…Celebrate expulsion of VIOs from roads
By Tessy Igomu
Having been away from Nigeria for a year, the only thing Bolu desired, aside from reuniting with his family, was to rekindle the embers of friendship and catch up on old times with his friends. As soon as he dropped his luggage, he hit the road at about 3pm, to join his friends at an eatery in the heart of Ikeja.
Just by Ladipo bus stop, along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, he was flagged down by a team of vehicle inspection officers (VIO) for routine checks on his car.
He was asked to produce his vehicle papers. Exuding the confidence of a law-abiding citizen, Bolu quickly handed over his papers and waited patiently as one of the officers flipped through the pages, studying them keenly.
After what seemed like an eternity, he was asked go, only to be stopped again by the same officer, who insisted on knowing why he was driving with a cracked side mirror. Every attempt by Bolu to explain that the tiny crack happened as he backed out of his garage fell on deaf ears. He was issued a ticket for N25,000, after being delayed for about two hours. He ended up cancelling his appointment as his car was impounded and towed away.
Bolu’s experience was not an isolated case. Many unpleasant experiences like that have made officials of the Vehicl Inspection Office (Service) to fall out of favour with Lagos residents.
VIO officials are dreaded by just every motorist in Lagos. Besides delaying drivers and vehicle owners for hours for infractions minor or major, the VIS is seen as an agency where corruption reigns. The highhandedness of VIOs and their penchant for impounding especially private cars whose owners are considered well to do have, in the past few years, become legendary.
These, and perhaps other reasons, many believe, might have compelled Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State to issue a directive banning VIOs from Lagos roads permanently. The governor, who stated this after inaugurating a number of projects in the state, including a pedestrian bridge in Ojodu Berger, also asked officers of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to stay off all state roads.
He explained that the decisions were in line with his administration’s resolve to ensure free flow of traffic across Lagos, noting that their activities were contributing to traffic congestion in the metropolis. The governor also said, as an alternative, technology would be employed to track and monitor vehicle registration and MOT certifications.
This directive, to a great extent, laid to rest the uncertainty concerning the absence of VIO officials on Lagos roads and also overrode earlier statements made by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, and his counterpart in the Ministry of Transportation, Prince Olanrewaju Elegushi, that the VIO ban was temporary as the officials only went for training to improve their service in line with global best practices.
Following their sudden disappearance from the roads, there were rumours that the state government might have announced a temporary ban on VIOs after receiving complaints about their conduct while discharging their duties.
According to Ayorinde, there was an ongoing reform as to how the VIS carried out its operations, which would require that its personnel stay off the streets, and government was keen on having their operations more streamlined and technology-driven to serve the people of Lagos better.
Elegushi on his part stated categorically that nobody was banning VIOs from the roads, and there was no directive to that effect from the governor of Lagos State.
According to him: “Right now, the VIS officials in the state are undergoing training on how they will improve their services on Lagos roads.
“It‘s a month-long event for the officials, where they will undergo intensive training so that they will be able to deliver quality and better service across the state.
“We all believe that VIOs need to perform their functions in a more civilised way and be technologically-driven.”
Since Ambode’s order banning VIS officials, the move has been positively received by Lagos residents, who were already overburdened by the dire economic situation in the country. The absence of VIOs from the roads, rather than raise pertinent questions, has been eliciting joy and celebration, with many regarding it as a positive development.
Several motorists told Daily Sun that the directive was long overdue, insisting that the VIOs have not only constituted themselves into a huge nuisance on the roads but have been causing untold pain, loss and suffering to road users. The governor’s action, several social commentators have said, was a fallout of increasing complaints about VIO’s supposed high-handedness and overzealousness. It is being speculated that the state government reached the decision after mounting public complaints and the recent case of a painter whose seized car was allegedly burnt down by VIO personnel.
Usually resplendent in white-and-black uniforms, with their operational vehicles bearing the signature yellow-black stripes, VIOs were always strategically positioned on Lagos roads to intercept ‘erring’ motorists, impose unbelievably heavy fines on them and in most cases, impound their vehicles. The fear of VIOs has always been the beginning of wisdom for Lagos motorists. They have often been accused of laying ambush at road bends to pounce on their prey.
Even motorists that ordinarily should have no cause to be apprehensive about their presence are sometimes jittery, as only VIOs can determine what constitutes a traffic offence. It was usually the trend to see commercial bus operators and other motorists make a quick detour upon learning that VIOs were stationed at a checkpoint ahead on a particular route.
Over the years, VIS officials have also been associated with all forms of vices, ranging from demand for and collection of graft, high-handedness to intolerance, banditry and extortion.
According to some reports, their mode of operation always left a bitter taste in the mouths of their victims as they perpetrate acts of graft with impunity. Many have noted that they carry out their nefarious activities boldly with the belief that the immunity of state covers them as long as their actions could be categorised as being in line with the state government’s revenue generation drive. This mindset, many lamented, further emboldened them to presumably use government might to flagrantly trample on the constitutional rights of hapless people.
This, to a great extent, also explained why at the least suspicion of a violation of road regulations motorists were often unjustifiably penalised, brutalised and made to pay fines when, ordinarily, such infractions should have attracted a warning or re-orientation.
A trip round VIO offices will leave one marvelling at the sight of vehicles abandoned by their owners. Usually, these are fallouts of the inability of perceived offenders to defray the huge charges imposed on them, and which are most times not commensurate with offences committed.
Recalling an encounter he had with VIOs at Mile 2, Lagos, that nearly got him killed, Ndubuisi, a commercial bus driver plying the Mile 2 axis, prayed that Ambode would not reverse his decision. He also urged the governor to come up with a more driver-friendly method of checking vehicles to ensure that their particulars are valid.
Also describing their operations as duplication of duty, he said motorists can now drive without fear of harassment and undue extortion: “The governor should think of another method of ensuring that vehicle particulars are updated. We don’t want VIO officers on the road again. They are the ones always responsible for traffic on the road.”
However, some have said the governor’s action might encourage lawlessness, and embolden drivers to bring certified rickety vehicles back on the roads. They urged Ambode to urgently put in place a globally accepted mechanism to ensure adherence to road rules.
For Mr. Adekoya Afolayan, a security expert, the move by the state government should be applauded. He noted that the level of impunity and disrespect displayed by VIOs on the road had reached an alarming level, and was rubbing off badly on the administration. He said the ban was long overdue, even as he expressed optimism that some better, acceptable machinery would be put in place to generate revenue and still ensure adherence to regulations.
Mr. Livinus, a transporter, also applauded the directive, noting that the era of violating the rights of Lagosians was over. He lamented that, for years, residents and visitors had silently endured the gross extortion and harassment perpetrated by VIOs. He regretted that almost every motorist in Lagos had a negative story to tell about the vicious nature of VIOs on the roads of Lagos.