WHERE there are no laws, everyone becomes a law unto himself. This is the situation in various parts of the country, where local government councils have appropriated powers to themselves, including the power to arrest, detain and put people on trial for â€œoffencesâ€.
It must be admitted that some of the issues over which the local government council officials arrest people could be offences, but the fact remains that they do not have the powers unless there are laws assigning them the responsibility.
Local government councils have refused to comply with the directives of the Joint Tax Board that forbid them from collecting taxes from vehicles and individuals that pass through their territory. It would have been expected that their taxes would be restricted to those who live within their territories.
There have been situations when travellers passing though various council areas are forced to pay taxes, if they resist, their vehicles are damaged. The power of arrest and detention belong principally to the police. There must be an offence that the law recognises for the arrest and detention to take place. The local government councils operate with their own â€œpoliceâ€, a combination of retired security people and some thugs, operating under the veneer of officialdom.
In Lagos, some local government councils have embarked on a new revenue drive, claiming that their operations have the full authority of the Lagos State Government. The government has denied giving them such powers, but the infractions persist.
The most lucrative spots for the official extortions are places around foot bridges, which many residents of the city ignore, preferring to dash across the roads. Accordingto the council officials, a fine of N5, 000 is imposed on the spot on those who make the dangerous crossings instead of using the pedestrian bridges.
A rationalisation for this is that the councils need the funds to pay for cost of removing corpses of those who vehicles crush to death. The N5, 000 penalty is meant to deter people from crossing the road. Reasonable as the position of the councils appear, the penalty still remains illegal.
It is even becoming another ground for corruption. The penalty is negotiable and it is doubtful if the money get to the council coffers as the receipts that are issued do not bear any marks to ensure that they are not duplicated by those who want to collect the money for their own purposes.
Offenders who are unable to pay are detained. If they end up in prisons, they know there are prospects that they could be arraigned for offences they never committed. The inability to pay could keep them behind bars for years.
Council officials bank on the fears of these possibilities in their well-planned extortions. Relations of those arrested are not contacted and they are not allowed to make phone calls â€“ their phones are among the items seized.
Mere condemnations of these illegalities are no longer enough. Governments eschew illegalities.