Sunday, December 16, 2012

My close shave with jail term

Believe it or not, there's a 'No Entry' sign behind this umbrella at
Ijaye Bus Stop along Lagos-Abeokuta Express way
Voila! There it is. You only need to come down from your vehicle and squeeze behind the bread seller to see it. The traffic law is against street trading as well, but the police would probably not go after this bread seller until some officer's pregnant wife has massive craving for sun-bathed bread!

Writers are like prophets. They have no power of knowing the exact time what they predict will come to past.

In August, upon the imminence of the new Lagos Traffic Law being signed by the Governor of Lagos State, I pointed out the ease with which many law abiding Nigerians could walk into jail, simply driving from one part of Lagos to another. Today, I experienced it.

I lived in the Millennium Estate, Ijaye-Ojokoro for about four years up to last October. For those not conversant with that area, the estate is off Ijaye Bus Stop, along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.

From eternity, people going to the nearby Local Council headquarters, the customary court and the marriage registry inside the complex, the popular Jankara market, the Millennium Estate in reference, and Agbado Crossing exited the expressway at Ijaye Bus Stop.

I was visiting the area again today around 11 am and exited the expressway as usual at Ijaye Bus Stop only to find myself in the waiting hands of fully armed policemen. One with AK 47 in hand, barked at me to park and alight from my vehicle. With the urgency and menace in his voice some people might actually think a notorious robbery kingpin had just walked into a carefully planned police ambush.

I did as I was told, and waited for further instructions. The officer soon marched me to a spot on the expressway to show me a 'No Entry' sign, tucked neatly behind the huge umbrella of a bread seller right beside the expressway. Sweet relief! At least, it was not a case of me matching the description of a Boko Haram cell commander.

This bus was parked by the entry to Ijaye, just beside
the bread seller, when I drove in. I took this picture, went to
argue some more and returned to take the bread seller,
by which time it had been driven off.
I asked the officer if that was all, and he glared at me with open hostility. Then, he took a few moments to educate me that I had just committed a very serious offence of plunging into a one-way street. 
I could not have possibly guessed that the road had become one-way traffic, because it was quite wide. The only trouble the road had always had especially in the evenings was that roadside traders took considerable portions of the road on either side to display their goods, while yellow buses plying Agbado Crossing converted a whole lane on the right side to motorpark, constricting human and vehicular traffic. One would naturally think that those were the issues that needed to be fixed to restore sanity to that road. It would be hard to find any resident of that area who would endorse changing that popular access road to a one-way traffic street. 

But beyond all that, two things were clearly wrong with the 'No Entry' sign by the road side at the time I passed. One, the road sign had been completely swallowed from view by a huge umbrella providing shade for a bread seller. Secondly, a broken-down bus was parked by the side of the bread seller, sealing the fate of hapless motorists coming from Abule Egba.

I explained all these to the officer, and he had  a ready answer: “Ignorance is not an excuse in law.” He delivered it with such a condescending air as to make it clear such a simple thing was what I ought to have known if my education was not suspect.

To my argument about a bus and a bread seller's umbrella completely covering the supposed sign, he said I could canvass those fine points to the judge on Monday morning. He might be so kind as to accept them for my flagrant violation of Lagos Traffic Law. But before then, could I be so kind as to stop disturbing him with my 'grammar'?

Dozens of other motorists were walking into the booby trap by the minute. Some were arrested, but seeing that they had more than they could handle at any point in time, the police team would routinely ask the excess ‘traffic violators’ to reverse and take alternative routes. For those under arrest, some brisk business was underway, with the nearby petrol filling station acting as the negotiation area.

I wasn’t done disturbing the officer with my 'grammar'. I followed him around as he apprehended other hapless motorists, and argued that the team ought to use their discretion to release people with a warning and arrest only those who refused to heed their instructions, but I might as well have been speaking Greek for all the difference it made.
He told me my offence was a 'jail-able' offence and he did not write the law. The only reason he could contemplate using his discretion in my favour was if I could come up with N10,000! At that juncture, I let him be and sought out his superior officer who watched his boys from a distance.

He turned out to be receptive. I advanced the same points as earlier enumerated and he quite agreed that the sign was obstructed, even though he made no move to correct the situation. He argued that even if the umbrella had not been there, people who had used the road for years would still drive in oblivious of the sign. 
In the end, he used his discretion to let me go and sin no more. That is how come you are reading this o! Otherwise, I would have been cooling my heels in some detention room awaiting trial tomorrow morning!

On a serious note, I asked myself a question as I drove away: would I have been so courageous to insist on not paying a bribe if the superior officer had not used his discretion to let me go, especially considering that the offence carries a jail sentence? Would I not have happily negotiated the asking price?

Many years ago, I recall telling a mischievous local council traffic official that rather than give him the bribe he was asking for, I would happily pay into the coffers of government the official fine which was five times  the bribe he asked for.

Could I have courageously said the same to those policemen that Sunday morning when I knew the offence, contrived or not, carried a jail term?


Temilayo said...

Lol at the pregnant officer's cravings part. I'm in stitches. Let them catch u, so gbo? Lol

Anonymous said...

Bros, u cleverly left a pertinent question hanging. Would you have found the courage? Lol. Anyway, entertaining piece. Ijaye is my area as I live around Kola side. I honestly didnt know that.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure about this? I still took that place yesternight.

Ayo said...

City planners need to apply commonsense in making decisions. I live in that area ans HS a similar experience at 11pm.

Samuel said...

Absolutely no reason to make Ijaye one way. So, somebody coming to the marriage registry has to merry go round from Ajala or Kola covering several kilometres to access registry that is just by the bus stop? This is crazy

Ahmed said...

This is actually very informative. I hope Lagos State officials will see this.

Anonymous said...

This is thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

You should thank the officer that let you go. They caught me on that same road last week o and I had to pay for my freedom.

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience there too on 30/12/2012. I just left church. I was returning my baby nephew,after a brief holiday with me to his parents who live along that route. When these terrifying officers stopped my car, i was afraid because of the guns they were carrying and actually i did not know what my offense was until they told me i was on one way.
All i could do was to start laughing because i could never believe it that such a wide road could be turned to one way. After much argument and some pleading, the officer who was attending to me also referred me to his superior who asked me to drop 'something for fuel' as my own 'Go and sin no more' warning. I did this and i was left off their hook.
All i could say to myself was "Nigeriaaaaaaa na wa o".