An unlabelled bus suddenly blocks your way, and before you could properly apply brakes, catch your next breath, about five armed men pounce on your car, on you— one flings the door, one pulls the bonnet lever, one already at the bonnet trying to remove the car battery, one is unscrewing the number plate, and the one by the door lifts his weighty body reeking of alcohol across your head in an attempt to pull out the key, from a car that the gear is still in drive mode!
The scene can be likened to when policemen sight a criminal who has been on their wanted list for 10 years.
What is happening?! You shout.
You will know what is happening, give me the key! The policeman shouts back, slapping your hand off and while you try to put the gear on park, he turns off the the ignition, asking you to step out.
It is not your first time using the road, especially Monday mornings when you are on the rush for an 8am meeting. For Lagosians who might know, it is the part stretching from Cement to Ile-Zik on the Lagos-Abeokuta express road. Many months ago, the government widened the road to accommodate a BRT lane that is yet to be inaugurated for use.
At the crossroads at Ile-Zik where you connect with Agege-Motor road, Oba-Akran through to Adeniyi Jones and then to Alausa where your office is— an alternative that saves you from the heavy traffic on the Ikeja-Along axis— there are two entrances at the BRT, about 10 metres apart, through which motorists cross the lane to Agege-Motor road. If you enter through the first opening, you will drive through that few metres on the lane as the exit to Agege is by the second opening. Seeing your indicator, an official of LASTMA managing traffic at the area beckons that you use the first opening instead, and while at it, you become a rat eating its way into a trap.
They are a combination of policemen, LASTMA officials, some other green-uniformed people, these men whom you now understand are from the task force. The Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Enforcement Agency (Task Force) was established by the environmental sanitation edict 1991 and was subsequently re-designed as Environmental Sanitation Enforcement Agency.
One of its duties is to arrest and prosecute violators of the provision of road traffic law.
You step out of the car, confused and wondering what offence you have committed, and soon, another armed policeman who appears their team lead walks to you, wearing this frown like he’s finally get to arrest the person who snatched his girlfriend.
What is your problem?! He shouts at you. What is your problem, too?! You throw it back at him.
You are a mad man!
You are a mad man, too!
Fidgeting, you are almost losing control of a better part of you.
The one who now has your key, puts a sticker on the windscreen, reading; appear before the Lagos State Special Offences (Mobile) Court.
Please get in, he tells you as he ignites the engine.
The court will sit at the Task Office in Oshodi by 12:30, he begins, driving out of the area.
You ask him what exactly your offence is, why they behave in that unprofessional manner when arresting you? You ask him why they couldn’t approach you gently, explain your offence and even tell you where he is driving your car to?!
He smiles, shaking his head. That man that came to meet you is our oga, he says. He was going to negotiate with you so that we can settle this matter, but you have insulted him.
You get more confused. About 30 minutes into the journey, you meet a stream of heavy traffic along Agege road. He pulls out of the lane, and faces coming vehicles, hitting the side mirror against one of the vehicles.
I don’t like the way you are driving! You scream at him, winding down to adjust the deformed side mirror. I am sure if anyone drove this way, you people will arrest him.
Again, he smiles, shaking his head.
After an hour, you arrive at this place— a messy yard filled with cars, tricycles and motorcycles. He parks and hands your key to one man manning the bar at the entrance.
Is there any superior official here I can speak with? You ask him, and he says Supol Adeyemi, the man you had ‘insulted’ is the one that would have resolved the matter. He walks out on you, asking you to meet them at the court in Oshodi.
Court is sitting in Oshodi, and your car driven to a faraway Agege? Angry, you flagged down an okada and left.
‘BROS, THERE IS NO COURT O’
You get to the office to share the experience with your colleagues, and beating your chest that you are going to make a strong defence when you appear at the honourable court. A colleague who has a similar experience few months ago laughs at you. Which court? He asks. At the point you were stopped, you could have resolved matters with them. He advises that you return to the yard in Agege.
You get to Agege and there is no semblance of order you are scared if your car is even safe. You can hardly pick anyone to speak with. You then make up your mind, court it is!
