In Port Harcourt today, as you commute to and from work in your car, you may be stopped by a Police man and asked to show your "vehicle particulars"; you may be stopped by a Traffic Warden and asked to turn right and not left as you intended; next, on the same day, you may be accosted by an officer of the Joint Task Force (JTF) and asked to open your booth. An officer of Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) might stop you and ask why you do not have your seat belt on. Some men in yellow and black striped vest ordinarily called "road worthiness people" from Rivers State Ministry of Works, I think, may stop you and ask you to prove that your vehicle is road worthy. Finally men of the MOT may tow your car for parking or stopping in a wrong place. This is all in one day.
The latest group of enforcers on our roads in Port Harcourt, the MOT appear to be the most troublesome. They wear navy blue vest with white lettering of MOT. MOT has been translated variously to mean: "Ministry of Thugs" or Ministry of Touts. The translation is informed by what the MOT people do. Now we have on our roads 6 groups of enforcers of one road regulation or the other. The confusion of the government is easy to see. Why should we have so many men, of different units, doing the same thing – keeping our roads free and safe. Imagine one road user being accosted by the police, traffic wardens, FRSC men, road worthiness men and MOT men, in one day. They jump into your car, which is an act of trespass; they demand instant payment of as much as ten thousand Naira, which is a call for bribe and a trial without fair hearing.
With all these men on ours roads, checking traffic, taxi cab drivers force commuters to sit two in a seat built for one; four in a seat made for three. If a motorist considers himself a victim of abuse of power, to whom may he report? What form of evidence is acceptable? Are road users expected to conduct themselves in ways additional to the contents of the Highway Code and Road Traffic Regulations? The citizen ought to know; he should not be surprised.
In my conversation with one of these road men I found that she had not set eyes on Federal Highway Code, nor had she read the Rivers State Road Traffic Regulations and yet she was on the road "checking traffic". I have not heard on radio or TV or read anywhere what the function of the MOT men is on our roads. But from accounts of people who have suffered their caprices, they are supposed to prevent or discourage indiscriminate parking of vehicles on the road.
So a vehicle parked about a meter between the vehicle and the perimeter fence of the Rivers State High Court Complex was impounded. The MOT people did this to a lawyer and it cost them about three hundred thousand Naira (#300,000.00) in damages awarded the aggrieved car owner by the court. Often these bodies are created without training the enforcers on what to do and how to do it. Every training excercise does not have to take 6 months or a year. Some training takes 2 to 3 hours. Training people to control traffic, in the widest sense of that phrase, should not take more than a few hours. It appears the people who supervise the MOT men do not know how or feel the need to train them. It appears they just pick up raw unskilled persons from the street and throw them on road users. And these enforcers go out and "make money" for themselves and their ogah. If a man’s job is to impound any car and demand ten thousand Naira why may he not impound just about any car he sets eyes on?
If you ask me, the road men should act to keep the roads free by prevention, and correction of erring motorists as a first option. One finds that the first option for the road men is, "get his money."If a driver gestures that he is turning left at a junction where this is prohibited and he is stopped before he enters the junction why should he not be corrected and let go? It is only the recalcitrant that may be arrested. A driver who is mistaken and is stopped even before he goes far into his mistake should be corrected and let go. Mistake, by the way, is a defence in some cases in our criminal laws. Often times there is no road sign to direct the motorist in the first place.
Indeed there are many cases of wrong parking and careless driving on our roads. And these problems must be addressed. But they must be addressed properly. One bad effect of arbitrary show of power or greed in law enforcement is that the people do not obey you. If they have a chance they dribble their car past you.
Unfortunately people possessed with law enforcement powers have come to view it as a means of making money. Merely correcting an erring driver will not give the corrector money. But subjecting the driver to deprivation of the use of his vehicle will force money from him.
So we are up against a whole people, Nigerians, of a warped mind. This is a country of extortionists. Everyday we read in the papers and hear commentators on TV and radio tell how our leaders are stealing public funds. Some of us who have no access to public funds
pray that we may get there some day. So the road man asks himself, "Am I the one to pull this country out of this mess?" He decides to extort money from whom he could. The canker eats deep into the saw and the saw continues to fester.
Even the churches which could help reshape the people’s mind are corrupt themselves. The are corrupt in the claim "God told me to tell you." They are corrupt in promising school pupils success merely by offering prayers, business men, by paying tithes, and so on. Wherewith shall the salt be salted!
Bapakaye I. Dibi, Esq