By Morenike Taire
For some reason, in the past week, the Lagos state propaganda machine has made a hue and a dance about the Governor making a harsh example of some uniformed personnel and another hapless fellow who had been driving against traffic along the Airport road in Lagos.
Accounts have it that a gentleman in army uniform had, in an apparent bid to beat traffic, decided to drive against traffic on the said road. Like proper Lagosians, others had gone the same way, only to experience the mortal bad luck of running into the governor during this less than wholesome venture. A slap on the wrist might have been enough, particularly as a uniformed man is involved, but Mr. Governor decided to have their vehicles impounded and they prosecuted. His press corp then decided that this action ought to reach the awareness of every Nigerian home and abroad.
Ironically, one of the outgoing governor’s greatest achievements is the reform of the State’s Traffic Management Authority, popularly known as LASTMA. Even as far back as on the campaign trail, Ambode had made clear his displeasure about the way the agency was being run- as a body populated by seemingly glorified area boys and girls all trussed up in their smart, gloriously yellow uniforms.
Their dispositions, in general, had been nowhere as sunny as their outfits and, seemingly enabled by the Fashola administration, they ran roughshod over all in their path- quite literally. There were rumours that they had been given targets with a view to boosting the state’s famous IGR, a task which they attacked with uncommon gusto, and many times to their peril.
In actual fact, LASTMA became another cesspool of corruption, one where all kinds of devices were employed by individuals and cliques within the organization to either divert funds which rightfully belonged to government into private pockets; create bottlenecks in regular processes so that they could then be facilitated by monetary incentives and outright create their own accounts which were passed off for the government’s accounts.
This of course meant that the main objective of many of the officials became not necessarily to do all within their power in every circumstance to ease the flow of traffic but to ease as many hapless motorists into their nets as possible so that money could change hands.
Their evil cousins, the VIS was even worse and together, their reign of terror over Lagos State appeared unending.
Ambode had on the campaign trail promised to change LASTMA’s operations, saying he would deploy technology rather than crude methods of persuading the truly unruly Lagos motorists into line. Once sworn in, this campaign promise was almost immediately carried out and, at the height of it all in an action that was both unprecedented and unforeseen, he had ordered the VIS and the National Road Safety Corp off the roads of Lagos indefinitely, declaring them to be part of the problem rather than the solution. On its part, LASTMA had experienced a complete paradigm shift- from the terror-inspiring lot that they were to a truly objective, truly functional organization.
It is also not a secret that Ambode has a passion for road rehabilitation and management (in the Nigerian sense), and this has in no small measure contributed to making Lagos traffic somewhat more bearable. If he had done nothing more, he would have done more than his predecessors in proving that traffic can be dealt with better by civil than by crude means.
A thousand and one adjectives have been deployed by creative residents to describe traffic in the Lagos metropolis and even the suburbs. When residents refer to Lagos traffic as demonic, they do so less out of humour than of bitter sarcasm, and they are objectively not far from the truth. Tackling Lagos traffic is not a task for the lily livered or those that strategise within the box.
It might be that the Governor has a lethal dislike for uniformed men, or that he was afraid to appear less than authoritative in front of his aides and press corps. Whatever the reason for this ‘noise’ about making an example of an erring military officer, it is no less a bad idea.
Emasculating any uniformed personnel does nobody any good, whatever anyone thinks of them. The enforcement of the traffic laws of the state is after all in their hands and without them, unarmed uniformed men can achieve nothing.
More significantly, it is nothing short of high hypocrisy to punish offenders when driving against traffic has become accepted to traffic controllers in many parts of Lagos, particularly in the Apapa Oshodi stretch.