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Extortion by proxy!

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Extortion by proxy!

Across bus-stops and motor parks in Lagos, a new gimmick of bribery has been devised by traffic officials, wardens and police to extort commercial drivers. WALE ELEGBEDE writes on the unholy alliance between traffic officials and touts

 

 

When the National Bureau for Statistics published the Nigerian Corruption Survey 2017 sometimes in August, many Nigerians could practically relate with the report, especially portions that gave statistics on corruption and bribery in the Nigerian Police. The survey, which was the first of its kind in the country, revealed how different forms of corruption affect the daily life of the average citizen in Nigeria.

Tagged ‘Corruption in Nigeria – Bribery as Experienced by the Population’’ the survey revealed that the Nigerian Police is by far the most corrupt public institution. The study said that that the frequency of bribery was more among police officers and puts it at 46.4 percent, which is above other public institutions.

Not less than one month after the NBS’ publication, the Commissioner of Police in charge of the Lagos State Command, Mr. Edgal Imohimi, announced the arrest of nine policemen, one traffic warden, and two others in September 2017, for extorting money from motorists in the state. According to Imohimi, the arrest was a follow-up to his warn-ing to policemen in the command to guide against corruption and unprofessional conduct.

The scenario in the police wasn’t in any way different from the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority. Earlier in December, the Public Affairs Officer of the state agency, Mahmud Hassan, announced that five of its officials were arrested for extorting motorists with the help of mufti men in various parts of the state.

The traffic officials arrested include: Bamidele Shehu, a level seven traffic officer of 48 years and resident of 68, Oke Popo Street, Lagos Island; Ope Adisa, traffic officer of level 32 and level 5 of 8, Freeman Street, Lagos Island and Babatunde Aluko traffic officer of 37 years level 4 of 15, Oriwu Street, Ikorodu.

Whilst the NBS report reeled out the statistics, the New Telegraph launched investigations into one of the several strategies used by corrupt police officials and incidentally found out that traffic warden and some officials of the state traffic management, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), are also culpable in using third-party tactics to extort money especially from motorists in Lagos. In other words, they obtain bribes from the motorists in the state through a proxy.

With a population in excess of 20m while attracting 65 per cent of the country’s commercial activities, Lagos, holds the ace when it comes unruly public transport operators. The state transportation system experience chaos on a daily basis with a huge percentage of the bedlam already attributed to the activities of the commercial bus drivers- Danfo (Yellow bus) and long buses.Known for their recklessness and impunity on Lagos roads, the ‘kings of the road’, as the commercial drivers call themselves, contravene traffic laws at will and most of the relevant traffic officials look the other way round, but not without an exchange.

Unfortunately, traffic chaos has severe consequences such as economic losses arising from delays and gridlocks, diminished productivity, wasted energy, environmental degradation and a diminished standard of living. At the popular Ojota under bridge Bus Stop in Kosofe Local Government area of the state, Kareem, a fierce looking young man, presumably in his late 30’s, snapped at this reporter.

He apparently has been taking notice of the reporter’s keen interest for about four days on his movements and activities around both the commercial drivers and some traffic enforcement officials. On the average, a traffic enforcement officer usually got a share of between N15,000 and N20,000 in a day, depending on how busy his or her posted route is. Across the major bus-stops and motor parks in Lagos, the culture of extortion by proxy is the order of the day.

The roving police, traffic warden and some LASTMA officials are the biggest culprits. Just like every other ignoble act of bribery and extortion, the dirty handshake between traffic enforcement officials, the police, and their civilian collaborators is a concealed deal. For the security agents and traffic officers, some members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), are their faces before commercial bus drivers who pay the proxy agents for their acts of impunity on the roads to be ignored. One of such agents is Kamal, a young man in his late 30’s. He is a regular face at the Ojota bus stop and always coming in a confrontation with drivers who try to prove smart.

With a red marker in his hand which is used to annotate commercial vehicles that have paid the statutory security money, he also oversees two other young men who assist him in collection especially during peak period. When approached, he was quite evasive but when he decided to talk, he feigned ignorance of working as a proxy to security agents and traffic officers.

But when asked about his NURTW identity card and uniform, he muttered words in Yoruba local language, signifying, ‘we are together to eat and drink’ (A jo jeun, a jo nmu ni). But shedding more light on the unholy partnership, Mrs. Kafayat, a soft drink trader around the bus stop, told New Telegraph that the working relationship between the traffic officers and their accomplices was solid and has been on for a long time Speaking in her local language, she said: “The boys work for the LASTMA officers and they are the ones who assist them to collect money from both the danfo drivers (Yellow buses) and the long buses.

They are usually boys known as Camp Boys or Antelopes. “You know there are many eyes on the LASTMA officers including all the task force parading to arrest any erring officer, so the touts come handy to collect money from the drivers either to park illegally, pick passengers anywhere or even for doing nothing.” When asked about how they share the proceeds at the end of the day, she said: “They do it behind me here.

There are many touts collecting monies, but the tally numbers that they give to drivers who pay them usually determine the amount. “But they usually fight over the total amount raked in because most times the touts usually play a fast one on them by cutting out of it because the sharing formula is based on percentage,” she said. Alluding to Mrs. Kafayat’s exposition, a driver, Mr. Charles Aighoje, who plies Mile 2-Oshodi-Ikorodu axis, said they pay the money to traffic officials and sometimes police through touts who serve as their collection officer. Sounding unperturbed at the development, he said, “That is the way things go and we are used to it. It is even more demanding for those of who us who move on roads where there are checking points; we serve both police and traffic officers.

