In a bid to ensure smooth traffic operations on public roads and highways, almost every state had established its traffic agency to enforce traffic laws, sanity, safety and security.
The major functions of the agencies, among others, include decongestion of heavy traffic, inspection of vehicles as well as issuance of certificates of road worthiness to vehicle operators.
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But some of the agencies have gone astray. Instead of them to focus on their basic functions, many of them have resorted to defaulting the traffic rules that they are meant to enforce. They have also reduced themselves to revenue generation and fraud agencies.
Daily Trust’s checks indicate that though some of them are living up to expectations in the discharge of their duties, many more engage in outrageous activities that have defeated the purposes for which they were set up.
Some Lagos residents that spoke to our correspondent however differ on the assessment of the operations of the operatives of the state’s road traffic agency fondly called LASTMA (Lagos State Traffic Management Authority) which was set up by a legislation by the State House of Assembly as Gazetted in 2012 with amendments in 2018.
While some of them have accused the agency of poor performance marked by overzealousness, corruption and or fraudulent activities on the roads and called for their scrapping or curtailing of their excesses, others lauded them that they are doing their jobs assiduously.
A resident, Rotimi Shefiu, said that the traffic managers had been efficient but only nab those that disobey traffic laws, don’t have complete documents or drive along one way.
“I have been driving for over three months in Lagos, but have never been stopped by LASTMA. It was only a policewoman that challenged me once along Ogudu turning point and asked for my documents. When I showed her, she asked for my insurance papers and I also showed her and then she asked me to go. So, I believe that they are doing their job,” Shefiu said.
But the President of the Association of Medical Sales Representative Professionals of Nigeria (AMSPON), Yaya Babatunde, said that LASTMA had not lived up to the expectations as it had become more of a revenue generation than a traffic management agency.
“I see no reason why LASTMA should be walking in between vehicles in traffic looking for who uses a seat belt and who is making phone calls or not. The fact remains that traffic is worse despite LASTMA’s presence on the roads. LASTMA ought to be more of a traffic controller by correcting and directing motorists the right way, but they are not seen doing this most of the times,” he said.
“If our roads are good, I don’t think we need LASTMA aside from the police traffic personnel and FRSC. For me LASTMA should be scrapped because only a few of them are good,” he said.
The Assistant Director Public Affairs of LASTMA, Filade Olumide, however, insisted that the agency’s primary responsibilities included management and enforcement of the Lagos State traffic laws in order to ensure sanity, safety and security on Lagos roads.
He explained that LASTMA was an agency of Lagos State Government set up with legislation by the State House of Assembly as Gazetted in 2012 with amendments in 2018. Its duties are clearly stated in the Traffic Law as enacted.
“In enforcing the Law, there are specified fines stated against each offence which is revenue to the State,” Olumide said.
He hinted added that LASTMA had no overlapping duty with any other agency. Rather, they complement each other.
In Edo State, residents commended the state’s Traffic Management Agency (EDSTMA), noting that it had been very effective in traffic management in the city, especially in the area of indiscriminate parking and driving against traffic rules.
But some of the drivers who spoke to our correspondent expressed mixed feelings that the agency had been turned into a revenue generating outfit for the state and some of the officials.
One of the drivers who craved anonymity said that the traffic agency usually towed vehicles indiscriminately to their mobile courts to collect fines.
“When they started, they were doing very well and motorists were complying with them, but the moment they started collecting money whether you are wrong or not they lost control of the roads,” he said.
“Now, driving against traffic is very rampant and because they want to make money, even areas initially designated for picking passengers is now no-go areas,” he added.
He expressed disgust that there were no sign posts to indicate prohibited areas in the state.
Another driver, John, however, commended the agency.
“Before the inception of the agency, the indiscipline of the drivers, especially commercial drivers, was something else. With any little obstruction, they would enter one way and before you knew it, there would be gridlock on the road,” he said.
But the EDSTMA public relations officer, Roland Owolabi, declined comment when contacted.
In Kaduna State, it was Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) that was the traffic management agency. But shortly after Governor Nasir El-Rufai came on board in 2015, he signed an executive order and dissolved it.
He attributed the dissolution to corruption and indiscipline on the part of the agency’s personnel and their lack of respect for the public.
Two years later, he signed Law No 7 establishing the Kaduna State Traffic Laws Enforcement Agency (KASTLEA) 2017 to, among other functions, direct and control traffic on public roads and highways, decongest traffic on public roads and highways as well as inspect vehicles and issue certificates of road worthiness.
However, since their establishment, some personnel of the agency have become famous for their aggressive revenue drive as they sometimes chase motorists and traffic offenders with a reckless abandon.
Salisu Suleiman, a motorist who narrated his experience in the hands of KASTLEA when some officials arrested him and fined him N20,000 for a faulty rear light said. “They demanded for my car papers and I showed them. Then, one of them ordered me to put on the rear lights of the car and I did, only for him to say that one of them was not functioning. I was fined N20,000. But when I pleaded, they collected N5,000 from me.”
