LAGOS residents, last Tuesday, expressed concern over the sudden presence of unknown group dressed in grey and black uniform, who took over traffic control on major highways in Lagos, particularly, Old Toll Gate end, along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
It was gathered that the new traffic management outfit was created as a support team for men of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, in the maintenance of road infrastructure across the states of the federation, with Lagos being the pilot scheme.
BY OLASUNKANMI AKONI
Motorists and pedestrians in the early hours of the fateful day made several calls to relevant state government ministries and agencies demanding to know whether the strange uniform men were being deployed by the state government as a new outfit to manage traffic in the state.
A motorist, Alhaji Jelele Abiona, said: “We were afraid when we saw these men managing traffic at the Old Toll Gate even in the midst of terrible traffic jam. We don’t know where they suddenly came from. With the current insecurity situation in the country we have to raise alarm because it is strange to find black uniform men without any form of identity managing traffic.”
The men in black were alleged to have told men of the Lagos State Traffic Authority, LASTMA, to stay off federal highways as they had been trained and mandated to henceforth, take over traffic management on federal roads.
The tension created by the incident, however, compounded traffic situation as LASTMA men left the roads to avoid possible confrontation with the black uniformed men.
Again, last Thursday, according to a senior LASTMA official, the same FERMA taskforce allegedly operated in unmarked five mini buses, drove from Ojota to Jibowu along Ikorodu Road and chased out all LASTMA men in sight.
In the process, many LASTMA officials sustained injuries from the ensuing stampede.
Lagos House responds
In a prompt response to the development, Lagos State House of Assembly, called the attention of Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ade Ipaye, to the activity of some people it described as, “strange uniform men, named FERMA” at Lagos end of old Lagos/Ibadan toll gate controlling traffic, saying that the development could lead to security threat.
The speaker, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, gave the alert at a plenary session when the House was questioning Commissioner for Finance, Ayo Gbeleyi, Attorney–General and Commissioner for Justice, Ade Ipaye on the non- payment of severance emoluments to past political office holders in the state.
Said Ikuforiji: “These people in strange uniform were seen at the toll gate controlling traffic; we may find them all over Lagos very soon. This can also lead us to problem. We should call on relevant authorities to caution them.”
The Attorney-General, who also confirmed the statement, said he saw them controlling traffic but maintained that, “there is the need to investigate and know the people who have employed them, there should be a legal backing for their operation.”
According to Ipaye, the Minister of State for Defense, Mr. Musiliu Obanikoro, who was earlier alerted on the presence of the strange men, denied any knowledge of the people.
for the Ministry of Transportation, Kayode Opeifa, confirmed the development saying “An unknown group dressed in grey and black uniforms have invaded the highways in Lagos.”
He continued: “The illegal traffic officers currently operating from the old toll gate area with unknown origin and unknown to the Lagos State Government have invaded the roadways with a view to causing public disturbance as they do not have the backing nor the support of the state government and will therefore disturb the operations of the state traffic management personnel already positioned at various traffic points across the state. The Lagos State Government is therefore using this medium to call on the handlers of this faceless group to withdraw them immediately so as not to breach the peace and tranquility the state currently enjoys.”
The State House of Assembly had earlier raised an alarm over the presence and activities of the black uniformed individuals who allegedly identified themselves as Federal Task Force under FERMA.
The issue was raised also at a plenary under matter of urgent public importance by the Deputy Whip, Rotimi Abiru, who alleged that the operatives go to garages extorting money from motorists and also mounting roadblocks.
The house at a plenary recalled that the issue of the group and its training came up when the state Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, was invited to the House recently over security issues in the state.
Although, the commissioner promised to investigate the matter and report back to the House, the House said he was yet to do so till date.
In his contribution, the Deputy Majority Leader, Lola Akande said the activities of the group must be checked quickly to avoid the emergence of another Boko Haram because according to her, the activities of the Islamist fundamentalist sect started in a similar fashion
Abiru said the intention of the men was suspicious more especially when both the Minister of Works and the Managing Director of FERMA had publicly disowned the outfit
On his part, Lanre Ogunyemi, representing Ojo Constituency 1, said the commissioner of police should be invited again to brief the House on his findings about the recruitment exercise “because he has promised us that he will investigate.”