Almost every Nigerian has a story to tell about government officials abusing their power. Perhaps the policeman who demanded for money to do his job or the NYSC platoon leader who abused his/her position. Even Nigerians in diapsora have their fair share of tales from various Nigerian High Commission offices.
Not all government officials are “bad” or corrupt. Some of our parents have dedicated years of service within these systems and we are definitely not labelling everyone with the same negative tag.
However, the actions of a few within this system is causing major damage.
BN reader, Lola Talabi-Oni shares a personal account of the distressing experience she went through in Lagos just last week.
I’m sharing this hellish story for two major reasons – (1) to add my shout to stories of injustice and wanton immoral behavior of Lagos State Agents on our roads, and (2) to ensure that all Lagos residents are treated with dignity and respect by officials who are paid with the enormous taxes that we as residents pay to the Lagos State Government.
On Thursday morning (18th August 2011), around 11am, I stopped at a shop by the foot of the Apongbon bridge going into Marina to make a purchase. As I was placing my bags into my car, I saw several Central Business District “agents/officials” clamor around my car with their tow truck angling to clamp my car. While still asking what was going on, one of the CBD men, jumped into my car and told me to drive quickly if I “didn’t want them to clamp my car”. His name was Mutiu Balogun as I would later read on the tag of his shirt.
In the midst of the confusion, I get in the car and just start driving. I asked him where exactly we were going and he responded, “Onikan Swimming Pool.” Still confused and shocked by what was happening, I asked Mutiu exactly what I had done wrong and what the fees were. Mutiu said he could not tell me my offence and cannot tell me what the fines were. At this point, quite frankly, I started to get really fearful and asked Mutiu if I could veer to the right and call my husband to come and meet me at the CBD “office” at Onikan Swimming Pool. Mutiu barked and said that I could not call my husband.
I had no choice, and I had been told not to call anyone. So I continued driving.
Since I live right by Onikan Swimming Pool, I proceeded to drive there using the route that I normally use and I have used for 3 years since living in Lagos Island – Marina, turning into Joseph Street, turning into Catholic Mission Street, turning into Military Road, then onto King George. I have taken this route many times. As I turned into Joseph Street, this Mutiu Balogun immediately starts agitating and asking why I had turned, saying “that is not the way to swimming pool”. I started to explain to him that this is the way I know and since he didn’t give me any directions, I was just taking the way I knew.
Before I knew what was happening, this man who is taller and obviously stronger than I am, raised his hands and strongly smacked me across my chest as he attempted to shove my hands from the steering wheel.
How can a public officer put his hands on me for any reason?
The car was swerving at this point and of course a crowd had started to gather in front of Mr. Biggs on Joseph Street. Mutiu then proceeded to use both of his hands to pull the hand breaks while the key was still in the ignition, and I was still driving. He then started yelling about how he was going to teach me a lesson and that by the time he is done with me, I would “pay more money than I’ve ever paid in my life”. Through all this I was still traumatized, and a sizeable crowd had started to beg said officer Balogun. He stood by the driver’s door of my car, refusing me entry into my car and called his colleagues on the phone saying “the madam is proving difficult now, bring the towing truck.”
I am not sure how many minutes passed here, finally, the towing truck arrived, clamped my car on Joseph Street, no word was said to me and they drove off. I quickly flagged down a taxi, the taxi driver told me that it was likely that they are towing my car to their makeshift “office” at Onikan Swimming Pool. I called my husband at this point and he met me at their “office.”
This is where the true nightmare starts. A man by the name of Abayomi Adetoro, hands me a Notification of Offence for N20,000 to be paid to “The Office of the Special Adviser on Central Business District” with a handwritten account #003503010000259, and a teller for N10,000 to be paid to City-Wide Eko Enterprises. The Notification of Offence had no offence written on it, just the amount. I asked Abayomi Adetoro what the offence was and he said he couldn’t tell me, “I should just go and pay”. The back of the notification showed that the highest fee was for “Towing of a Trailer or tanker” and/or “Driving in a direction prohibited by Road Traffic Law”.
