In Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, men who parade themselves as officials of local governments, have taken over roads, including those designated as Federal Government’s, impounding cars, collecting fines and extorting money. BANJI ALUKO writes on the activities of these officials, asking about the legality of their conducts.
These days, it is not unusual to hear motorists and other road users in Ibadan and environs complain about the activities of some individuals, who claimed to be working for local government authorities in the state.
Their complaints against these so-called local government official are usually that these individuals impose arbitrary fines after accusing them of violating traffic laws and later extort money from them.
One of the local governments within the Ibadan metropolis, where the activities of the officials are very commomn is Ibadan South-West Local Government Area. In these council, the officials who usually wear reflective jackets over their dresses, would hide somewhere looking for preys to feast on. The officials, who often resume duty as early as 7:30 a.m., work late until 5:30 p.m. daily excluding Sundays.
Checks indicated that the new set of local government officials were not the first to embark on such activity. In 2010, some officials of the Ibadan North-East Local Government had embarked on similar activity. Among other locations, they stayed at the Ikolaba Junction, near the JAMB office, stopping motorists and collecting money from them. But luck ran out for them one day when they stopped a professor, who was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan.
They had accosted the professor, demanding for the particulars of his cars, among others. Infuriated, the professor decided to inform the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) of the acts of the officials. BCOS picked the issue up and informed the former police commissioner in Oyo State, Adisa Bolanta, who in turn gave the order that the officials of the local government should be arrested the next time they carried out such activity. That was the end to such activity in Oyo State until the latest episode that started some few months ago.
According to the men carrying out the operations, they had been empowered by the local government to collect fines. So these days, it is not difficult to see them battling with motorists to drag them and their vehicles to a building they use as office.
A motorist spoke about his experience at the hands of these men. “I had neatly parked at a spot on the road that I had always parked. All of a sudden, a guy accosted me, asking if I was aware that I had wrongly parked. Most shocking was that there was nothing to show that he was an official of government. He wore mufti with a reflective jacket, something that made me to think that he was an okada rider.
“He added that I had wrongly parked and that I would need to get to their office to clarify if I was a first time offender. So, I obliged, not knowing that I was getting into a trap. On getting to their office nearby, the story changed as they slapped a fine of N7,500 on my car for illegal parking. At the end of the day, I managed to offer N2,000 and I was allowed to go.” The motorist, however, said that he was not issued any receipt for the fine.
Another motorist, a woman, who was arrested by the officials, spoke with the reporter at the Ring Road office of the task force.
The woman stated that she had parked by the roadside with the ignition on to receive a phone call when two members of the task force accosted her. “I live in Abeokuta and I only came to Ibadan this morning for something very important. The ignition was on and I had parked to receive a call when they swooped on me,” the woman narrated.
The woman was first asked to pay N7,000 as fine but after appealing to the officials, the fine was brought down to N5,000 and later N3,000.
The story is not different in Lagelu Local Government, Area, another council within the Ibadan metropolis, as motorists, both private and commercial, had to cry out to the Oyo State government on what they described as illegal imposition of fines over alleged traffic offences by officials of the council. They stated that the fines ranged from N5,000 to higher amounts which they imposed on motorists and okada riders. They have even extended their operations to Academy area of the council, towing vehicles or motorbikes of suspected offenders.
Some motorists, who spoke with Sunday Tribune, accused the task force officials, who usually hid somewhere in wait for their victims, especially on the Iwo Road federal highway, of arbitrarily arresting innocent citizens plying the road and extorting money from them, threatening to impound their vehicles or motorcycles if they failed to pay the fine or greased their palms.
Reacting, one of the officials of the task force in Ibadan South-West Local Government blatantly stated that there was nothing illegal about their operations, claiming that they had the backing of the state government which directed them to source for additional internal revenue outside their monthly federal revenue, hence their action.
But when reminded that enforcement of traffic regulations on Federal Government-owned highways are restricted to the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and not the local government councils, he declined comment.
Questions have also been raised as to the legality or otherwise of the act of the “officials.”According to a legal practitioner, Bamidele Areola, “it is difficult to situate if the activities of the local governments are illegal or not. Nigeria is a unique country. It is in Nigeria that you see state governments carrying out maintenance works on roads clearly demarcated as Federal Government’s road. To me, there is the FRSC, a national body that is supposed to check activities of road users on roads that are being controlled by the federal government. There are equally traffic police. So, it is not very easy to say if what they are doing is illegal or not because, often, there are agreements between federal, state and local governments on the management of the roads.
Reacting on the issue, the acting Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO) in Oyo State, ASP Daniel Obayi, admitted that the command was aware of the activities of the officials but declined to give comment on the legality or otherwise of what they are doing. He added that the police had in the past advised local governments to carry the police along anytime they planned to carry out tasks of that nature so that they wouldnot contravene the law