Our visiting Rotary International President, Shekhar Mehta and his spouse, Rashi, left Lagos for Port Harcourt last Friday morning. The day before, our visitor was treated to a reception hosted by Rotary District 9110 under the able leadership of our District Governor, Rotarian Remi Bello, FCA. It ended with a dinner at Lagos Marriot Hotel in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos.
Prior to Shekar Mehta’s visit, Rotary leaders from Africa and around the world were in Yaounde, Cameroon for the 3rd All Africa Zone 22 Rotary Institute, a knowledge-sharing forum on Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation, which was held from August 24 -28, 2021. As District Secretary, I was in Cameroon with our DG Remi Bello.
It was a busy two weeks and it meant our District Governor who superintends over 125 Rotary Clubs in Lagos and Ogun States (District 9110) suspended his statutory visit to Clubs during the period. There are three other Districts in Nigeria (9125, 9141 and 9142) in addition to District 9110, making four but the whole of Africa (Zone 22) has 17 Districts.
“My DS (District Secretary), I changed my mind; I did not travel to Port Harcourt again, so get ready for our Club visit tomorrow,” Bello told me in a telephone conversation last Friday. I sent a message to Elizabeth and Alade, our media officer and photographer respectively, requesting them to join me for the early morning drive on Saturday to Igbogbo in Ikorodu.
Elizabeth checked Google map and it indicated that we would arrive our destination from Ikeja in one hour, 10 minutes. The President and members of the Rotary Club of Ikorodu Metropolitan were expecting us for the DG’s visit.
We drove through Maryland, Ojota, Ketu, Mile 12, Owode, Ajegunle, Ogolonto, Idiroko, Agric, Benson, heading towards the Ikorodu roundabout that would have taken us to Igbogbo after making a right turn at the junction ahead. The dual carriage way is well paved with the Lagos Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) lanes sandwiched between the lanes for other road users.
There was congestion on the road and traffic was slow even as early as 8.00 am. After about one hour’s drive, a few minutes from our destination, I observed that a double-cabin Hilux truck was ahead of us with LAMATA enforcement team – about seven persons, both police officers who were armed and LAMATA personnel. They were on patrol in search of BRT lane offenders.
The innovative idea of having the BRT was the brainchild of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of All Progressives Party (APC), when he was the governor of Lagos State. The goal was to revolutionise the mass transportation system in Lagos whereby the popular Lagos “molue”, the yellow buses, are replaced with decent buses.
The visioning process led to the creation of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), the Lagos State government agency responsible for coordinating transport planning, policies, and public transport infrastructure implementation in Lagos.
The first phase of the Lagos BRT was launched on March 17, 2008, although it was initially planned for November 2007. It goes from Mile 12 through Ikorodu Road and Funsho Williams Avenue up to CMS. However, the BRT corridor has been extended from Mile 12 to Ikorodu which is the second phase of the BRT implementation.
I have never used a BRT lane because it is an offence to do so. Even as we drove to Ikorodu, I avoided every BRT lane, just like other road users but the lanes, as I discovered, are playgrounds for “okada” riders. Suddenly, the Hilux truck veered off into another lane – which turned out to be a BRT lane.
I followed the truck thinking it was the right way. By the time I realised it was a BRT lane, it was too late. It looked like a set up. The truck stopped and all the occupants jumped down, heading towards me. They behaved as if they had won a lottery and made me look like a victim. In fact, they reminded me of lions that were ready to feast on their prey – a conquest.
“Come down,” the uniformed police officer barked at me with a stern face. He was dark in complexion and looked like a boxer; stocky and well-built, exuding a lot of confidence. He was of average height – about 5 feet 6 inches tall.
I came out of my car and tried to explain what happened. “I followed the truck in error,” I told the officer. No responsible car owner or driver would use a BRT lane and it would be sheer madness to do so with a patrol vehicle loaded with enforcement officers within a shouting distance.
The officer was clearly not ready for my explanation. “Let me have the car key,” he continued. Without hesitation, I gave the key to him. It looked like a scene in a Nollywood movie.
“Who is the most senior LAMATA officer that I can speak to?” He nodded in the direction of one of the men wearing a LAMATA jacket. The man refused to talk to me but he, like others on the team, knew I followed them in error and they could have tempered justice with mercy.
If I were in their position, I would have counseled the driver, and asked him/her to take the right way and to “sin” no more. Advocacy can be helpful for road users who mistakenly fall into the BRT trap. I was right behind them for about five minutes before they made the turn into the BRT lane.
“Have you taken the photograph of his car,” the LAMATA officer I approached asked his colleague. I wanted the matter resolved at once so that we could continue on our journey to Igbogbo.
“What’s next?” I asked the police officer who took my car key. “You get into the car,” he told me. He took the driver’s seat and drove for a few minutes before making a U-turn, heading all the way back to LAMATA office in Ketu – another journey of about 45 mins because of traffic congestion.
It did not matter that I was a first offender, but how would they have known that? If proper records are kept, offenders can be tracked. I was surprised that not one of them asked me to identify myself. As we drove to Ketu, I started a conversation with the police officer and the LAMATA staff sitting beside him.
“I’m joining my District Governor on a Rotary Club visit in Igbogbo,” I explained to the duo. “Let us get to Owode and maybe another officer will listen to you,” he replied.
It was the same story after I approached one of the police officers at Owode – he did not listen to my explanation. At this point, the photographer disembarked and hailed an “okada” to meet up with the Club visit.
I called my District Governor to let him know what was going on. It was now evident I would miss the meeting with members of the Rotary Club of Ikorodu Metro. The penalty for using a BRT lane, I was told, is N70,000. That’s a lot of money.
I saw several impounded vehicles within LAMATA premises for the same offence. Once you pay the fine, you are allowed to go. I discovered that the tyres of some vehicles – especially the ones that were impounded the days before – were deflated. There was a vulcaniser on standby to make quick bucks, charging a premium to pump air into the deflated tyres when you are ready to drive out.
To their credit, none of the officers asked me for money which is a good feeling but I still wonder why they make offenders like victims as if they committed a treasonable offence. My view is that offenders should not be taken to LAMATA officer if the can pay the fine on the spot. It is a bloody waste of time and I was not happy with the way the police officer drove my car.
I’m not sure my car looked like a “kabukabu” to him. Both officers who commandeered my vehicle did not use seat belts throughout the ride to Ketu – they also broke the law. Alternatively, tickets can be used to offenders to pay within a stipulated period or the fine would be increased. After all, all vehicles registered in Lagos State have relevant data stored in a computer for easy reference and tracking.
In addition to advocacy and enlightenment, the BRT lanes on your way to Ikorodu should be properly marked with road signs. Although I followed the enforcement truck in error, a BRT sign at the intersection between both lanes would be appropriate and helpful for road users to avoid BRT lanes. Sometimes, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the lane starts and ends because the exit points are not clearly marked.
-Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng) and District Secretary, Rotary International, District 9110.