• No More Physical Inspection, Stop And Search
When news filtered out that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, has ordered Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) off Lagos State roads, many residents received the news with mixed feelings, depending on how they have been impacted by the activities of the VIOs.
In the main, there was a modicum of excitement in the news in view of tales of harassment and extortion of motorists in the hands of these operatives.
However, since the announcement was made, different accounts of what led to the sack, as well as the period the officers are going to be off road have continued to pop up.
But one of the most circulated version, even among affected officers was that the sack was temporary, as it would enable government retrain the officers to enable them perform their duties with high level of civility and professionalism.
These speculations were laid to rest when Ambode, at the commissioning of the multiple lay-by at the Berger area of the state categorically stated that VIOs going off Lagos roads was permanent.
Among other things, VIOs carry out checks to ensure that cars are roadworthy, and are properly licensed. But to the average motorist in the state, these operatives overreach themselves most times, and are generally overzealous when dealing with members of the public.
Obviously, one of those in support of their sack is Oluwadamilare Afolarin, whose car was detained because of a cracked windscreen and “other infractions” in the Ajah area of the state. He was eventually fined N80, 000.
After the car was impounded at Ajah, it was taken to their facility in the Ojodu-Berger area. Two weeks after, Afolarin raised the said amount and was ready to pay, he was informed that his car had been burnt.
To pacify him, he was offered a N200, 000 compensation, which he promptly rejected and was consequently locked up for three days in a cell.
Another motorist, who was shocked to notice that his vehicle insurance policy document was missing from the rest of his up-to-date car documents, alleged that he had to cough out a N20, 000 bribe to VIOs after his appeal that the policy could be verified electronically fell on deaf ears.
Since he could no longer lay hands on the original documents, he said he had to financially induce another operative of the service, who helped out with the online copy of the insurance document.
In spite of their alleged highhandedness, lack of civility in dealing with motorists, many are of the opinion that getting VIOs off the road completely could pave way for the return of all sort of rickety vehicles to Lagos roads, with attendant negative implications, including threat to lives.
But according to a senior officer of the agency, who elected to remain anonymous, the fact that the organisation has stopped enforcement activities on the roads does not mean it is not carrying out other statutory functions, since enforcement is just one of its many statutory duties.
Speaking on the new modus operandi of the Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS), acting Commissioner for Transport, Prince Anofi Elegushi, said the decision to get VIS officers off the road was for good reason, adding that the only duty that they have been stripped of by this development is checking of vehicle documents on the road, as they are still expected to carry out other functions according to the law that established the agency.
According to Elegushi, part of VIS’s duty is to supervise and issue certificate of road worthiness for vehicles. The process is now expected to be done electronically.
“They are to supervise the operation of the test centres as well as clear vehicles for issuance of road worthiness certificate. So, they are at present still doing all other duties apart from taking to the streets and flagging down vehicles. What we are trying to do is to adopt other ways of enforcement, rather than the physical enforcement that we normally do.”
He said the state government intends to put in place, an electronic device that can just pick an offender, and then through the vehicle’s data, send the bill to the offender’s residence and also do follow up. “So, we are looking at that and we have been working with some companies that can provide that service. That is the way we intend to go now,” the commissioner said.
With many residents not supplying accurate data at the point of vehicle registration, or updating their personal information when changes occur, the new arrangement is sure going to be in for tough times.
Elegushi admits, noting that data capturing has been a serious problem in the country, which is why the state government has not been able to use electronic devices for enforcement like other world cities Lagos should be competing with.
Said he: “There sure would be challenges that we are going to be faced with during the course of putting this new device in place. But as we are working on this, definitely we will still be looking at areas where we can block all the loopholes. Nonetheless, we must start something.
“We must start this thing, even though the device will capture like 20 per cent of what we are looking at. Let us start with it and as time goes on, we will continue to expand the coverage,” he said.
According to the acting commissioner, the city is moving towards being a smart city, so physical enforcement should not be condoned.
With a population of over 20 million people, what number of test centres has the state government put in place to cater for motorists shopping for road worthiness certificates for their vehicles?
Elegushi said only two centres are operating at present, though the state government plans to have one each in the 57 local councils and local council development areas.
“Our intention within the next one year is to capture the whole state so that there will be no excuse for any vehicle owner to say that he intended to do the test, but could not drive from Badagry to Ikeja, where there is a centre. So, that is where we are going.”