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Road officials and the governor’s good works

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By Helen Ovbiagele

IT was the evening rush-back-home hour on the Oshodi/Apapa express way, with passengers waiting anxiously for transport. Lagos State road officials were very visible on the road as they usually are at rush hour in those parts.

As the vehicles crawled along, a kia kia bus that was coming from Cele, was empty, but for a road official on the front passenger seat.   “Hm!  Poor driver!   Dat official  will finish his pocket today before they let him go”, said the driver of our vehicle. “ For what?” asked a passenger.  “I noticed that bus further back and it was full of passengers.  What happened to them?  All of them couldn’t have got down all at once.” “Madam, they must have got down when the road official stopped their driver and got into the vehicle. ”“What did the bus driver do?”

“Ah, I don’t know, madam.  Maybe he changed lanes or stopped where he’s not supposed to stop.” “Should he be arrested for that and the poor passengers made  to go look for another vehicle at this late hour?  Couldn’t he have been cautioned and told to move?” “Madam, those road officials  don’t have mercy o!  Most are wicked.”

Suddenly two armed  men in combat uniform appeared in the middle of the road to stop  the traffic.  Everyone obeyed.  Then they went over to the bus, opened the front passenger’s door and pulled down the government road official. They then slammed the door and gestured to the bus driver to go on his way. Cries of approval from all sides as  the highly shaken road official was taken to where the armed uniformed men  had parked their vehicle.  He began to plead to be let go.   They didn’t beat or rough-handle him, but they told him off sternly  for oppression and  unjustified arrest.

They must have seen him stop the bus, discharge the passengers and ‘arrest’ the driver.
“Hey, God go bless those armed uniformed  men o!” cried our driver.  “That driver must be a good man for God to send them to release him.  All the money he had earned for the day would have been used to settle that road official that arrested him.  Those road officials  prefer to find ways of  collecting  money from motorists than do their work of seeing that traffic moves!”
When a friend of mine who now lives and works in another African country was in town a fortnight ago, I proudly announced to her that Governor Fashola and his team have changed the face of Lagos considerably.  She didn’t believe me until we went to Apapa, Oshodi, Marina, Ikoyi, Lekki/Epe road, etc.

“Auntie Helen, this is not the Lagos I left four years ago!  What I’ve seen so far compare favourably well with any state capital in the developed world.  Roads are being expanded, gutters are cleaned, parks are set up and trees and flowers and fountains are used to beautify everywhere.  Look at  the Marina!  All the rubbish cleared from under the bridge!  Terrific!   And best of all, he seemed to have waved a magic wand over all the hoodlums in Oshodi and other tough points.  What did he do with them?” “Probably rehabilitated them.  You’ve heard of the slogan ‘Eko o nibaje!’ “Yes.  I say a sincere ‘Amen’ to that.   Any hope that our state (Edo State) can work this sort of  wonder?” she asked wistfully.

“Sorry, no hope.  Even if the governor there wants to perform, he won’t be allowed the peace and cooperation he needs to do so..” “Hm!  Lucky Lagos State!  God bless the governor.” Yes, most people, even Fashola’s political opponents agree that he’s doing a marvellous job.  His good work stands out without him making any noise about it.  However, the activities of some road officials are threatening to mar his good image and intentions, because he’s the overall boss.

What would foreigners who are attracted to Lagos because of its numerous tourist attraction say when they witness such undemocratic treatment of motorists?

When the body was set up some years ago, we were told that their main work was to see to the free flow of traffic in Lagos.  This was seen as a welcome relief to the chaotic traffic situation in Lagos.  At first things were fine and they were helpful.  If a vehicle broke down, they would help push it to the side of the road.    If you broke a traffic rule, they would caution you, and let you go.  Soon, that honey moon was over as many of them began to arrest motorists on trumped up cases, or very negligible offences.  Some would ask to see vehicle licence and drivers’ licence, MOT, etc, and ‘offenders’ were  hauled off for hefty fines.  I have seen a few victims dissolve into tears when they have to empty their purse to satisfy callous officials. I used to ask ‘Do these people know God at all? Do they know that they could be starving a whole family by these extortions?’

Yes, many drivers are reckless, stubborn and undisciplined while on the road, but the heartless and sometimes cunning way in which some road officials deal with motorists don’t endear them to us, and don’t help matters.     A relation of mine parked his vehicle off the road on Adeola Odeku Street , V/IS. to make an urgent telephone call.  When he had finished, he got his car back onto the road and continued his journey.   The road officials who had seen him from afar, arrested him in front, claiming that he had stopped on the main road.  Another motorist who had seen him move back onto the road, stopped briefly to defend the man.  They  threatened to ‘arrest’ him too.  One of them forced himself into my relation’s vehicle and said he was taking him to their HQ, and that the fine would be N25, 000, but that he would settle for N15, 000, and release him.  That relation had to ring round for money to be brought to him.

If you move from one lane to another, they would ‘arrest’ you.  In civilized settings motorists are cautioned.    But not so these road officials.   This write-up will not raise any eyebrow because the media has been publishing complaints from the public for a long time now.  The bosses of these road officials would come out to defend their men and tell us that we should report any misbehaviour of their officials.  To whom?  And where?  Whose word would be believed?

The thing is, have these traffic officials and other uniformed personnel the legal right to force themselves into our vehicles, and in the case of commercial vehicles, drive them?  I’m alarmed when I see them do that.  What if they damage the vehicle?   Who pays the bills for the repair?   Obviously, the organization has its uses and not all its members are a terror to us, but these are very few.  Many people have bitter experiences of these traffic officials,  in one form or the other.  I do support a firm control of traffic so that one can move around more freely, but I think we can achieve this in a more humane way, especially when it has to do with law-abiding citizens who perhaps made a mistake while driving.

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