Monday, January 21, 2013

Are Lagos Police Officers Above The New Traffic Law?


The general belief is that no man is above the law but in Lagos state, this is not the true position of things as police officers disregard the traffic law. 

The primary responsibility of police officers in the country is to enforce law at all times and with the advent of the Lagos Traffic Law, the responsibility of upholding the law became more tedious but the expectation of many that the officers will gear up more has not been met as most rather than uphold the law now flout the traffic rule with impunity as their attitude seem to shout, do what I say not what I do.

There is a saying among Nigerians that all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others. This particular saying has been proved right by police officers in Lagos who make it a habit to arrest people for offences they are also guilty of.

The restriction placed on commercial motorcyclists popularly known as okada riders in Lagos State had been causing major problems for many cyclists and residents but for police officers, it is a case of one man’s meat is another one poison as they not only extort the okada riders but many of them now ride motorcycles around the banned areas where they also arrest others.

Since the enforcement of the traffic rule commenced, the number of police officers that now ride motorcycles have increased as many uniformed officers including men of the Nigerian Army ride both registered and unregistered motorcycles all over Lagos and on restricted roads.

According to Inside Lagos investigations, even police officers that had no motorcycle before the traffic law has suddenly become overnight okada riders. Findings revealed that policemen attached to the Area F Police Command, on Oba Akinjobi Road, Ikeja, are at the forefront of arresting erring motorcycle riders as they lay siege for them in many areas including Ile Zik bus stop, Ikeja Along, Mangoro and Toyin Street among others.

 The irony of this is the fact that many of the policemen attached to Area F while they arrest okada riders also drive okada around without fear of harassment, thereby flouting the law which they are expected to uphold.

According to Mosun Abinna, a typist along Oba Akinjobi way, “the way these policemen drive okada around and still arrest others made me believe initially that they are exempted from the law. It was when I heard the news that Governor Fashola arrested a policeman that I knew the law also affects them.

 “On this road, you can never see any okada rider that is not a uniformed man because the policemen at Area F clamps down on them seriously by impounding their okada but it is a normal occurrence to see policemen at all hours riding okada,” Mosun said.

A staff of the Lagos High court who spoke on a condition of anonymity however added another dimension. “From all we have seen since the commencement of the law, it is obvious that not all impounded motorcycles are taken to the task force, you can see many okada without registration number attached being ridden by policemen who before now had no okada. These policemen break rules associated with the traffic law by not wearing safety helmet; they carry more than one person and even ride unregistered motorcycles in flagrant disobedience of the law.”

Another flagrant disobedience of the traffic rule associated with policemen is the bad condition of vehicles used by policemen. Many of the cars are worse than those arrested by policemen for flouting traffic rules
“Most of the police official cars do have trafficating light, the bumpers are bad, falling or tacked with wires while the general physical  condition of their vehicles are not pleasing to the eyes. They look so rickety and I wonder how someone driving such has the gut and moral justification to arrest others
“They drive against traffic, beat traffic lights and generally are unruly while driving just because they are in uniforms,” Toni Thomas, a civil servant stated.
One aspect that has also generated controversy is that some policemen now engage in okada riding for commercial purposes as they carry passengers through restricted areas for a fee.

“Don’t mind those policemen, they stop people from working, yet, they themselves now carry passengers for money. During the yuletide, they were helping people carry things like bags of rice, hamper and groundnut oil for a fee. I don’t know why they should be different from others and why they should be exempted from the law,” Adeola Babalola, a Public Relations Officer stated.
Other areas that has given people concern is the fact that the Traffic Rule seems to have opened up a better avenue for police officers to extort people aside road blocks as many policemen and other security officials have been extorting money from okada riders that fall victim of the new traffic law and the money ranges between N5, 000 to N20, 000.

Accvording to some okada riders, any okada man arrested that fails to pay the stipulated fee will get his motorcycle seized to either be taken to the office of the Task Force on Environmental Sanitation at Alausa, Ikeja where they are added to the huge pile of seized motorcycles in a parking lot or taken over by a policeman as his own.

The policemen, according to okada riders, also do not care if the rider or passenger gets wounded or dies in the process, they just hit them with rods or place shovels on the road for oncoming okadas.

“Policemen now call us ATM machines. That is they consider us a quick and regular source of income. Now, police officers station themselves at strategic points to arrest okada in large numbers and then demand minimum of N10, 000 and whoever fails to pay within the stipulated period will lose his bike completely.

The new traffic law has given them the opportunity to feed fat on us and it is no one’s fault but that of the government because they are not monitoring their men. The police are not enforcing the law at all; they are extorting money from us.” Uche Okafor, an okada rider stated.

Many Lagos residents have criticized the way policemen go about in arresting okada especially following the series of complaints that policemen now enter residential buildings and church premises to cart away okada and many times, they use force as well as brutalize the owners of the okada. Though the government only banned okada on some roads, the police still harass okada riders plying within streets and extort them at will.

Meanwhile the call by the Lagos State House of Assembly on the state Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, to call his men to order considering the way and manner they brutalize and harass commercial motorcyclists has not made any difference.

The Assembly had made the call through a motion moved by a member representing Agege Constituency 1, Mudashiru Obasa, who called the attention of his colleagues to a recent media report in which it was alleged that an okada rider was killed by an unidentified policeman at Pen Cinema and the allegation that another was stripped naked by some policemen.

He had stated that, “the fact that we have passed the law does not mean that the policemen should be harassing and brutalising the riders. We should call on the Commissioner of Police in the state to investigate these allegations and he should call the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Pen Cinema to call his men to order in that part of the state.”

However, it is learnt that the Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Police Command, Ngozi Braide, recently confirmed that the provisions and enforcement of the law did not exclude policemen but that the state government had given waivers to policemen riding motorcycles while putting on uniforms because “they are the ones enforcing the traffic law.”

“We (the police) held a meeting with the Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, and other state traffic management officials sometimes in November. At the meeting, it was agreed that policemen riding motorcycles while putting on their uniform would be exempted because they are the ones enforcing the traffic law. But, policemen putting on uniform who carry passengers on mufti would be arrested together with the co-riders. Also, policemen on mufti riding alone will also be arrested.”

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