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LASTMA is a coherent argument against state police

Any real encounter with Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officials leaves you with only one impression – area boys in government uniforms. And true to type they stalk, hound and hunt in packs with the ferocity typical of wild cats. Vultures are patient , they circle and feast on carcasses .

LASTMA’s preferred mode is more hyena -like. Isolate or entrap one or two confused , naïve or luckless motorists and pounce.

LASTMA officials were once hapless preys for Ogunlewe’ s FERMA officials. When Ogunlewe , the then works minister, thought that the best way to whittle Tinubu’s influence was to create a rival quasi traffic law enforcement outfit , fit and adaptable for any political exigency .

And FERMA officials backed by the PDPs federal might in the Police Mobile Force would swoop on LATSMA officials on federal roads and unleash on them the savagery their principals would have wished on Tinubu. And sporadic daylight flares that ended in sorrow, tears and blood regularly grated on the sensibilities of Lagos residents . Ordinarily any public that government agencies tumbled over themselves to serve should be envied. But some publics are barns full of yams and some officials are hungry greedy goats.

Ogunlewe fell from power, and like all such personal projects in Nigeria, his mercenaries – “ FERMA traffic men “ – stopped existing , at least de facto. They may still be on the payroll . Ghosts of persons long dead collect salaries in Nigeria. LASTMA came to own all the roads. One nightmare ended and another began.
There is something tragic about predatory policing.

That perverted perception of duty as selfish opportunity and ordinary people as fare game, potential hares and ‘grass cutters’. The meek and the gentle are the most vulnerable. Some ladies have learnt self help. They scream and wail hysterically, unsettle things a bit and sometimes manage to wriggle out of sieges . Law enforcement agents, predators, set out to work , without soul, without ethical constraints. The law for them is a malleable cudgel to hound , to harass , to ‘shake down’ offenders till their pockets and sacks are filled. Life becomes further complicated and more brutish for the ordinary people. But there is a greater tragedy. That rather cannibalistic tendency of the poor to eat the poor and spare the rich. Perhaps it’s just gamesmanship. These poor LASTMA and Police officials are more civil , more courteous, more forgiving, in areas where the rich live.

LASTMA officials do not have ‘warnings’ and ‘counselling’ in their repertoire. Cynical gangs masquerading as government officials lay ambushes on innocent hardworking citizens in the name of traffic management. The more shabbily dressed they are , the more malevolent their disposition. Some LASTMA officials would use tricks of con men to lure, beguile and arrest the unsuspecting and bleed others who may have committed minor traffic infractions . Sometimes the bait is commercial buses. Officials will hide, allow buses take a route or a turn but will arrest a private car naïve enough to follow the buses. A particular strain of sadism allows many of them to remain almost eternally impervious to even the most pitiful of entreaties. And many residents would easily rate LATSMA as the most corrupt government agency in Lagos ahead of the police and the customs.

You don’t have to look too deeply to understand that the stench of LASTMA is not from a few rotten apples but is the emanation of a deep seated widespread systemic rot. A rot more purulent than that of the Nigerian Police. LASTMA suffers a well known disease.

LATSMA officials are evidently hired off the streets , without sufficient rigour , without due process and without background checks. They receive no tangible orientation and their general conduct reveal shallow training. They are visibly poorly remunerated . Is there perhaps some understanding that they will fend for themselves in part?

If it were not so why are many of them so brazen, so crude, so ill- tempered ? If that institution has any ethical codes many LASTMA officials are evidently not conversant with them. And more importantly there is no semblance of an internal control mechanism. Their processes are perhaps not audited and no one is manifestly bothered about their image or reputation.

The public has no quick and effective means of seeking redress. And in many cases the testimony of a LASTMA staff is presumed unimpeachable . Abdullahi is driver of an articulated truck, he queued for fuel behind cars at a bout 6.30 am at petrol station in Apapa 2 years ago.
A LASTMA official was perhaps early to work that fateful day and on sighting the seemingly stationary truck he leapt off a moving bike. He had his official trousers and boots on but he his shirt was blue , the blue from Stamford bridge, you may say. He hurriedly brought out and struggled to put on his uniform (shirt) as he hobbled towards the truck.

The driver was unperturbed by the approach of menace, he thought he had a legitimate case . He was on the queue to buy diesel and he was not obstructing traffic. The LASTMA official , possessed by a selfish reading of events , declared that the truck had broken down and sought to dislodge the driver from the his seat. The driver resisted and started the truck but the LASTMA official had secured the services of twoarea boysand they helped pull out the driver and seize the vehicle. Before the driver recovered from grogginess, the LASTMA official and one of thearea boyshad driven off with the truck . A search party found the truck at mile 2 LATSMA garage.