“The traffic officers which include LASTMA and traffic warden use some of these boys that are no longer with the NURTW to collect the bribes. It is statutory, you don’t need to do anything wrong. If you refuse to pay, they will mark your face and your vehicle for necessary action. But because we work with time, paying them N500 is not a problem,” he said.

While stating that the traffic officers usually use the Antelope Boys and for their operations, he noted that they pay the LASTMA and security money three times in a day- morning, afternoon and night shifts. It’s the same narrative of extortion by proxy at Oyingbo market bus stop in Yaba Local Government Area but with another strategy of violence unleashed on reluctant driver or conductor.

Expectedly, the traffic officials and police look the other way round when their ‘agents’ harass the drivers. According to Akeem, a yellow bus driver on the axis, the attitude of the touts leaves more to be desired because they unleash mayhem on the conductors, drivers and even remove vehicle parts when the fees are not promptly paid.

He said: “Oyingbo is worse because the manner in which those boys collect the N400 levies from us is despicable. When you even try to explain to them that you haven’t made any money for the day, they hit your conduct and vandalise your vehicles by removing the wipers, fuel tank cover, engine covers and other vital parts they can lay their hands on.

“What we go through here in terms of illegal fees is unparalleled and harrowing. At every shift, we pay everything; security fee, booking fee, police toll, loading fee, dropping fee, sanitation fees, LASTMA levy and chairman’s meal, among others. “You know most of these boys are on drugs and they operate above the law.

They usually get away with their mayhem because they have the support of the police and LASTMA.” The agbero operate like a second government or, simply put, a parallel administration in Lagos State. They act with impunity and most times get away with their atrocities.

Since they also provide the machinery with which the police and LASTMA officials collect their tolls, they are practically above the law. When New Telegraph moved across the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, wanton extortion by proxy was noticed going on there as the touts took charge of the roads for mobile policemen on the axis.

At Awogbala bus stop, on Lagos Badagry expressway after Atura Bus Stop, the mobile policemen, used two touts as a proxy to collect money from yellow buses and paragon buses plying the route. The drivers were made to cough out N300 and upon payment, tickets are given and the proxy agent liaise with the police to know the number of tickets already given out.

NURTW, touts don’t work for us – LASTMA

Speaking with New Telegraph, the Public Affairs Officer of LASTMA, Mahmud Hassan, said the agency had rules and regulations, adding that its officials don’t work with anyone in mufti to extort money from drivers. He said: “First and foremost, kindly note that those you referred to as being mufti are not our officials. All LASTMA officials are always in their uniform with their names conspicuously display in their breast pocket of their shirts.

We operate a cashless policy, even offenders of traffic laws go to the office to collect their tickets. We don’t use anybody to collect money and nobody collects money for us. “If there is an individual that is collecting money from motorists in the name of LASTMA, such a person should be reported to the law enforcement agencies because they are not working for LASTMA.

They can even come to us and report. We don’t have anyone that is working for us in mufti. We have our uniform and it’s a known uniform to all members of the public. “All the groups and organisations you mentioned are not working for us. Our duty is to manage and control traffic, which is what we do day and night. We don’t work in partnership with any organisation to extort or collect money for whatever reason. So, those people are not part of us, they are not working for us. We totally distanced ourselves from such nefarious acts.

“We have a surveillance team with a duty to monitor LASTMA officials on duty and arrest those found wanting or comporting themselves in ways and manners not in tandem with the operational methods of the organisation. We also have the Provost unit, which serves as the police of LASTMA. If the members of the public have any complaints against any LASTMA official, we operate a 24-hour open door policy. We don’t condone extortion and indiscipline, we stand for service delivery for the good people of Lagos State.”

Police speak

Reacting to the development,the Police Public Relations Officer in Lagos State, SP Chike Oti, denied the involvement of officers of the command in such acts, saying, however, that the command will beam its searchlight on the report. We don’t believe that that is true because we don’t work in motor parks, we are policemen and we work in police station.

We don’t work with NURTW members or anyone, we are not partners in NURTW regulations. If the NURTW, which is a powerful, organised union noticed such, they should come and report to us and we will take it up from there. There must be a formal presentation of such issue. That story is not true but nevertheless, we will beam our searchlight using this information.

Civil Society reacts

For the chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Mr. Olanrewaju Suraj, the development is a new gimmick devised for bribery and corruption. He noted that “This development is true and it was a gimmick devised as a result of the zero tolerance of the government to bribery among them.

They usually use some members of the NURTW and also some miscreants and thugs to harass motorists and drivers to obtain a certain amount of money. “That is responsible for the level of traffic disorder in the state. Go to Ikeja along, you will see traffic that extends to PWD and Shogunle, that is the handiwork of these errant, unruly commercial drivers.

But the traffic officials look the other way round because they have been compromised already. They find it difficult, if not impossible to bring the situation into control. “Part of the challenge is that many of the agencies are created without a proper evaluation and monitoring mechanisms.

The government needs to create a proactive monitoring mechanism. I think the current police commissioner is doing that well and we must do more to get appropriate feedback.”

NURTW does not operate without uniform-Agbede

Speaking with New Telegraph, the Lagos State chairman of NURTW, Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede, said whoever is collecting any money in bus-stops without the union’s green and white uniform should be arrested. “Our boys are usually in white and green uniform and they have their numbers on the chest.

They usually work between 6am and 6pm. Our members don’t extort money on behalf of anyone. You should ask the LASTMA and police what the relationship exists between them. “What are those boys in mufti doing at parks extorting money from commercial drivers? Why don’t they get them arrested? They are not our own boys; we have rules and regulations in our union. They don’t have a park; they should arrest them because

 

 

 

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