Recently, I ran into a roadblock mounted by Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) of Lagos State on Liasu Road in Alimosho Local Government Area. Their presence gave me no qualms for (as I supposed) I had all the necessary papers –Driver’s Licence, Certificate of Insurance, Proof of Ownership Certificate, including the controversial MOT supposed to give the vehicle a clean bill of health. I drove an unbranded official car, a Toyota Corona, with the papers made out in the name of my boss, a reputable politician and frontline professional, Mr. Jimi Agbaje. Anyway, the team stopped me, ignored the PRESS sticker on the windscreen indicating that I was a Journalist (and most unlikely to break the law) and ushered me off the road.
Clearly, these two points soured one female officer –that I was a Press man and I worked for an opposition political party in the state. “Risikatu” (as I later learnt was her name) took my papers and paced up and down, inspecting not my vehicle, as VIOs were supposed to do, but the papers. She and the rest of the team did none of the things VIOs traditionally did: Check vehicle headlights and indicator lights, rev the engine for excessive smoking and so on. Instead, Risikatu brashly ordered me out of the vehicle. I stepped out. She flipped through the papers some more.
Moments flew by; finally, Risi thrust the papers under my nose and told me, apparently triumphantly, that I carried a “forged” Proof of Ownership Certificate (of course only the photocopy was attached, plus the receipt, their originals were kept in my files at home) and that my vehicle was “hereby impounded.” This was 2008 and I had just entered into the lion’s den of VIO and LASTMA in Alimosho, Lagos.
How on earth could she judge the papers as forged, without any independent confirmation other than her bias and her gut feeling? All my arguments only flowed into a leaking basket, that neither my profession nor the calibre of man who owned the car could indulge in forging documentation. This short, round lady accused, prosecuted, judged and sentenced me on the spot. Instantly, she wrote out a fine ticket for N5,000 and told me to deposit that amount at the FCMB Branch at Okota, about 4 kilometres away in Isolo Local Government, although there was a branch within a kilometre in this same local government where I was apprehended. Risi then directed one of her subordinates to board the vehicle and escort me to the Alimosho Council compound.
This effectively aborted my programme for the day, including my plan to see a church member admitted into the General Hospital at Igando in Alimosho and paying a sympathy visit to a relation hit by multiple deaths. On the way, I asked the junior VIO officer how I could secure genuine papers since Risi’s excuse for reining me in was for flaunting forged vehicle particulars. Demola himself could not say and went on to say that his own father, who had served in the VIO for 30 years before retiring, had always regarded the acquisition of genuine papers as the most damning thing an officer could involve in.
Unknown to me, my ordeal would be a journey of exposure. As directed, I paid the fine at FCMB and brought both teller and electronic scratch card to LASTMA/VIO office at Ejigbo for “downloading.” The VIO officer on the computer demanded N200 before doing the job. I paid. No receipt. Next, I must submit photocopies of the receipt, teller and fine ticket. Another officer, to whom I would submit this document, demanded N100. I paid. No receipt.
As I trudged from one corruption point to another, I could not help but notice the signs of despair in the environment. All over the compound, impounded commercial and private vehicles, of all shades, shapes and sizes, languished. Many were new arrivals; some were old, judging by their position inside the small compound and from the gate. All of them had been captured by LASTMA and VIO operatives. In this same place a few weeks before, CAC’s Pastor Alade had been harassed to an early grave by LASTMA operatives. Frustration oozed from the faces of victims, while officers played God. I witnessed as one officer busied himself with a motor technician negotiating to buy some parts that would be pilfered off one of the many abandoned vehicles in that auto graveyard. Their transaction appeared to be routine. Of course, demurrage was being charged these vehicles at N500 per day. Undoubtedly, some owners had calculated the fine imposed (sometimes up to N250,000) plus the demurrage accumulated plus the illegal charges and decided it was cheaper to let the government keep the vehicle.
After all this, I still spent over two hours gallivanting in the premises as the official to issue the “Gate Pass” that I needed to retrieve my car was nowhere around. When he finally resurfaced, he had a Herculean task securing the “Gate Pass” for me even though I had to cough out another N500.
I reached Alimosho council compound late in the evening. There, another surprise awaited me. The security man insisted I pay another unreceipted N500 before allowing the vulcaniser to inflate the tyres, two of which had been deflated in my absence. The vulcaniser charged N200 per tyre (four times the N50 it would normally cost on the streets). By this time, I was too pissed off by the rottenness being dispensed at the VIO/LASTMA setup in Ejigbo that I just wanted to end that day’s nightmare –at any cost.
To summarise, the illegal payments I made that day at VIO/LASTMA in Ejigbo and Ikotun came to N1,300 and included: N200 to “download,” N100 for recording via photocopy, N500 for pass, N500 for exit –not counting the wasted day, nor the N5,000 I paid into the bank as official fine.
LASTMA and VIO officials who took interest in my case would later tell me that Risikatu had no justification for her actions. One advised me to detach and get rid of the Proof of Ownership receipt that I carried around, it was neither a vehicle particular nor a requirement; it was an overkill that could raise suspicion.
My agent who did the documentation later insisted that he had processed genuine documents for me, with the requisite payments made. He said I had fallen victim to the petty politics and muscle-flexing between Lagos State traffic agencies and the Federal Road Safety Commission over which of them should issue vehicle particulars to motorists in the state. What I had was an FG-issued document. Two elephants fight and the underdogs suffer. Simply put, Risikatu, the VIO officer, had punished me for carrying a Federal-issued document.
Felix Oboagwina, A Journalist, Sent This Piece From Lagos
Note:: The opinion expressed in this article is of the writer and not necessarily of the publisher.