I was neither driving a tanker, nor driving in a direction prohibited by law so I have no idea where the fee came from and no official wanted to tell me even though I asked severally for what offence it was I committed. Furthermore, who is City-Wide Eko Enterprises? No one at the makeshift Onikan Swimming Pool office was inclined to answer any of my questions. Abayomi Adetoro even said “Mutiu just pushed me a little bit and so that was of no concern to them.” How can a state official assault a woman in her car and his superiors respond to me that “it was just a small push”. The man was already in my car and we were already driving to his office – Why had this man assaulted me?
I asked to speak to the manager at the makeshift office and I kept being passed back and forth to several men who upon speaking to them would tell me “Sorry I work with the fire service” or “Sorry I don’t work for CBD”. There was no derogatory word or insult that was not thrown at me in the process. I was yelled at, ignored, shoved aside, laughed at. After finally reaching who was supposed to be the H.O.D, my lawyer being present at this time asked for his name, he refused to give it. He reiterated that his “boy” was doing his job and that this is Lagos not London, and he was going to teach me a lesson.
Is this the mandate of CBD agents?
Am I to be assaulted and harassed for refusing to bribe agents and to follow the law and procedure? Is there no recourse to appeal fines and levies? That being that, I asked if Mutiu Balogun was doing his job as he assaulted me and this man said again, “he just pushed me”. Are CBD Agents mandated to assault drivers in the course of fining for an infraction?
While this was going on, my husband had gone on to in fact pay the N30,000 naira total, complete with a Lagos State Government receipt. The said H.O.D who we later found out was called a Mr. Masorun, refused to order the release of my vehicle. The minute I mentioned that I was heading to Area A police station to report the assault of his officer, he ran, jumped into his van and drove off. My car spent all of Thursday, all of Friday at CBD Swimming Pool. I paid the fine on Thursday at 2pm – Why did my car spend two days at CBD? On Friday, they refused to release my car still and said that myself and my lawyer have to come and apologize to them and that I have to hand over all the notes I was taking during the whole incident so they can use it – direct quote – “to wipe their a***s”.
Is this how Lagos works? Are Lagos State agents above the law? Above procedures? More importantly, are tax-paying Lagosians not deserving of being treated with dignity and without physical assault?
Update – 24th August 2011
Thanks to everyone who’s called, emailed, or otherwise commented and shown their concern and outrage at my ordeal in the hands of CBD agents.
I spent the better part of yesterday Tuesday, August 23, at the office of Ms. Derin Disu, the Special Adviser, Central Business District. I appreciate that she did meet with me, last minute and without an appointment. I did iterate my ordeal in the hands of CBD agents last week, submitted an official complaints letter, and photocopies of both the complaints letter and all receipts involved were promptly taken by Ms. Disu’s office and signed by her in my presence. She called in a man referred to as DFA. I don’t know what DFA stands for but I assume he is an assistant to her in these matters.
After listening to my story, the DFA spoke up to say that the fee tendered to me (N20,000) plus N10,000 for towing was in order, and that in fact it is to the discretion of the CBD agents to charge anywhere between N5,000 and N50,000 for what I presume is any infraction. This in of itself is an issue. Essentially any CBD agent can charge you with an unpublished offence and based entirely on his judgment on any given day, decide to give you a fine of anything between N5,000 and N50,000. This obviously does not promote transparency or accountability. Lagos citizens should know exactly what constitutes an offence and how much exactly they can expect to pay if they commit a traffic offence.
Be that as it may, Ms. Disu did seem genuinely outraged by the behavior of the CBD agents, called the H.O.D to her office right in my presence, apologize for any and all harassment and embarrassment they might have caused, and promised to thoroughly investigate the matter. She and the “DFA” took my phone number and promised to update me on matters. At this point I’m waiting until Friday to hear from either party. I’m still wondering though, should an issue of assault be treated through this process?
Until then I’m open to any suggestions on how to use this horrible incident to ensure that these public traffic officials are brought to book and made to understand that Lagos residents have a reasonable expectation to be treated with dignity and respect.
Photo Credit: Africa Business
This is a personal account from Lola Talabi-Oni’s perspective, BellaNaija.com welcomes a response from the CBD