic management kept on pouring in daily.

The Acting Commissioner for Transportation, Prince Anofiu Elegushi, while acknowledging this said even though there were traffic units in all 57 councils and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs), this tier of government was not constitutionally empowered to perform the assignment.

“There are traffic units in all the 57 local councils and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). However, this is not a responsibility for the third tier of government. We have reported instances of illegal arrest, extortion and general impunity on the part of the council operatives.

“It is then appropriate to disband all the units and outfits parading as Local Council Traffic Units. This has been communicated to all the agencies. For the avoidance of doubt, officials of the ministry will start monitoring and any infraction will be dealt with in full compliance with the law,” Elegushi explained, adding, “Let me also reiterate that only the Nigerian Police, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), the Taskforce on Special Offences and the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) can perform traffic duties,” he said.

In May this year, that is, more than one year after the ban was announced, the illegal activities of council officials continued, and this forced the state government to set up a task force to begin a major clampdown on perpetrators. But six months down the line, these officials are still extorting and preying on unsuspecting motorists across the state.

In fact, checks by The Guardian showed that officials from Mushin Local Council are actively involved in the brazen harassment, extortion and arrest of innocent members of the public in the area. Some other local councils and LCDAs also guilty of this act are: Yaba Local Council Development Area, , Oriade Local Council Development Area, Apapa-Iganmu Local Council Development Area, and Oshodi Isolo Local Council

Ezike Ugonna resides in the Igando area of the state, where his wife sells food items, including bags of rice, groundnut oil, tomato paste and the rest.

Last month Ugonna drove his wife to Daleko Market to replenish her stock. With “no parking” signs at intervals along the Isolo Road, where the market is located, Ugonna meandered his way into Papa Ajao, a residential neigbourhood facing the market. There he parked his Toyota Sienna along Sadiku Street, off Akinbayode Street, and they both strolled to the market.

By the time the couple returned 30 minutes later, their car was nowhere to be found, and residents directed them to an annexe of the council headquarters, where such vehicles are usually “arrested.”

They were told to pay a fine of N30, 000. He bargained with N7, 000 and got his vehicle released.

Other motorists suffer this fate in the hands of these council officials, who always carry out illegal arrest, and extortion, as well as, harass motorists, with some of them hiding under the guise of enforcing the 2012 Lagos State Road Traffic Law.

In some instances, the council officials tell their would-be victims bare-faced lies, including the existence of a state law that bans the parking of vehicles in front of churches, mosques and schools.

John Adedibu also had a taste of the bitter pills offered by council workers from Mushin Local Council, who routinely parade the entire council, and the service lane of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, especially the Iyana Itire – Ilasa, Iyana Isolo- Five Star -Toyota Bus Stop axis.

Adedibu claimed that he parked his vehicle behind a stationary taxi cab, well off the service lane around Iyana Isolo Bus Stop to do a transaction at a nearby bank only to return in 10 minutes to see his vehicle being towed away.

As he approached the council officials, they alleged that he violated the local council’s ‘no parking’ rule, even when there were no signs to support their claim.

After boxing him into a corner with their unfounded claim, they informed him that any amount lower than N10, 000 would not be accepted for on-the-street settlement.

Since he had no such money, his vehicle was taken to a park around Cele Bus Stop, where he met several other “defaulting” motorists.

A senior council traffic official whom Adedibu was handed over to, also accused him of violating the council’s traffic law by parking in an unauthorised area.

Now running out of patience, Adedibu explained that there were no road signs warning against parking where he did, and also reminded the official that there was a state-wide ban in place against controlling and enforcing traffic laws by local councils.

At this point, the council chief got infuriated and asked him to enlist the services of a lawyer.

He swiftly changed the narrative that Adedibu was arrested for violating traffic laws, saying his men were out towing abandoned vehicles of which his (Adedibu’s) was one. In the end Adedibu parted with N20, 000 to retrieve his vehicle.

Sunday Ajayi, another motorist was just dropping off a colleague somewhere around Costain on their way back from Lagos Island. As his colleague was stepping out, a mini bus blocked his car, and two men adorning aprons with the inscription, “Apapa-Iganmu LCDA” jumped down from the bus, and ordered him to clear well. They thereafter jumped into his car and instructed him to chose between going to the council headquarters, or settling the matter with them by way of bribe.

An infuriated Ajayi questioned why he was singled out when other commercial buses were dropping off and picking up passengers, even to the point of obstructing free flow of traffic. But they stood their grounds insisting that he had breached the state’s traffic laws.

By the time the council officials had rattled him enough, he parted ways with N5, 000 so as to escape a N30, 000 fine, which they claimed he would pay at the council’s headquarters.

In the Mazamaza area of Oriade LCDA, some boys who claim to be working for government, regularly arrest motorcyclists and tri-cyclists, who ply the area without what they call rider’s permit.

Curiously, these fellows often claim to be working for the local council, while at other times, they claim to be agents of the state government, as they go about extorting innocent members of the public.

Motorists operating around Yaba LCDA are not insulated from this menace as their vehicles are still being towed away by unscrupulous council officials in different locations across the area.

Additionally, even though there is a public-private fee-paying parking lot located in the Tejuoso Ultra-modern Market, persons that claim to be local council agents still extort motorists for parking on roads bordering the market

A fellow, who simply identified himself as Samson, admitted that they collect between N200 to N400 from motorists that park their cars on streets around the market.

On why receipts are not issued to motorists after payment, he said “we give receipts to those that demand for it, but most of them do not demand for it.”

Still within the same neighbourhood, Afolayan Kehinde, another fellow collecting toll from motorists claimed to be doing that on behalf of Yaba LCDA, but could not produce his identification card when asked to do so.

“It is the parking lot inside the ultra-modern market that gives out tickets for money collected, we don’t. But even when we don’t give tickets or receipts, we ensure that cars in our care are safe till their owners return because we don’t want complaints or problems.
 
Chairman Yaba LCDA, Omiyale Kayode, denied knowledge of any form of extortion or toll collection in the area on behalf of the council.

“We have not authorised anyone to collect money for parking space. In fact, since Lagos State government commenced its structural project there, we have stopped all our activities around the market.

I can categorically tell you that we did not put anybody there to collect money from motorists. We used to, but that has been suspended for over a year now. 

So, I am surprised at this new development and intend to carry out a thorough investigation to get to the root of the matter because I don’t know that such thing is happening. I will send our task force there to find out,” Kayode said.

The General Manager, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Mr. Olawale Musa, while reiterating that the ban on councils interfering in traffic management was still in place said there has been several complaints by motorists of how of local council traffic officials operating in mufti are still arresting and towing their vehicles randomly.
 
He said: “These council officials are in the habit of displaying lack of professionalism in their conduct; they are improperly tutored in the act of managing traffic; they are ill-structured and dis-organised, and they lack respect for motorists and members of the public.

“Many of them are attached to aprons of vested narrow interest and coupled with the fact that the whole arrangement is more of job for the boys and therefore operate in anything goes manner.”

 


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