By Douglas Anele
Some psychologists believe that human beings manifest some level of insanity. That is very true, because every individual experiences strong emotions, which usually precipitate irrational behaviour. Persistent existential deprivations that characterise the human condition in Nigeria right now is particularly conducive to insanity. Last week, on a lovely Monday morning, I went to buy some pre-recorded compact disks at Yaba. It was difficult to find somewhere to park my vehicle because virtually all the parking lots around were full. After driving for about fifteen minutes, I was able to squeeze my jeep behind another vehicle along Montgomery Street. When I came out of the vehicle, I noticed that it extended beyond the white line on the ground.
However, before leaving I made sure it did not obstruct traffic in any way. After purchasing the CDs I wanted, I went back to my vehicle. As I entered, I discovered that the driver’s door would not open properly. I tried to free it from the obstruction by driving backwards a little bit. Moments after, with the engine still running, I tested the CDs one after another to ensure they are okay before leaving.
I looked up when I heard a knock on my window. A man wearing a reddish-brown or maroon coloured uniform (let us call him Mr. A) signalled me to wind down the driver’s window and I complied. He said I have committed an offense by packing my vehicle beyond the white mark on the ground. Politely, I told Mr. A that the engine was running and that my jeep did not obstruct the road at all. As we were arguing, his colleague (Mr. B) joined him, and after a brief exchange between three of us, both men decided that my alleged offence deserved punishment.
Meanwhile Mr. A brought a camera and took a photograph of my jeep. He threatened that if I refuse to comply with their directives, he would bring a tow van to remove the vehicle to their office in Adekunle. To cut a long sad story short, they tricked me into driving to their office. As I drove through the gate and entered a compound that looks like a makeshift garage, a man who called himself Hon. Muyiwa who claimed to be Chairman House Committee on Works approached me. He entered my vehicle and insisted that I must pay a fine of twenty-five thousand naira. I tried to reach an amicable settlement with him because I thought that as a legislator, Muyiwa is likely to be more reasonable than the others are.
However, I was wrong. I pleaded with him that as a university teacher, I would not deliberately disobey traffic rules and regulations, that the so-called offense I committed is insignificant, and that he should use his discretion to let me go. He refused. Instead, he threatened to deflate my tires, recommend that I should go to a designated place for psychiatric examination, and refer my case to “headquarters.”
I felt humiliated and angry. How could a purported member of Lagos State House of Assembly who, judging by the low intellectual quality he displayed while we were arguing, is not even qualified to sit in my Master’s class, be the one to recommend me for psychiatric evaluation? Even after explaining that lecturers are on strike and that it is necessary to conserve funds because the federal government might stop our salaries, Muyiwa “the oga at the top” remained adamant.
At this stage, there was a hot exchange of words between him and me. Muyiwa angrily accused me of disobeying the law, and boasted that he is the leader of a task force established by the state government to apprehend and punish offenders. He ordered a vulcaniser to deflate my front tyres. I was thinking of what to do and wondering why Lagos State government created another outfit to deal with traffic issues when LASTMA is still functioning – then it occurred to me to call Ade Ipaye, a colleague and current Logos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.
Luckily, he picked my call and his timely intervention saved me from further embarrassment. The entire horrible episode lasted for over one hour. Afterwards, a few friends and colleagues I told my ordeal narrated their own ugly encounters with the same people. It is quite distressing, I must admit. For quite some time now, Lagosians have been complaining bitterly about unwarranted incessant harassment by KAI and LASTMA officials and all sorts of miscreants-in-uniform. But the government has not done anything concrete to address the complaints.
The level of intimidation and embarrassment is unacceptable. People are now afraid to drive their cars because different officials claiming to work for government fabricate excuses to extort money from them. Concerted efforts of the state governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, and his lieutenants to increase the internally generated revenue base of Lagos State are commendable. Nevertheless, must ordinary citizens be harassed, intimated, and oppressed just because government is trying to raise additional funds? Officials of LASTMA, KAI and others constantly cajole, insult, bully, and threaten people in order to extort money from them.
Of course, some of them are nice and reasonable: only the bad ones, the “animals in uniform,” enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on Lagosians. Their uniforms intoxicate them to the extent of megalomania. Given the crude and uncouth manner of KAI and LASTMA officials, qualifications for employing staff for these outfits should be strengthened. In other words, the qualifications must be tightened to minimise the influx of miscreants and undesirable elements into the system.
I believe that politicians create most of these outfits to resettle and create jobs for thugs they used during elections to capture power. But this approach usually boomerangs, with devastating effects on the society, as is evident in the emergence of Niger Delta militant groups and Boko Haram. To repeat; there is an urgent need for thorough overhaul of the employment procedure of KAI, LASTMA and so on.
The reform must include adequate training for those employed to improve their emotional intelligence, appreciation of civilised conduct, and respect for human dignity. It is extremely important that government officials dealing with the public in whatever capacity must learn to treat people with respect, and exercise discretion whenever it is necessary to do so.
The stress of living in Lagos is already very high and health threatening. It is not the business of government under any guise to increase it by empowering all manner of insane people to intimidate and extort money from law-abiding citizens. The insane audacity of miscreants masquerading either as LASTMA, KAI, and task force officials is going out of bounds. We are supposed to be operating a democratic system which requires that government officials no matter the situation must respect the citizens.
I suggest that Governor Fashola should take a hard or critical look at his internal revenue generation strategy and come up with appropriate and effective ways of eliminating the jarring highhandedness of government officials running the system. I hereby express my sincere gratitude to Ade Ipaye for rescuing me from predators-in-uniform. He is a good man indeed!
By Douglas Anele