Around 6pm yesterday, as I left the headquarters of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), a man, big in stature wearing a LASTMA uniform shouted in Yoruba, “Is this the journalist? You should be jailed. Both of you, come back here!” When we turned back to meet him, he said: “why did you do that? Why?”
Rover (the man who’d led the LASTMA operation that morning) immediately told him we were there on the orders of their boss; he apologized immediately.
I went to the man and told him I did nothing wrong. Earlier in the morning, close to six LASTMA officials assaulted a man inside an enclosed compound, far away from the public eye. They later bundled him inside their car as the man kept kicking the door. It was the most brazen display of power and oppression. In the middle of this, as I recorded, asking for clarification as to what had happened, they shut me off, snatched my phone and deleted the video I was recording.
When I later identified myself and showed them my Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) identity card, they snatched that too. Then they drove off, telling me to go their headquarters to claim my properties.
The problem of Nigeria is that many people wearing uniforms assume powers that are beyond their jurisdiction, and this was one of such cases. While the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Lagos on New Media, Jubril Gawat, interpreted this as a “misunderstanding”, what I saw was a continuous string of oppression that LASTMA officials are getting known for.
Director of Legal, Mr Kehinde Akerele, who promised to see to the last of the issue, stated how he had warned LASTMA officials several times on how to conduct themselves. These warnings obviously went unheeded. Most times, there seems to be a declaration by these men in uniform, even though they are not upholding the law, that they are the law.
While Gawat explained that there had been tensions due to incidents of LASTMA officials with bus drivers, which sometimes ended in death, it still did not explain why a journalist or anyone should have their property confiscated or arrested for recording what public officials do.
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