At the entrance of the Task Office in Oshodi, you tell the policemen you were wrongfully arrested when they ask what brings you. The policemen snickered. Wrongfully arrested you say? They look at you with total contempt.
Yes, and I am here to explain how it all happened to my lord. Just show me where the court is sitting.
They are so reluctant, and you stand there, your voice rising to a scream, you continue to tell them how unprofessional they are and how you will also tell the court of the harassment you suffered.
It’s okay, go straight down there and wait, the court sits by 1pm, one of them tells you. While you sit, you downloaded a document, Lagos traffic law. You want to appear prepared before the court. Minutes past 1pm, nobody calls you to court.
Oh, court sits by 2:30pm, another official tells you to be more patient. You rest your back on the sofa, and continue to peruse the document. My lord, I used that first opening just before the eyes of an official who had asked me to. Pardon me if found guilty. Trust me, my lord, I am a law abiding citizen— these are the lines playing around your head, you will use in court.
3pm, no sign of court sitting!
But, what is happening? What time exactly will the court sit? You start asking.
Soon, one man taps you gently on the shoulder. Shebi you are Yoruba? He asks. Come with me for a few minutes, please. He gives his name as BJ, a mobile police officer attached to the Task Force.
I have noticed you from the gate, and I admire the way you talk and that’s why I called you here, he says. Bros, there is no court o, and you will just sit down there all day only to be told that your case will be heard in two weeks time. And mind you, for every night your car sleeps in that yard, you pay N1, 000. This is the government o, you can’t fight them. Ask anybody, the moment you are here in task force office, you are in for a big matter.
You interrupt him, saying, you insist you were wrongfully arrested and can defend this and even if the court eventually finds you guilty, you will pay whatever fine.
Bros, shebi you say you be Yoruba? Haba, I am telling you to forget court!
Then, he calls in about three persons. He asks the first one; you, what was your offence? The man looks at you, shakes his head and says, for no reason we were just rounded-up for the road for an offence nobody can explain and we were brought here.
So, how much have you paid now? BJ further asks. N35, 000, looking for N15, 000 balance to get my vehicle released, he says with a teary tone.
BJ throws same questions to the other two and the responses, similar.
You still want to continue with your protest, to insist that you make a defence at the court, and then BJ cut in.
Vehicle owners are even lucky. For motorcycles, once they enter here, just forget it. If you come to claim it, you will go to jail. So, what we do is we sell those motorcycles. Let me tell you again. Once, a pregnant woman was arrested and brought here. She was just acting like you are doing now, and nothing happened. Right here, she went into labour and we moved her into our clinic for delivery. Her car wasn’t released until she sorted things, and heaven did not fall!
At this point, you can’t find your voice. So, what do we do now? You ask in a mutter of disgust.
Just relax here, I know Supol Adeyemi whose team picked you, let me go and talk to him and get back, he says.
In five minutes, BJ is back.
Bros, na N30, 000 go do am. As soon as I pay it in, you get the paper to go get your car.
You are tired already, but you play along to have an understanding of the corruption going on here. You tell BJ you don’t have that much cash on you and immediately, he pulls you to the ATM right inside the Task Force compound.
BJ, I am only able to withdrawal 20k, I left my other card in the car, what do we do? You ask him. He starts to bite his index finger, nodding his head as though racking the brain for the way out.
Okay, don’t worry, bring the 20k. I am doing this because you are my brother. I swear to God, I am not going to get anything share from this.
Where you are waiting, you see people sit in groups around officers negotiating, on behalf of Supol Adeyemi, on what to pay.
Please, you have to just make it 50, he didn’t take this, you overhear one of the officers who would later, brazenly, tell you he works with Adeyemi and was there when you were arrested.
You watch as BJ and others like him go into an office that should be Supol Adeyemi’s. And, after a while, you see Adeyemi, wreathed in smiles, as he walks out of the office with some of his men to the canteen opposite.
BJ returns to you, and tells you to the paper is ready, and it’s with a man he points at, standing behind Adeyemi.
I can’t just give you the paper like that na, my own money na 5k, the man says with this husky voice that gives him out as an agbero.
You will get the shocker when the piece he hands to you reads; Release Order Mobile Court, and bears the stamp of the court!