To b’ abo ni shakara pade, pashun to ma fi lo e, oje lon je, ki lon she pe? Shakara olo o ge ni. (Transliteration: When you meet one versed in the art of shakara, he will hit you with suffering that will scare you shitless)
This ever green song by Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, sums up what the everyday Lagos driver has to contend with at the hands of LASTMA officials, Traffic Police/Traffic Warden, aka Yellow fever and VIO officials.
These set of road managers know how to shakara drivers into parting with good money: they harass, threaten, bully, beat and even lie against drivers over petty traffic offences, all because they want to fleece them of their cash. It’s a trick that works, 98% of the time, the rest are exceptions.
LASTMA officials are at the head of the chain of terrorists on our roads and it’s simply because unlike the police who are upfront about wanting cash, LASTMA will give you a hard time before taking your money. I have been fleeced of N7,000 at one point simply because I missed a turn. On another occasion, after harassing me sorely for two hours, the tired LASTMA official eventually settled for N1,200. There are too many stories from friends and colleagues to know that these guys are mostly crooks in uniforms.
Some years ago, I went with my kids to visit a friend at Festac; which is way off my regular route. Since I was unfamiliar with that road, I got confused and began searching for road traffic officials for help; there was none in sight and with several impatient drivers hooting me off the road, I followed what I thought was the right path. It turned out to be a one way created to ease traffic off another road that was being constructed.
In a flash, three LASTMA officials landed on my bonnet. I heard them barking: Pak! Pak! Pak!
My terrified 10-year-old son said: “Mummy, they will have you for lunch today”.
In a matter of seconds, I decided two things. One, I wouldn’t be caught by these thieves because I wasn’t ready to part with any money; two, I wasn’t going to let them waste my time.
At that time, I was driving a manual 1999 model Pathfinder jeep; the one with fangs in front and at the back, a really scary vehicle to danfo drivers and BRT buses. Anyway, I scanned the road ahead, it was pretty free. I wound my glass down as two of the men attempted to enter my car, one in front, the other at the back with the kids. Of course my doors were locked.
I said to them in as shaky a voice as I could muster as they tugged violently at my car door.
“I’ll park, ok? Then we can talk about this. You can see I have kids, stop scaring my kids”. Bless those kids, they looked the part.
I looked backed at my children, told them to strap themselves to their seat belts and make no noise. They both nodded, wide eyed.
The foolish LASTMA officials slapped palms and waited for me to drive off the road to the spot they had indicated. I nodded and made to park, changed gear in quick succession and stamped hard on my accelerator!
Crazy? Oh yes.
My two kids were hooting behind me and bouncing like crazy. After I drove off, I saw one of the LASTMA men give me the waka sign. I returned it in good measure.
“Now, that’s not the cool way, ok?’ I said to my kids. I felt the need to warn those two who were staring at me as a super mum.
“But they were going to have you for lunch,” my son said again.
“It’s still not the right thing do,” I maintained before they would go to school and tell the whole school how cool their mum is.
Policemen: they are the WORSTest, if such a word exists. One day, I was driving jejely on Allen, I got to that troublesome roundabout where LASTMA officials and Policemen LOVE to catch drivers in the wrong.
I turned into the roundabout, while the traffic light was still green alas, the tricky thing changed to yellow as soon as I moved.
Of course, three policemen from nowhere landed on me like monkeys on a banana tree. Two on either side and one on my bonnet banging down on my boot like he had just arrested Shekau.
I reached immediately for my phone. It was shakara.
Now, if you are a driver in Lagos, you need someone high up in LASTMA, a DPO, some high ranking VIO Official and just for the heck of it an Army General on speed dial to help bail you out of traffic troubles.
I didn’t have any such names but they didn’t know that.
So,I put on my most professional voice; today is a good day to be a journalist, I decided. Thankfully my AC wasn’t working so I looked the part of an angry journalist; sweaty, harassed and looking for trouble.
Me: “Officer, what is the problem, I have an urgent report to file at the office”.
Officer 1: “Madam you contravened traffic law of section blah blah blah”.
Me: “I don’t know what you are talking about because the light was green when I moved”.
Officer2: (Cutting me off) “Ignorance of the law is no excuse, madam, open the door!”
Me: “Officer, I pass this road regularly and I’ve noticed how you people arrest innocent motorists. Today you have given me a story to give my editor. Oya let me park well”.
Officer1: “Madam you be journalist?”
He peered into the car and saw piles of newspapers I had forgotten to get rid of.
I flashed my company card before them and quickly put it in my purse.
“Officer, I’ve been noticing how you confuse people here. Today, I’ll file my report and get to the bottom of it all. Let’s go. You wan enter motor?”
First officer whispers to the other, who upon hearing the word journalist had turned his attention elsewhere seeking another meat to devour.
Officer2: “Oya Madam dey go. Una wahala too much. You be woman. You be journalist, dey go o”.
They waved me off like an irritating fly and I raced off fast, thanking my stars for quick thinking.