OPINION: IG, Obaseki Take Note: Ibillo Chairman Has Seized Federal Road.
By Tunji Ajibade
Festive seasons witness greater use of the roads. So we set out with a view to using the car for the convenience it affords when visiting different persons and places.
Frequent users of roads across the Niger River are familiar with what obtains in the states and the local government council areas that have to be traversed.
One feature that truck and lorry drivers have complained about is the manner uniformed and non-uniformed people extort money from them, especially on the Abuja-Okene-Ibillo-Akure-Ibadan highway.
During the last festive season, we had our own taste of such acts of rascality that are routinely carried out on our highways.
What I do here is narrate one of the ordeals faced by road users.
I also call attention to the implications of some of the rascally acts perpetrated.
I take note that of late some of the public institutions concerned with revenue collections have announced efforts to harmonise fees collected by states and LGAs.
These institutions say they want to ensure revenues are fully collected and multiple collections are reduced.
They also say they want to obliterate incidences of some persons blocking the highway with nail-studded sticks in the guise of collecting fees.
Ibillo LGA in Edo State is obviously ignorant of this, so touts who say they work for the Ibillo LGA Chairman are on the federal road conducting themselves like car snatchers.
Our car with an advertisement sticker on it had proper mobile advert papers collected for the purpose from the appropriate agency under the Kaduna State Government.
In Ibillo LGA, some rough-looking boys in mufti stopped us and asked for papers indicating payments for the advert sticker on the car.
These were not police officers; because I like to check how our system works, I asked to see the IDs which legitimised their presence on a federal road.
None of these boys had an ID that officially linked them to Ibillo LGA. What one of them displayed was a card that could have been printed by anyone at a business centre.
At a point, we showed these boys the mobile advert papers issued by an agency of the Kaduna State government; on these papers, it was written that the revenue collected was consolidated and it covered all LGAs across the nation as agreed by their forum.
The Ibillo boys collected the papers and seized them.
Then they brought out their own bundle of papers and stickers that couldn’t have been less than twenty-five pieces, stating that these were what we had to pay N38,000 for.
What was on their stickers was already on the few papers issued by the agency of the Kaduna State government.
I called an official of the KDSG agency where the papers were issued and he spoke to these boys on the phone. The boys adamantly demanded payment for papers that we already had, threatening violence even.
They claimed that our papers were photocopies anyway and, under the Ibillo LGA laws, photocopies weren’t acceptable. Of course, the reader knows what would be done to the original papers if they were presented under such circumstances.
Since these boys wouldn’t return the papers we gave them, I said we should be taken to a police station so that we would be properly charged for an offence.
They refused to allow us to move, insisting they would take us to Ibillo LGA headquarters instead; this was on a public holiday.
The boys also removed the car number plates.
Then they removed their nail-studded sticks in order to block other road users and that was when we drove towards a police station.
They chased our vehicle into town, blocked us, and tried to take over the car — car snatcher style. I find this act of rascality extremely baffling, considering that these boys have nothing that qualifies them to act like police officers, who legally have the powers to effect an arrest.
That this was happening in a nation with laws was most shocking.
We managed to drive into a police station, hotly pursued by these boys on commercial motorcycles. We showed our papers to the senior officer present.
He too spoke on the phone with the official of the Kaduna State government agency, which issued our mobile advert papers.
The police officer concluded that since the items on our papers were what the boys working for the Ibillo LGA chairman wanted to give us in the form of twenty-five pieces of paper and stickers, we should be allowed to go.
He ordered our papers and vehicle number plates to be returned to us.
For the simple reason that these boys were so boldly violent, we were relieved that the police gave us protection that time. I told the officer this before we left.
The implications of what the Ibilo LGA chairman is doing by sending violent touts to a federal road to collect cash are many.
If all LGAs sent touts to block the roads, no Nigerian would be able to move freely anywhere.
This has negative effects on economic activity. Also, the approach adopted by the Ibillo LGA chairman encourages revenue leakages.
We watched as these boys showed regrets when another of their groups a few kilometres away sold mobile advert papers to a road user who had none.
They said they wished they were the ones to whom the payment was made.
Of course, the obvious reason is that these boys collect money and remit whatever they like to Ibillo LGA chairman whom they claim sent them.
Surely such a situation leads to inflation of the amount payable and both the trouble given by these touts and the inflated cost involved can discourage medium scale businesses from engaging in mobile advertisement.
In my discussions with people after the encounter in Ibillo, I heard that the problems caused by these LGA mobile advert touts were so much that they decided to strip their vehicles of the advertisements on account of it.
This can’t encourage business growth, rather it stalls it and I don’t believe such is the aim of the government at this time when the FG makes efforts to encourage the growth of small scale businesses and thereby provide employment.
It’s equally worrying that at a time when the Federal Government and, especially, the Kaduna State government put mechanisms in place to make the process of revenue collection more streamlined as well as block leakages, what the Ibillo LGA chairman has instituted is to the contrary.
The process he has put in place is no more than creating jobs for the boys. Boys, who he cannot otherwise employ, are encouraged to go to our roads, stand at those bad portions, where vehicles cannot speed past, and threaten violence in order to extort money.
This isn’t a visionary administration.
It’s rascality encouraged and the conduct of the touts that Ibillo LGA chairman places on a federal road is no different from those of car snatchers.
The greater danger is that these touts, with no IDs officially linking them to Ibillo LGA, can commit any offence and disappear.
They may engage in a struggle with some stubborn road users, which may lead to fatality, and the Ibillo LGA chairman would certainly deny any involvement with the touts.
More than this is the contradiction involved — states and LGAs sometimes say Federal Government officials should concentrate on federal roads with regard to law enforcement, yet they send their touts to the same federal roads to harass road users passing by over revenue collection.
These things were on my mind as I asked the Ibillo touts pertinent questions to which they had no sensible answers. It’s a crazy situation and only LGA chairmen, who care nothing about effective administration, would encourage it.
I urge the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, to ensure the police don’t give official support to these touts anywhere in the country; their activity counters the policy of the Federal Government to encourage growth rather than stifle small and medium scale businesses.
I call on the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, to ask LGA chairmen in the state to be more innovative regarding revenue collection. His state needs all the revenue it can get.
Sending some unidentifiable touts to federal roads to forcefully collect money isn’t the best way to do this in the 21st century.