Some streets in Lagos are simmering and almost at boiling point barely waiting to erupt like a volcano. It is already bad enough that most people who live in Lagos are already under immense pressure perpetually provoked by traffic snarls, floods, invasion by street urchins (areas boys), and other criminal elements and their activities including electricity outages, multiple taxes, and a host of other dysfunctionalities in a highly mercurial megacity.
Rather than being left to confront their known demons, a combination of some Community Development Associations (CDAs), Residents” Associations, and LASTMA are aggravating and almost tipping the boiling point over. Recently, in some areas around Surulere, a pattern has emerged where LASTMA officials, conniving with the some rogue Residents’ Association, deliberately invade streets in the day, tow away vehicles to their offices, and compel the owners to pay ridiculous sums for abandoning their vehicles on the streets.
When it first got to my attention, it sounded strange and I felt it was ridiculous and impossible. But I got a rude shock last month when I got back from work only to discover that a 20-ton truck I recently acquired was towed away from its packed position without any prior notice. On enquiry, I was told that LASTMA officials came that afternoon and towed away my truck. My first reaction was: tow away my truck on whose instruction and for what offence? The most shocking part of this drama was that no one left me neither a note nor an oral message to say who they were, where they were from and could be contacted, and why they removed my truck without contacting me and where I could reach them to retrieve my truck.
Without this vital information, I concluded that my truck had been stolen by unknown persons. I contacted my learned friend, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), he said it was wrong and they had no right whatsoever and had gone beyond their brief to go to my street and remove my truck. He advised that I should report to the police and I did. One Inspector Udoh was assigned the case as the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) and he went about his job diligently.
Having provided every evidence and information required of me, the IPO began investigating who invited LASTMA to come to the street and remove my truck. Days led to weeks and weeks to a month. In the process of the investigations, the IPO discovered that it was the chairman of Ajao Road, Residents’ Association whom I’ve never met in my life that ordered the removal of my vehicle without even contacting me. According to my source, he removed my truck simply because I was Omo Igbo (Igbo indigene).
The invitation for him to come to the station for an interview was ignored completely not until I started mounting pressure on the IPO to let me know the progress if need be to press charges. At this point, the chairman reportedly honoured the invitation and rather than interviewing the IPO as he was required to do procedurally, but because he claims to be highly connected and above the law, he chose to go straight to the Area Commander of Area ‘C’. True to type, the Area Commander dismissed the matter and instructed the IPO to tell me to go away and pay and collect my vehicle from LASTMA without looking at the pros and cons of the matter.
How did we get to this point? I live on Ayo Idowu Close off Ajao Road, at the outset of flooding that usually occurs on our street, it was decided that the gutters should be desilted for free flow of rainwater. To make that possible, all vehicle owners were advised to move their vehicles to safe places to free the path for trucks that would evacuate the debris from the gutters. These were the circumstances that influenced moving my vehicle to Ajao Road. Now, I did not for once abandon my vehicle on the street as it is claimed but packed the truck properly right in front of Calabar Community Hall with which I have an affinity. No one lives in this space as it has right from the beginning been dedicated as an events centre. So it is inconceivable that the promoters of the Hall would be complaining about the parked truck that poses no threat to them and the hall in any way.
My private investigations have revealed that some rogue streets residents’ associations in these areas seeking to be empowered to carry out such underhand arm-twisting methods of extortion, went into partnership with the CDAs citing security concerns as primary reasons. And based on this illegal alliance, they are hiding under it to commit all forms of atrocities and unleash a reign of terror and impunity on residents or persons they have axe to grind in their respective neighbourhood in cohort with LASTMA.
Relatedly, it was reported that the CDAs ordered the removal of vehicles to pave way for the smooth visit of the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila. Another corollary is that the speaker is complaining that vehicles parked on roads newly constructed under his constituency projects would hasten their relapse. None of these two could be independently verified or confirmed.
Is LASTMA empowered to go to the street and impound vehicles? A police source who spoke on condition of anonymity said just as the Vehicle Inspection Officer (VIO) has no right to impound or check any vehicle on a federal road, LASTMA is not empowered and has no right to impound any individual’s vehicle from their street. According to him, when it comes to security concerns, the CDAs and Residents Associations are duty-bound to report any threats to the police adding that it is the Police that has the power to either remove or invite LASTMA to remove any vehicle after informing the owners.