At the LASTMA office in ‘mile 2’ where chaos and disorder truly belong, they were told that the official had left for another adventure and that a ticket had been written . They were tossed from one disheveled table to another , from one aloof and dissembling staff to another.

Everything always seems makeshift in that office. They were told dismissively and casually to take their protests to Oshodi. Pay the 50,000 naira fine as the offence had been creatively changed to obstruction of govt highway or hold a mutually rewarding discussion with an official . Or go to Oshodi.
No one cared to understand the complaints, no one was interested in the fact that the driver was beaten.

The truck was hijacked by a LASTMA official but it was no news to them.. Someone even remarked that the act of that official saved an extra towing cost of another 50,000. And the Abdullahi incident is by no means isolated or rare. Abdullahi committed no offence. Many now even pray that in the event of a breakdown that ‘area boys’ reach them first. Because ‘area boys’ ward off LASTMA officials and charge only about a third of the ‘fees’. Same LASTMA officials look the other way when commercial buses cause havoc on our roads. The drivers pay their ‘dues’ and, therefore, are entitled to be reckless.

Lagos state house of assembly fixes traffic fines without a thought about the ability of the ordinary man to pay.

Minimum monthly wage is 18, 000 naira but you can be asked to pay N50,000 for driving on an eroded kerb or road set back. And N20,000 as first offender for an illegal U turn. At some of these points no sign warns you that a U turn is prohibited. Some LASTMA officials would lay ambush in commercial buses
rather than warn motorists not to turn. The fine for over speeding is N100,000 , more than 5 times minimum monthly wage. And of course a failure to pay fine may lead to incarceration. And because the fines are excessive , ordinary citizens who may have transgressed the traffic codes are forced by harsh circumstances into unholy negotiations with officials.

And even those who hate corruption may consider their pockets and regard such compromises as moral alternatives. Criminal sanctions that are not proportionate to offences are morally illegitimate.

Corruption is immoral and criminal but some criminologists have suggested that where governance is weak and law and order structures are moribund, the inefficiency of a dysfunctional rickety bureaucracy can be helped by the grease of corruption.

So Nigerian customs officials would gladly come to work punctually because they leave with filled pockets.

And since the more import papers they treat the more
money they harvest , they take their work relatively more seriously. So it’s not impossible that some may view LASTMA as efficient because they tow away broken down vehicles even before the drivers have had the time to check what the fault might be. Such an immoral efficiency propelled more by greed than virtue undermines LASTMA’s legitimacy.

Lagos state government has been at the forefront of the agitation for state police. And you would think that they would make a genuine case by running a professional LATSMA. On ethical counts, the Nigerian police are better than LASTMA. Imagine a Lagos with armed LASTMA officials. If Lagos under an efficient law and order governor like Fashola could not organize a decent traffic management agency ,which state in Nigeria can assemble a public spirited police force? And since LASTMA is only saddled with very light weight duties in comparison to what a state police would confront , all of us who are proponents of state police have more thinking to do
The main argument against state police is that of political influence and manipulation and arbitrariness .

The ugly potential that political opponents and perceived enemies would be victimized and tormented. The activities of state electoral commissions corroborate these fears. If LASTMA cannot cope with mere traffic control and if Lagos cannot regulate LASTMA how will any state organize a police force professional enough to serve the people responsibly? Truckers will tell you that the Ogun state’s traffic control outfit is even more belligerent.

I must concede that some LATSMA officials are dutiful and well mannered but they are too few to affect the character of that institution. In a chat with one of their senior officials , I asked him what they were doing to stem the rot and what internal control measures have been instituted and if LASTMA was created to help boost the IGR of the state . He stated that LASTMA is conscious of its duties and that many bad eggs have been dismissed . And that a provost marshal unit exists to check staff excesses. He said that LASTMA has no revenue generation goals and that the corruption is not peculiar to LASTMA and is being curtailed. Good public relations officers are adept at painting their organizations in the best possible light.

Mikheil Saakashvil, the ex president of Georgia woke up one morning and dismissed the country’s entire police force . And employed fresh hands. And Georgia’s corruption perception index rankings improved dramatically. Some institutional reformations must be that radical. Some say that LATSMA has shown some efficiency but I say it’s the sort of efficiency a bunch of committed ‘youth corpers’ can effortlessly show if they are put at some chaotic spots to monitor traffic flow and have private tow vans a phone call away.

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Posted By BOBRICKY On 09:12 Sat, 23 May 2015

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