Different ploys employed by Lagos traffic officers to extort motorists
At strategic locations within the Lagos metropolis, it is usual to see a mix of young and old men dressed in local council vests or aprons. They are the local council traffic officers, positioned to apprehend motorists that violate traffic regulations in the city. Some are specific about the unit the team is serving, with the transport unit written under the local council name on the aprons.
But many motorists have been complaining about the modus operandi of the officers, which they say are not acceptable in the least. Aside from being sneaky in their procedure, the officials are also fond of indiscriminately arresting and impounding vehicles, without any apparent guiding rules about traffic management. In many instances, it has become obvious that the goal is really not to enforce the law but to impose fines haphazardly on so-called offenders, which seems to be their stock-in-trade.
In some cases, it is not uncommon to see the officials capitalising on negligible errors on the part of ignorant motorists. To them, the end justifies the means.
For instance, due to the ongoing reconstruction of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, the sign that tells motorists that after Ewe-Nla Junction on the service lane from Charity is one-way has been knocked off. From Iyana-Isolo to Ewe-Nla is a two-way drive on the service lane inward Apapa.
But rather than find a way to inform motorists of this fact, pending the time the sign will be replaced after completion of the reconstruction, some local government officers are exploiting the situation and arresting hapless motorists. Arriving their hide-out in minibusses, they lurk about 50 meters away from Ewe-Nla Junction after Oshodi Bus Stop, and would promptly arrest unwary motorists driving beyond Ewe-Nla.
It is the same scenario at Lagos Mainland Local Council, where some persons claiming to be council staff take delight in arresting motorists driving from Costain and needing to make a U-turn in front of the National Theatre. There are two lanes that are just a few metres apart. One of the lanes is for those coming from Ijora and needing to make a U-turn in front of the National Theatre, while the second is for those coming from Costain. But because there is no sign directing motorists to take either of the two lanes, drivers, especially those coming from Costain often take the first lane, instead of the second lane meant for those driving down from Costain. The confusion is further compounded by the non-availability of signs to warn motorists or direct them.
For motorists plying the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, especially the Iyana-Itire to Toyota Bus-stop section of the service lane, it is commonplace to see some boys decked in Mushin Local Council traffic unit aprons.
Usually in a group of five, the boys move around in rickety towing vans, habitually harassing private car owners. Their operational mode is so crude that there is no difference between them and the notorious area boys or ‘agberos’. Once they notice that a driver has parked to allow a passenger alight or pick a call, so that he or she would not be answering call while driving, about three of them will jump out of the towing van and move towards him/her. And as soon as the driver winds down, one of them will hold the steering, yelling at the driver to come down, while the other person jumps into the car through the passenger side, also barking at the driver that he had violated the local government traffic rule.
While all this is happening, the towing van is parked in front of the ‘offending’ vehicle to block it, with one of them attempting to tow the car. But this is usually a dummy. All the agitation is aimed at making the motorist panic and ready for negotiation.
Sometimes, even when cars are not parked on the expressway (the parking space between the fence of a company and the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway is spacious enough not to obstruct traffic in whatever form), yet these boys would tow such cars. However, this happens when the owner is insight. If not, they overlook such cars. At times, they hang around till the owner of the vehicle comes out of the company to slam a traffic offence on him or her.
Those who have had cause to be accosted this way and fined for violating the Mushin Local Council traffic offence said the primary interest has been to extort motorists. Yet, along that stretch of road, there is no single place where there is no parking sign for motorists. This is aside from many of the corporate organisations along that axis that use the same space as a parking lot for staff and visitors.
Sharing his experience, John Dipo disclosed that he was waylaid by the boys around Five Star Bus Stop. He explained that the manner he was approached left him wondering if they were government officials or touts, as one of the boys was reeking alcohol.
Narrating the traffic ‘offence’ he committed, Dipo said he was heading towards Gbagada, but around Ilasa on the expressway, his car started making some strange noise.
“So, I stopped to look at the source of the noise on the service lane at Five Star,” he recalled. “I had not even alighted from the car when these boys pounced on me in a commando-style. I explained why I had to stop, but they were not willing to listen. I did not park on the road, but the layby in front of a company. After much explanation and begging, they said we must go to the council. So, I decided to go along with them.”
He explained that while the altercation was going on, they never talked about money. But as soon as they were getting close to Iyana Itire, one of them said they should pardon him by not taking him to the council, as the fine would be too much.
“The guy said if we take you to the Council now, you will be made to pay N30, 000,” he recalled.
Dipo said that was how they started negotiating and he had to part with N10, 000 before he was left off the hook. According to him, the most surprising aspect of the whole scenario was that there were other vehicles parked not too far away from his, but the council traffic officials did not go after them after he was released.
The General Manager, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Olajide Oduyoye, recently told The Guardian that the activities of the local government traffic officers have nothing to do with LASTMA.
He said: “It is important that everyone understands what is going on. There are lots of things going on, but until we report and tackle such, they will just continue like that. The local council may feel they are trying to help the traffic situation around their areas, but I know that by law, they do not have the power to apprehend vehicles and offenders on the road. That is the standard.
“And I have heard they go round to pick up vehicles for illegal parking. The other thing about signage is true in the sense that, if it is two-way, the government or anyone that wants to enforce anything has the responsibility to communicate such to the motorists. We should not assume anyone who is travelling understands where they should or should not park.
“On the other hand, every motorist that has a valid driver’s license and also went through proper schooling should always know that whenever they leave their private property, including their cars, they should ask such simple questions as: “Am I obstructing traffic flow?” So, if anyone is saying I did not see signs and using that as an excuse when apprehended for a traffic offence, then the matter needs to be thoroughly looked at from all angles.”