Posted by BY CHARLES ADINGUPU on
Smash Car Windscreen, Impound Side Mirror For N20
FOLLOWING the ethnic riot at the popular Mile 12 Market, officers of the Nigerian Army were deployed to the area, apparently to forestall a recurrence of the sad episode which sent many traders to their early grave. Residents of the area applauded government's decision to permanently station soldiers at the Mile 12 market. But, no sooner after their entrenchment in the area, through the establishment of a mini army barracks at the foot of the Pedestrian Bridge, than the army boys went weird.
Today, they harass and intimidate both road users and traders alike in a bid to eke a living. With the connivance of the area boys, they obstruct traffic flow while trying to extort money from commercial bus drivers.
The Guardian investigation showed that each commercial bus driver is forced to pay N20, while trailer drivers bringing food stuff from the north are expected to pay an illegal passage fee of N100, depending on the negotiation power of the driver.
In an interview with Innocent Eziashi, who resides at the Owulade estate on Ikorodu road, said the activities of the soldiers called for questioning. It was a cheering news to those of us residing in this area when we heard that they (soldiers) had been permanently deployed to the volatile Mike 12 market to keep law and order. The mayhem that visited the market some years ago was still very fresh in our memory. But, I will tell you that today, these army officers have abused the essence of their deployment to the area. They control traffic because they want to extort money from commercial bus drivers. You won't believe that sometimes, the traffic jam stretches from the Owode Market to Mile 12. Surprisingly, on getting to the mouth of the flyover bridge at Mile 12, you find an array of army officers allowing vehicles, particularly Molue and Danfo to veer from the pedestrian lane to the Express Road.
A hapless LASTMA official blamed the regular traffic jam being experienced in the area on the illicit activities of the army officers.
" From our (LASTMA) understanding of the area, we had to prevent vehicles from veering from the pedestrian lane to the Express road in order to allow for free flow of traffic. But to our surprise, the soldiers came in one day, and removed the barricade used in preventing these vehicles - especially Danfo, Molue and trailer drivers who fall prey to this traffic offence and allowed for their passage to the Express road. In the process, traffic is obstructed. Hence, the traffic congestion experienced daily on this axis. You will agree with me that the mouth of the flyover bridge is the position of confusion. After there, nothing else obstructs traffic, perhaps, until you drive to Ketu," he said.
While explaining the soldiers method of operation, a commercial bus driver otherwise known as Danfo, who gave his names as Abiodun Lekan, said that the regular practice is for the army officers on duty to order the bus to stop, while the Alaye, or Area Boy, collects the N20 token from the bus conductor.
"Oga, you must pay the levy, otherwise, you close work for the day, - they will say. If you are unlucky your side mirror may be impounded or your windscreen shattered for refusing to pay the said illegal N20 levy," he said.
Iyabo Adeyemi, a tomato seller said that a number of times, these commercial bus drivers have knocked down buyers in the area while trying to evade paying the compulsory illegal N20 demanded by the Area Boys and soldiers.
"What can we do," she asked rhetorically, "but we quite enjoy their (soldiers) presence all the same. Both traders and buyers think twice before engaging in any activity that may threaten tranquillity. In fact, their presence is a welcome relief," she said.
But a trailer driver who brings food stuff from up north to the Mile 12 market, Mallam Saidu Umaru, criticised the activities of the Area Boys, who, with the aid of army officers pounce on drivers, demanding for N100 as passage fee.
"I could recall the number of times I have bought sleeping mat because, an attempted resistance by a driver not to pay the N100 levy to the boys would result in the seizure of your sleeping mat or any other handy item in your vehicle. Many a time, they area boys had caused some lorry drivers to damage smaller vehicles and we have paid dearly for this. Now, we have rested our case in God's hand because we are hapless in this case," he said.
Another road user, Tunde Adebayo said the activities of both the Area Boys and soldiers need to be checked. Said he, "it has never been the duty of the soldiers to control traffic. And in their attempt to do so, they cause so much blunders on the road. It is quite unfortunate that LASTMA officials who were mandated to control traffic have become cowardly to challenge the soldiers and Areas Boys who have hijacked their official obligation with imperial arrogance.
"Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding ownership of roads in Lagos State, I must confess that since I started plying this Mile 12 road to my house at Ikorodu town, I'm yet to notice the presence of road safety officials (FRSC). So, what else would you expect from these soldiers and Area Boys."
Ekene Nwosu, another commercial bus drivers who plies Mile 12 - Ojuelegba route, counts the losses drivers daily suffer in the hand of soldiers and areas boys in Mile 12 market.
"Imagine, you have to pay a token each to Area Boys and soldiers, Kosofe Local Government Council officials, touts otherwise known as Agberoes, union fee, Agboye Ketu local government council officials; and if you are not so lucky, you pay to police under the flyover bridge at Mile 12," Nwosu stated.
When confronted over the activities of the soldiers and area boys in the area, the officer in-charge of the Nigeria Police Post in Mile 12, Superintendent Amos Adetutu succinctly acknowledged the heavy presence of soldiers in the area but at the same time, exonerated the police from the crime as charged.
"Do you see any of my men (police officer) with them
" No police officer is with them. They (soldiers) are in charge of everything. I don't have anything to say. Before now, many people including lawmakers even from Abuja have come to ask me, what the soldiers are doing with traffic control. I don't have answers for them. I have often referred them to the Divisional Police officer in Ketu (DPO) who is in charge of police in this zone," he said.
When The Guardian visited the DPO in Ketu police station, Mr. Bala, he was said to be attending a crucial meeting at the police formation at Oduduwa Crescent, Ikeja. Subsequent attempts to seek audience with the DPO, hit the brickwall.
Also contacted over the matter was Captain J. Bafada, the army officer in charge of soldiers at Mile 12. He declined comment, saying, "I am not competent to speak with the press. You can see the army public relations officer at Ikeja Cantonment for his comment," he said.
But the Lagos State Deputy Police Public Relations Officer (DPPRO) Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Adebayo Ademola at his Oduduwa office referred The Guardian to the army formation at Ikeja.
While decrying the composition of the raised panel to probe the immediate and remote causes of the recent army and police clash at Ikeja, Lagos, Ademola said the soldiers would be in a better position to speak on such issue.
When the reporter eventually visited the army public relations officer, Major Gambo, he was said to have commenced his annual vacation. His subordinate, Corporal Celestine Ugwu refused to comment on the matter, saying, he was not competent enough to handle such intricate matter, urging the reporter to wait for the resumption of his boss.
Earlier in a telephone conversation, the army public relations officer, Major Gambo confirmed that he was proceeding on his annual leave, therefore, could not speak on such matter on the phone.
"That's a serious issue. I cannot discuss such matter on the phone," he said.
Despite these shortcomings from both the army and police, the soldiers and area boys still engage in the extortion spree, while some lucky commercial bus drivers would have their side mirror impounded, others may not be so lucky, their windscreen may be smashed for the sake of N20. On the whole, the average road users are stampeded due to the illicit activities of the khaki boys and their (Alaye: area boy), collaborators; a case of two elephants fighting, leaving the grass to bear the brunt