Why I Have No Love For LASTMA
Reflections on LASTMA and its reputation
If you live and work in Lagos, chances are that you have had an interaction with Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officials. If you haven’t, say a quick prayer of thanksgiving because I am sure you would have either seen or heard of their interactions or altercations with drivers, and you would never want to experience any of that.
They are practically everywhere on major and inner city roads in Lagos. They direct vehicular movement in traffic-prone areas, apprehend drivers who default traffic laws and even adopt some unconventional means in enforcing adherence to traffic laws. Depending on the time of day and your past interactions with them, they could either be a blessing or a nuisance.
I recently came across a news article about an event which happened very recently involving LASTMA officials and a hypertensive elderly man, Modibo Usman. He was allegedly caught beating the traffic light and apprehended by two LASTMA officials in Surulere. According to Usman’s son, his father pleaded tearfully with the officials, explaining that they had a medical emergency but the officials disregarded his plea, saying that people always make similar excuses. They subsequently demanded a N50,000 bribe to let them go.
The two officials then ordered them to move to the back seat while they both sat in front. One of the officials then drove the vehicle to the hospital the Usmans were going to. All the while, the elderly Usman kept crying and pleading that they should let them go even as the officials continuously demanded the N50,000 bribe.
The son further recounted that on arriving at the hospital, he and his father quickly dashed in to get the medical test result so they could prove to the officials that they had a medical emergency. By the time they came outside, the officials had driven off with the car. The younger Usman said his father immediately collapsed from shock and subsequently, the nurses who rushed to attend to him confirmed that his father had died. He then went to the LASTMA office to notify them of his father’s death but the officials denied responsibility and told him to take his car. He called a relative and they reported the case at the police station, after which the officials were arrested. LASTMA’s official spokesperson has since debunked this account, further stating that there is a video recording of its officials’ interactions with the men which tells a different story. I would love for that video to be made public so we can all arrive at our interpretations of this incident.
This story resonated with me because I experienced something quite similar just a few months ago. I was “attacked” by LASTMA one night on my way home. I say attacked because that is exactly how I can describe what happened to me. I dropped a friend off at Oshodi along the expressway and they were two other guys in the car with me. Now, cars are not supposed to drop off passengers on the expressway but buses were dropping people off at the same time so I didn’t think much of it at the time. The next thing I knew, a danfo bus sped quickly and parked in front of my car, effectively blocking my exit. Instantly, about seven different shades of people jumped out of the bus and surrounded my car, they started hitting the doors, windows, and bonnet. I was so sure they were armed robbers and I immediately started experiencing palpitations. I honestly felt like I would have a heart attack. The other guys in the car with me were also terrified. I instantly made sure all the doors were locked.
My vision started getting blurry so I removed my glasses. The guy sitting beside me was the first to notice that there was a uniformed LASTMA official and a police officer with the men. I had no means of determining if the other men were touts or plainclothes operatives. I refused to open the door until one of them showed his ID after which I wound down the window slightly. I kept shouting: “my heart is beating fast, let me calm down, I am not running away”. Two men were already trying to remove my license plate even as I kept shouting. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up parting with money. It was either that or experiencing the discomfort of dealing with those people the next day, so I chose the easy way out. I got home and struggled with sleep. I couldn’t even leave home early the next day as I was still distressed.
I cannot help wondering why many LASTMA officials treat traffic offenders like savages. Why must they always attempt to intimidate people? Why do many of them seem so inhumane? Granted, I know that many lawbreakers are quick on the offensive but aren’t there more civil approaches to apprehending traffic offenders? Could it even be that many people have adopted this stance knowing how inconsiderate the officials can be?
I believe it is high time that LASTMA as an agency is overhauled completely, from top to bottom. Something is fundamentally wrong with many of their officials. I do not paint the entire agency with a broad brush as I recognise that they are a few good officials. I know some people have had good experiences with officials who have helped them out in precarious situations. I have also interacted with a few levelheaded ones, but truth be told, these good eggs are few and far between. The generality of them, in my opinion, should find work that doesn’t involve interacting with human beings and yes, it is that bad as far as I am concerned.
Where is the problem from? Is it in the recruitment and selection process or the orientation process? Are they being trained to behave in a specific way or encouraged by some default practices to act inconsiderately? Looking at the case of the Usmans, if we are to go by the son’s account of the event, could the officials have acted in a more considerate manner? Even though LASTMA has debunked the account, I know a few people who heard the story and recounted their experiences. Not a lot of people trust LASTMA officials and it is such a pity. Anyway, I guess we won’t have any answers until we see the video the LASTMA spokesman referred to or the police conclude their case.
If LASTMA officials are going to continue with their traffic management duties, then the Lagos State Government needs to ensure that they purge out all the rotten officials and sanitise the entire agency. Anyone who survives this would then be required to go through intense developmental training aimed at equipping them to dispense with their responsibilities in the most responsible manner.
Public officials exist to serve the public but if they don’t realise this, who will remind them? Too many people have bad memories of their interactions with LASTMA, it’s time for this to change. LASTMA’s reputation needs to be revamped but first, it needs to be overhauled. This is the way I see things today.