On the 17th of November 2015, at about 2pm, I and a colleague arrived Lagos from an official assignment in Ogun state and alighted from a commercial vehicle at Oshodi (Isale). We had to walk a few meters and cross over to the other side of the road to board our next respective vehicles. Realising that the next pedestrian bridge in sight was about 200 meters from where we were, and that there was a pedestrian pavement constructed alongside the road median (obviously to aid walking and crossing due to wideness of the road and its proximity to the bridge), we decided to immediately cross over and make use of the pedestrian pavement, while we watched the traffic thin out and make a second crossing to the other side.
As we walked along the pedestrian pavement and chatted away, I noticed two unkempt men walking towards us and I immediately assumed that they were the usual touts (‘agberos’) who are a common sight within that area of the city. Unsure of their intentions as they approached us, I suddenly felt a hand grab me by the belt, and an attempt to tip me over. Instinctively, I fought back, screaming while trying to regain my balance, thinking it was a robbery in broad daylight. A brief tussle ensued between I and my attacker until we both almost got knocked down by a vehicle and then I decided to calm down and safely cross over to the other side where passers-by could come to my rescue.
Safely at the other side of the road, while being dragged by my shirt and belt, I asked my attacker why he was attacking me and he responded in Yoruba asking me if I didn’t know it was wrong to cross the ‘Express’. Only then did I notice my colleague suffering worse battering in the hands of two attackers dragging him towards a green and black KAI branded truck parked a few meters ahead. I told my attacker to let go of me and treat me with dignity as I am not a criminal, and that he should note that he ‘arrested’ us on a pedestrian pavement in the middle of the expressway. I resisted being hurled up into the truck while trying to explain, but my attacker got assistance from a collaborator who reached out from inside the truck, grabbed me by my head and they both practically threw me into the truck, alongside my colleague.
Sir, it was after I got up and peeped out through the iron bars on the truck, the same way I see convicted felons peep while being transported to and from prison in the ‘black maria’ that I noticed four men in actual KAI uniforms, chatting by the road side while about ten mean-looking touts (a lady inclusive) in plain dirty clothes were all over the road and median harassing individuals (men and women), throwing those whom they overpowered into the waiting truck.
After about thirty minutes in the truck with 10 gentlemen and two ladies, a young man in a pair of jeans and Ankara top came into the truck to inform us that we were being held for breaking Lagos state’s traffic laws and that our fine was 12,000 naira each. I immediately approached him and told him that I was pressed and need to ease myself. His rude response was that the earlier I took a corner in the truck and did my thing, the better for me. I challenged him for addressing me that manner and he said he would slap me, that I was speaking in the English language to prove to him that I was educated and that if I did not step away from him, he would slap me over and over (all this he said the Yoruba language).
One after another, those locked up in the truck approached him, and he would take them outside; they would ‘settle’ and he lets them go and then comes back into the truck after about fifteen minutes for the next person. At a point, my colleague approached him. They went outside and after ten minutes, my colleague called my phone to inform me that he had been released. He said he was told to drop anything he had, so he showed them his almost empty wallet, and then they asked him to go use the ATM. He pleaded saying that his bank account was also empty. After a lot of begging, he said the ‘collector’ told him that he likes him and that God was leading him to allow my colleague to go free.
Sir, while being held against my will for about four hours, fifteen minutes, I watched these KAI officials ( or touts) humiliate Lagos state residents going about their normal business, extorting money from them and inflicting various degrees of bodily harm on them. I watched with keen interest a particular young man who came with his boss, a swollen face and a blood shot left eye, after being previously attacked by these same officials while he was on his way to work. His boss came back with him to challenge them, requesting to speak with their superiors but they spent close to an hour begging, saying that it was a case of miscommunication between the employee and the KAI official and they were very sorry. They both left the scene after trying unsuccessfully to get justice.
Another middle aged man in a suit was practically lifted off the ground and carried across the road by three agents. While he was about to be thrown into the truck, he announced mid-air that he is a lawyer and he knows his rights. They immediately dropped him, took him aside and began to argue with him. He highlighted to them the facts that:
- There was no sign by either side of the road saying pedestrian crossing is prohibited.