He lamented the duress under which he paid the money, especially because it was only one of the bulbs of the rear lights which cost only N200 that was dead, unknown to him.
A commercial driver popularly fondly called Direba Adamu Zaria said he was arrested because his break light was not working and was fined N20,000. But he later paid N10,000.
“They are simply extorting money from innocent motorists who commit minor traffic offences. They are too strict when it comes to enforcing the fine. I think they need to consider the financial implications on the people because the exorbitant fines are putting us in a difficult situation,” he said.
Haruna Suleiman, another motorist, said that the agency was more into revenue generation than traffic control, which is different from the purpose of establishing them.
According to him, they pay more attention to arresting traffic offenders. “When you go round the city, you will only find their officials on the streets carrying out stop and search assignment, asking for vehicle papers. You hardly see them controlling traffic within the metropolis,” he said.
But the General Manager of KASTLEA, Corps Marshal Garba Rimi, who debunked the accusation, said that whoever didn’t want to be fined should abide by traffic rules.
He insisted that the agency was only doing its work according to the laws establishing it and does not terrorize motorists.
“The agency, apart from controlling traffic along major roads within the metropolis, also provides social services to residents in terms of evacuating accident victims, assisting children to cross main roads etc,” he said.”
Rimi added that those complaining about the agency’s operations were traffic law offenders.
“If you are doing the right thing by abiding by the traffic rules and regulations, no official will stop you on the road.”
In Kano, the personnel of the Kano Road Traffic Agency (KAROTA) could be seen at every junction, roundabout, market or anywhere on the road trying to maintain order in the very populated commercial centre.
Owing to influx of people and vehicles into the state on a daily basis for commercial activities, roads get congested with indiscriminate parking of vehicles and drivers who battle to beat heavy traffic.
The traffic management agency was therefore established in 2012 by former governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, with the mandate to sanitize the roads by ensuring road users upheld. It was also mandated to transform the state’s transportation system, ensure free traffic and reduce road accidents.
Some residents who spoke to Daily Trust Saturday commended the agency, while others said they were overzealous in the discharge of their duties, which had led to several fisticuffs between them and road users, as well as a standoff between them and men of the Nigerian Army. The standoff, they said, had once culminated in absence of the agency’s personnel in any part of the city.
Other residents, however, believe that most of the agency personnel in their yellow and black uniforms are no longer interested in preventing breaking of law and order on the roads but more interested in punishing offenders and generating revenue. This accusation has been haunting their counterparts like the Federal Road Safety Corps, the Vehicle Inspection Officers and even the police.
Daily Trust gathered that at the initial stage, the personnel of the agency were given a commission as an incentive for every offender they were able to bring in to pay a fine, a situation that compelled many of them to be on the look out for offenders.
“Some of them would be hiding at a corner, waiting for a driver to either beat the traffic or switch lane unconventionally or commit any offence that might not even be known to the driver; and the next thing you would see them jumping in front of the vehicle and charging the driver with the offence,” a road user said.
Some of the personnel of the agency have also been accused of tacitly demanding bribe from traffic offenders in exchange for being taken to their office where the offender would have to pay a heavy fine.
“Most of the offences can be ‘settled’ with as little as N200. They will tell you if they take you to their office, you will be fined something in the range of N10,000 to N15,000 for beating traffic, but they will tacitly ask you what you want to do, with the real meaning being ‘do you want to go to our office or do you want to settle’ and most of the time, we end up settling them,” another road user said.
But generally, the agency is believed to be delivering on its primary mandate.
Zamfara suspends ZAROTA
Following the misconducts and excessive public complaints against the activities of the personnel of the state Road Traffic Agency (ZAROTA), Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State has suspended the agency.
ZAROTA’s activities will, henceforth, be overseen by a joint task force of police, vehicle inspection office, Federal Road Safety Commission and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
The Permanent Secretary of Cabinet Affairs, Yakubu Haidara, who announced this in a statement added: “His Excellency has further directed a committee to be set up to review the conducts of the officials of the organization.”
“In view of this, people are advised to be law-abiding and conduct themselves according to the law,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, truck drivers had earlier on Thursday blocked Gusau- Zaria Road protesting what they called excessive money extortion by the officials of the agency in the state.
Many commuters, including students from the Federal University Gusau, were left stranded following the blockade.
Leaders of the truck drivers said they took the decision after their several complaints against the activities of the officials of the agency fell on deaf ears.
The Agency was established by former Governor Abdulaziz Yari to provide traffic control and enforce regulations governing road travels in the state.
However in recent time, complaints have mounted on how the officials of the agency were abusing their powers.
Risikat Ramon (Lagos), Usman A. Bello (Benin), Mohammed Ibrahim Yaba (Kaduna), Clement Oloyede (Kano) & Shehu Umar (Gusau)