There’s no doubt that the presence of Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) officials on our roads in the state over the years has been more beneficial and auspicious. The agency has indeed contributed in large measure, in ameliorating traffic congestion in most parts of a city that is growing and expanding by the day.
The officials, who have now become ubiquitous in every street and corner in the state, have also been subjected to all manner of harassment and assaults by motorists and road users. Some have even sadly, paid the ultimate price by being lynched, either by an irate mob or angry drivers/passengers.
It is always heartwarming and pleasant when you see LASTMA officials in the rain and hot sun trying to ensure the smooth movement of vehicles. Some even go to the extent of helping helpless and despondent motorists to push their cars when the need arises. Needless to say that their presence at traffic lights ensures that drivers obey them. We have seen instances when drivers disobey traffic lights because there are no consequences. That is beginning to change because those violators have now realised that, with the infusion of technology by the state government to checkmate their excesses and recklessness, there is no place for them to hide.
However, this piece is not meant to praise the gallant efforts of LASTMA officials, even though they absolutely deserve some accolades, rather, it’s meant to bring to the notice of the state government and those in authority the highhandedness always exhibited by these officials in dealing with innocent motorists. What I witnessed on Monday, February 21, 2022, was simply barbaric and evidently atrocious.
This writer was on his way to Omole Phase 2 Estate and had to take Ojodu Berger/Ogba road. Passing through the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) yard, I noticed that a motorist was being subjected to harassment and molestation by LASTMA officials.
Expectedly, people gathered at the scene, pleading with the officials to allow the man to go or at least treat him with some civility. Within a twinkle, a towing vehicle came out from the blues and two men jumped down from it and started to carry the seized vehicle.
Not to be taken by surprise, the affected motorist stood in front of his vehicle daring the officials to carry him with his vehicle. It was at this point that this writer came down from his vehicle, brought out his phone, and tried to record the whole drama. Within a few seconds, two LASTMA officials, Adisa and Esan (real names) grabbed the phone from my hand and smashed it on the ground, threatening to beat me up. They questioned the audacity I had to try to record “what we are doing”. When I asked them if it was illegal to record their activities, they began to rough handle me, vowed to deal with me, and started raining curses on me.
They then took my phone to their superior inside the yard, saying that “it is people like you who are giving us bad names. We will deal with you. You can go and tell Sanwoolu. We are doing our job”. None of them could answer my simple question if it was illegal for a concerned Nigerian to record anything unusual he or she sees on the road and street.
When we got to their office, the small cubicle could only contain five or six people; most of them were outside and were ready to pounce on me when they were told of what I had attempted to do. “How dare you?”, one of them said, with graphic annoyance written on his face. “You’re lucky I was not there. I would have broken your head with a bottle”. By now, about ten of them, both men and women surrounded me, abusing, cursing, and saying all sorts of things against my person.
Of course, I did not take it lightly with them. I demanded the release of my phone and questioned the veracity of their claims. I even told them to do their worst, insisting that I have the right to record anything with my phone. I questioned their motive of operation if they are hiding in secrecy to do their job. “Why are you afraid to be recorded if you’re on the right side of the law?”, I asked. None could provide a convincing answer. It was therefore obvious that they had many things to hide.
At this point, a lady (who looked like their boss) emerged from the office, trying to find out what actually happened. I explained to her what her officials did to me and why it is totally unacceptable. The woman, as expected, was least interested in calling her unruly and blatantly uncivil officials to order but was more concerned about the deletion of the video from my phone. The lady in her late forties or early fifties was indeed more comfortable with the shenanigans and illegalities happening before her very eyes than doing something concrete about it.
There was no appeasement, no apology, no remorse, no attempt to show leadership by telling her subordinates to be more polite and respectful. She was more interested in cementing the unenviable attitude and pomposity of her men. What she exhibited yesterday was shameful, impolite, and egregious. And it’s totally condemnable.
After telling me to give them time and come back for my phone, I stood my ground that I will not move an inch without my phone. I told her that it was my personal property and that I would not allow my phone to be opened in my absence. She thereafter called one of the officials to delete the video and handed over the phone to me.
The experience I went through could only be imagined. And this is perhaps what helpless Lagosians pass through in the hands of these lawless and mindless traffic controllers. These LASTMA officials see themselves to be above the law. They, indeed, believe they can get away with anything if anyone tries to disrupt their ‘operation’. In the words of one of the men at the scene who followed me to their office: “They don’t want anyone to record their nefarious and corrupt activities. That’s why they were so mean in the way they reacted to you”.
One has to keep wondering why the ferocious attack if they don’t have something to hide. In developed countries, law enforcement officials are now mandated to put on body cameras to record their operations. By doing so, it will be difficult to lie or paint a different picture of what actually happened at the crime scene. I think it’s imperative that this is replicated in the state to checkmate the excesses of not only unruly LASTMA officials but also other law enforcement operatives.
Citizens reserve the right to record activities of those who are empowered to enforce laws and other regulations in the state. You can only be afraid of such recordings if you have something to hide.