- The so-called KAI officials were all over the road in mufti and not their uniforms and name tags to identify them as state government officials
- The so-called KAI officials are breaking the same law they claim to be enforcing and misleading innocent passers-by to attempt to crossover because of their inclusive presence on the road median and on the expressway themselves.
- Their mode of apprehension of so-called culprits was improper, inhumane, demeaning, illegal, uncivilised and an infringement of their fundamental human rights.
After much argument back and forth, they let him go and then moved the truck from where we had been (close to the foot of the pedestrian bridge), to the top of the bridge (Oshodi Oke, also called ‘Step’). From my vantage point in the truck, at the top of the bridge, I could see a dilapidated, rundown building below with the markings “The Lagos State Ministry of Environment…KAI Divisional Office” was also written below it. As soon as we arrived there, they all alighted in a frenzy, like soldiers arriving back home in victory, alive, and with their spoils of war. They grabbed every can of alcohol in sight, lit up every stick of tobacco they laid their hands on, frolicked with a few women who had been patiently waiting for their return in a ‘danfo’ bus parked in front of the office. It seemed like a carnival of some sort, rewards from a successful but hectic day of extortion of members of the public.
Finally, at about 6:15 pm, I was let out, asked to ‘help’ myself out of my situation, stressing the fact that I was supposed to be transferred to Alausa, in addition to my fine of N12, 000, and that they were only trying to assist me by asking me for a token and then, they would release me. I insisted that I had no money. ATM Card? I said I didn’t own one. The young man in jeans and Ankara top finally announced proudly (as if in an act of his gracious benevolence and magnanimity), “I am in no mood to take anyone to Alausa today” and so they should let me and the last person remaining in the truck to go.
I did not leave without overhearing that the official to whom that particular team of KAI operatives report to, is an Alhaji Ajikawo, who had just stepped out of the office minutes before our truck arrived back to base.
Sir, this unfortunate experience has therefore prompted me to respectfully ask you a few questions:
- Is there any existing law enacted by Lagos state specifically prohibiting the crossing of highways and empowering the KAI officials to arrest and punish respective erring citizens? (The Lagos state road traffic law, 2012, which I downloaded and studied from lagosstate.gov.ng did not have any such provisions.)
- If there is, sir, what punishments are prescribed for offenders?
- How many meters away from a pedestrian bridge is it unlawful to cross a highway from?
- Is it only unlawful to cross the highway at particular times of the day or only when KAI officials and their vehicles are stationed at the foot of the bridge?(because at other times, they ignore those crossing the road and arrest road side traders, or ignore both, arresting neither)
- Is it lawful/proper for KAI officials to carry out their official duties in plain clothes or ‘half uniform’ i.e. white inner shirt on their uniform’s trousers and sandals?
- In a bid to getting their job done effectively by adopting unconventional means, owing to the peculiarity of Lagos, Lagosians and their ‘characteristic obstinacy’, is it proper/lawful to engage street urchins to help ‘arrest’ members of the public?
- Better still, is it justifiable to employ such street urchins into the service of KAI/ the Lagos state government, to maintain law and discipline within the state?
- Is the use of force permitted in carrying out arrests of pedestrian bridge use offenders?
- Is it permissible for Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials to engage in smoking, drinking and the use of other narcotics in public and within their official premises, even though they did not do so with their full uniforms on?
- If in any way I have been unfairly treated and my dignity (first as a human being and second as a law abiding Lagos state resident) eroded, do I get recompense? (Speaking for several Lagosians who suffer the same ordeal on a daily basis)
Sir, you are the Governor of my Lagos, the greatest city in Africa. I demand justice. I demand an end to the unruly behaviour of KAI officers in my city. I demand that they stop to show your government in the worst possible light. I demand better treatment even if I broke the law.
Your Excellency, it happened to me that day. It could be your child or relative tomorrow.
Thank you, Sir, for your patience in going through my long heartfelt letter.
“Itesiwaju Ilu Eko! O je mi logun! Eko o ni baje o!”
Omoniyi is a research analyst for a leading business consulting firm in Lagos