I am a law-abiding citizen and equally know my rights. What happened on Ajao Road is simply ethnic profiling, unprovoked malice, and hatred for someone you have never met in your life. I doubt if they were to carry out a parade today, the chairman of the Ajao Road, Residents’ Association would even recognize me. I can not also claim that I know him because I have never met him in my entire life.
What has come to the fore here is the gradual build-up of ethnic hatred for non-Yorubas in some of these enclaves. I am not Yoruba and have never claimed to be one and would not lay claim to being what I am not. However, from the Constitutional perspective, I am a Lagosian having been born here in Dr. Maja’s clinic on Lagos Island when my father worked as a federal civil servant here in Lagos. To call me Omo Igbo simply because I parked a vehicle on a street is the height of intolerance.
Lagos is just one state out of 36 states in this country including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and there are Yorubas plying their trade over Nigeria including my state, Cross River, assuming this same treatment is meted to Yorubas there what would be the conclusion?
Notwithstanding, there is a redeeming moment by two fine gentlemen who came to my rescue and their combined initiatives reassured me that there is hope yet on the horizon. Shortly after the IPO gave me the message his Area Commander directed him to, I decided to utilize my goodwill. I called my colleague and friend, the Lagos state Commissioner of Information, Gbenga Omotosho, and narrated my ordeal, he laughed and assured me something would be done and that I should not bother myself.
Last week, I called him again and he directed me to go to Alausa to meet with the Special Adviser to the governor on Transportation, Oluwatoyin Olayinka. I must say that my trip to Alausa was with mixed feelings because I did not know what to expect. As it turned out, I was in for a pleasant shock. The SA’s office is on the second of a fourth storey building and I was directed to his office from the security people downstairs.
In his office, I encountered a multitude of people also waiting to see him which gave me an indication that perhaps this man runs an open door policy which explains why you have such a teeming crowd waiting enthusiastically to see him. I was not wrong. About half an hour later, the moment Mr. Olayinka arrived, everyone was on his feet. A few minutes later, an aide came and announced that he has asked all those waiting to come into his expansive office.
One after the other, he attended to each person and when he got to my turn, I introduced myself and without any formalities asked if I had a slip of paper from LASTMA, I said not yet. He politely explained that I needed that slip so he could write or give directives. I thanked him and left. It took me another week to get that elusive slip of paper because the person in charge had gone on holiday. When an aide finally contacted him, they issued me two slips totaling N30,000 to pay into two accounts in Ecobank and Union bank respectively. I was required to return after paying these two charges for them to calculate my demurrage which at this time had built up appreciably at the rate of N1000 per day. These were two charges comprising of tow charge of N10,000 and another N20,000 for “parking on a yellow line on a 20,000 only public highway/illegal parking of 1st offender”.
On receipt of these charges, I communicated with Mr. Omotosho who again called Olayinka and narrated my ordeal. He directed that I return there, call him and hand the phone to whoever was within sight. I did as I was told and behold within minutes, my vehicle was released to me without my paying any kobo. Now assuming I did not know these two gentlemen and was not well placed to enjoy this goodwill, what would have eventually been my fate?
It needs to be noted that in the one week that I was parading Iponri for a slip to calculate what I was to pay, the LASTMA official who was conniving with the Ajao Road ethnic irredentist was constantly in contact with him transmitting what was going on to him. It is from this communication that I have concluded that there is a nexus between some rogue Residents’ Associations, CDAs, and LASTMA to extort the unsuspecting public.
It should also be noted that since LASTMA has decided to irritate and inconvenience others, it should also devise ways to work on a 24/7 day basis to ensure that people whose cars are impounded do not suffer undue demurrage. If not for impunity, why would they impound a vehicle and the only officer-in-charge of receipts is holidaying while demurrage for impounded cars builds up? Again why is there no opportunity for victims to prove their cases and why is it that whatever the rogue residents’ association tells LASTMA becomes irrefutable? Lastly, is LASTMA empowered to impound parked vehicles from streets even if on the invitation of the residents’ association?
Given the goodwill demonstrated by Olayinka and Omotosho, it is imperative that the state government take more concrete steps to protect the citizens by curtailing the excesses of these CDAs, LASTMA, and some rogue Residents Associations. If nothing is urgently done, things would certainly soon get to a head and the outcome would most definitely not be palatable.