Engineer Madu generally fancies himself as a law-abiding Nigerian. Though not a coward by any stretch of the imagination, he avoids trouble whenever he sees it coming. A gentleman by all accounts, he ensures he does not fuel the stereotype of not-very-tall people being short-tempered and ready to ‘prove a point’! A couple of days ago, he however went through an experience that tried and tested his capacity for equanimity and made him question his resolve not to ever consider being part of the ‘japa’ plague currently ravaging the land. His faith in not just Lagos, and by extension Nigeria, and in fact, humanity was shaken by what he went through on that fateful day. Like my Waffi brothers would say: ‘na laif cinema o’!
As Madu drove towards Ojota that day, his mind was occupied by the thoughts of the trip he was to make the following day. He was part of a Consulting team that was helping one of the States improve her capacity to provide clean drinking water to her citizens. He had a few things to tidy up in Lagos and still had to find the time to prepare some papers for a meeting the following day. Suddenly, one of the ubiquitous yellow vans or ‘danfos’ swerved across his path, almost ramming into his car but for his quick reflexes. He in turn swerved to the right, luckily (or very unluckily as it turned out) into the space at the EXIT of the BRT lane just after Maryland. Thanking his God for the close shave, he maneuvered his vehicle carefully back into the road and continued his journey. He had barely driven up to 20 meters when he noticed people waving him down from behind. Thinking he had a flat tire or some other car trouble, he slowed down and steered to the side of the road where he stopped. And that was when his day went from being merely interesting to very bad!
A LASTMA official came to his side of the car, and as Madu looked out of his window to find out what the fellow wanted, another leaned into the car from the passenger side, turned off the engine and removed the keys. In confusion, Madu stepped out of his car, wondering what was going on. Being a really careful driver, he knew he had not broken any traffic rules and his documentations were right and up to date. He was however thrown into shock when the LASTMA fellow unformed him that he was being arrested for driving on a BRT lane. A man of quicker temper would have asked the obvious question: “are you alright?” Madu however calmly disagreed with the official that he was mistaken as he never drove on the BRT lane. While this discussion was going on, the fellow that had removed his keys got into the car and reversed all the way back INTO the BRT lane, came out of the vehicle, and went to take a picture of the car IN THE BRT lane. He flashed the picture at Madu, who was so gobsmacked by the blatant injustice of the unbelievable events unfolding before his eyes that he could only open and close his mouth several times like a beached fish gasping for water.
In short order, he was taken to their office in Oshodi where the picture ‘evidence’ of his car in the BRT lane was tendered. Those that ‘arrested’ him promptly disappeared, leaving him at the mercy of those that had no idea how he got there. His day was already ruined. He thought of all the things he still had to do before he left town by the first flight the next day. He thought of the presentation he had to go make and all his colleagues that were waiting for him. When he heard the shrimpish girl who was busy masticating a piece of chewing-gum with the dexterity of an experienced night-walker utter the words “Oga, talk nah. You wan pay your fine now abi you wan go court”, he almost lost his famed cool. Instead, he felt violated and strangely, almost ashamed that he was being dehumanised in a way that made all his academic and professional accomplishments look meaningless. The memory of his nephew who had been telling him to come over to ‘saner climes’ flashed briefly through his mind. Just as quickly, he dismissed it. Electing to go to court would mean his car would be Impounded until whatever court date he was given. He had a trip to take the following day, the consequences of missing would reverberate far and wide, and affect people that had no business with the tragi-comedy his day was turning out to be. His options were limited to one. He extended his hand for the paper and almost screamed when he saw the sum of N70,000.00 being the fine for his ‘non-offence’. In addition, he had to go attend a week-long training on how not to drive on BRT lanes. That was going to cost another N15,000.00. Seeing that he was actually a good driver and he had so many other things to do, the actual training itself could be waived, so long as he paid the cost of taking the lessons. Added to the ‘thank yous’ for all the ‘help’ received, he parted with N90,000.00 and a substantial portion of his dignity. In return, he got his car back and an admonition to ‘go and sin no more’!
As I write, poor Madu is still traumatised by the State-sponsored gangsterism that deprived him of his money and his pride. The whole process, backed by gun-totting policemen was akin to daylight armed robbery. The fact that he could not do anything about it still rankles and I can only imagine the extent to which such acts of brigandage by government agents go to destroying the faith citizens have in their governments and their country. A similar incident happened to my friend Jide a couple of months ago in Ikorodu. He was practically directed by a government agent to briefly go on a BRT lane to get away from the vehicle they had stopped. Immediately he obeyed, he was stopped by another agent and arrested for driving along the BRT lane. That is entrapment which is against the laws of the land. Stories of poor citizens being fleeced by all sorts of organs of government on a daily basis abound. From thugs employed by local governments to extort people through all sorts of disguises to State Governments bureaucracy deliberately set up to frustrate citizens and create a fertile ground for corruption to thrive. While this is bad at the Federal level, the States are much worse. It is bad enough that there are inefficiencies in government at levels that are paralysing. It is quite unfortunate that good people like Madu are made to suffer, and compromise, just so those benefitting from these inefficiencies continue to profit from them. That we allow this state of affairs to continue unabated is saddening.