… How security agents aid traffic congestion, smuggling, lawlessness
By Daniel Anokwuru
The Lagos-Badagry Expressway in Lagos is one road that connects Nigeria to her West African neighbours. Everyone passes through it to get to Benin, Togo, and Ghana and beyond. Ironically, it is now one facility known for the pain and anguish inflicted on road users, with lawlessness walking on all fours.
An aggrieved commuter, Olalekan, told Daily Sun that security agents were part of the deep-seated embarrassment everyone feels about the facility. Some of them, he said, encouraged smuggling through the Seme border amid traffic chaos. Commercial bus drivers were also part of the nuisance, as they picked and dropped passengers, thereby denying most road users the right of way. He said all this happens with security men watching.
Olalekan expressed anger at the slow pace of work on the 10-lane road with a rail line disecting it, saying it was also contributing to the anguish experienced by many who ply the road; the attendant traffic gridlock and the sustained onslaught of robbers have made the road a nightmare.
Daily Sun’s investigation showed that craters of various sizes are now common on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, with the most found between Volkswagen and Barracks bus stops, down to Under Bridge Bus Stop. It now takes every motorist an average of one hour to go through the stretch that is ordinarily a five-minute drive, owing to the dilapidated nature of the road.
Abuse of traffic Laws
Driving on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway is a nightmare. Some people now have escorts and security guards, including uniformed police and servicemen, in their vehicles to provide cover. Commercial vehicles intentionally reserve their front seats for this category of people to aid them drive against the traffic unchallenged.
Abuse of traffic laws is not only limited to commercial vehicles or car owners; articulated vehicles and tankers are also in the habit of driving against the traffic thereby endangering the lives of many road users.
What marvelled our reporter on this occasion was the way four articulated vehicles belonging to a certain construction company drove against traffic every morning and evening in the presence of a combined team of officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and the police.
Daily Sun also observed commercial vehicles picking and dropping passengers in the middle of the road under the watch of law enforcement officials. It was perplexing to see the same traffic officials begging commercial bus drivers to leave the way for other road users to drive through. But the same officials swooped on private vehicle owners, sometimes threatening to impound their vehicles.
Mr. Charles Igwueze, a private car owner, told Daily Sun that he usually left his home at Agbomalu along the Lagos-Badagry road early in the morning to beat the traffic at the Iyan-Oba Bus Stop. But in spite of his effort, he was usually stuck in traffic as commercial vehicle operators always blocked the way at that time of the day. “Each time I get there, I always see LASTMA and the police joking with the drivers. But I see the same policemen roaming in the traffic, looking for private car owners who do not have their seat belts on. If one makes any mistake of turning or joining the road from the flanks to avoid the traffic, they will arrest them.”
Another driver who spoke with our reporter on the condition of anonymity complained about the activities of drivers of the said construction company that plied the road daily. “I am always scared of those containers belonging to that construction company; I usually see about four of those articulated vehicles every morning and evening driving against the traffic.
“This Iyan-Oba is a busy place; government should do something here and call the police and LASTMA working at that spot to order,” he said.
Hawking on road
Daily Sun also discovered that some traders whose shops were demolished to pave way for the ongoing construction work were part of the menace. They often take over portions of the road and walkways where they display wares, starting from Volkswagen Bus Stop down to Okoko.
The reporter learnt that the traders paid through the nose to area boys in each of the communities along the road for the space they trade on. In the past, accidents on the road were commonplace and roadside traders were known to have been crushed at some point.
One of the traders, Mrs. Anosike, told this reporter that she was not happy trading at that spot, but she had to make a living. She claimed that the traders usually paid huge sums to the area boys before being allotted a portion of the road: “We are not here for free; we pay daily to the area boys. It is when you pay that they will give you a spot to display your wares.”
Activities of smugglers
Every morning, along the Lagos-Badagry expressway, Daily Sun also observed policemen and Customs officials at particular sections of the road, always on the lookout for petty smugglers in transit early in the morning from Benin Republic, between 5am and 9am. The officials were simply out to extort money from the smugglers.
At every bus stop between the Seme border and Alakija Bus Stop, the police and men of the Nigerian Customs Service were observed watching out for the smugglers, who arrived in groups. They often pay their way through, sometimes dropping cartons of frozen foods and other items before being allowed to continue their journey.
When the reporter approached one of the smugglers, Akeem, begging for insight into the business, he said: “If you want to join us, first you must be registered. It is not an easy business; you must be strong.
“There is an amount of money we pay every week to settle security agents. Every night before we move, we send an advance party to go and settle them at every bus stop ahead of our arrival. So once we get there, we pass without being disturbed.
“The kind of vehicle you use and the quantity of goods you are carrying determine how much you will pay.”
Akeem, who said he had been in the business for over nine years, further revealed why they were sometimes seen in large numbers arguing with security agents in the morning. “Any time you see us gather like that, the tendency is that they are suspecting that we played a fast one on them.
“We pay per vehicle, so, sometimes, if we have 20 vehicles and tell them there are 15 vehicles, they will fight us. Once our boss has gone ahead to settle them, all the vehicles will leave together. So if we pay for 15 vehicles we might bring in 20 vehicles. Sometimes when they count the vehicles and discover that we paid for less, they might stop the other vehicles until we pay the balance. That is why you see them delaying us waiting for their money to be paid in full.”
Cattle are kings on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. They were observed by this reporter roaming uncontrolled on the highway. They obstructed traffic, with some roaming among the people. There were some herdsmen driving them in the middle of the road from Alabarago, a settlement for the Hausa community, up to Odenro Market in Ojo Cantonment. This ‘drama’ plays out mostly between the hours 6am and 8am daily.
The deplorable nature of the road makes life a living hell for drivers. Failed portions of the road force motorists to spend hours for a journey that ought to last just minutes. The slow pace of work on the road also contributes to the deterioration of the road. All the abandoned portions have turned to refuse dumps. A big gully, for instance, exists opposite the Ojo Cantonment, even as construction work has blocked the only drainage in the area, making the spot to be flooded each time it rains. The area is often impassable.
When this reporter contacted Mr. Yakubu Lukas, the officer in charge of the police team attached to LASTMA on the road, on his mobile phone regarding the activities of the men under him, he said he was taking his time to study the situation. He admitted receiving reports on a particular sergeant alleged to be giving motorists a hellish time and promised to work on it. “I have received reports about a certain sergeant said to be giving problems to motorists; I have received calls about his activities and might redeploy him to the headquarters, if we conclude our investigations,” he said.