It’s not like they stand in dark corners and wait for people to unwittingly show up so they can be preyed upon (they are rarely out at night anyway), but living in major cities especially one like Lagos, it does seem a lot like they stand in the dark corners of broad daylight and spring on people when they least expect.
Quite infamously, many people are familiar with the ways they make their requests: “can I see your particulars?”, or when one is pulled over “beating” traffic lights with the biggest problem in that scenario being that they did not. However, the victim drives a nice-ish car and while the cars behind continue to stream ever so naturally past, your story is not hinged on logic anymore; it is your word against theirs or your few thousand naira against their words or lack thereof. A lot of the time it seems they pull drivers over with hopes of catching them driving without proper documentation – I mean, have you ever been pulled over on the highway where motorbikes with less than 250cc engines ride past even when it has been illegal for years now? Ever noticed how nothing at all is done about any of that? The people to which I refer are Policemen on patrol, FRSC officials, Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) and State Traffic Monitoring Authorities (LASTMA, etc.) These people may be Law Enforcement Officers but from the point of view of regular people, they may more accurately be described as menaces to the society where all they do seemingly is harassing people until they can shake down a few coins from their pockets through intimidation and blatant extortion.
The traffic law and order situation in Lagos especially is fraught with needless redundancies; there are just too many hands looking to do the same thing and not necessarily in terms of work force deployment between different agencies but in the number of agencies themselves. It is not uncommon that one finds a police “checkpoint” for example – which is illegal by the way – with a few “LASTmen” or even another with soldiers, FRSC and a few regular cops thrown into the mix for the culture. It is a mess most times.
In 2015, super-automaker Volkswagen, was slammed with huge fines (about $18bn in the US alone. VW posted revenue losses of around €2.5bn in the quarter that followed the scandal; their shares lost more than 50% of their value in the space of a month and the scandal saw resignations as well as admittance of deceit in high places) when the US Environmental Protection Agency first established that Volkswagen may have fitted vehicles with a software that enabled them to detect test conditions thereby allowing them put out false test results to pass pollution control regulations.
In the EU, control of air pollution, especially Nitrogen Oxides 70% of which stem from vehicular traffic, is a big deal, as other than the move away from burning fossil fuels, it remains one of the prime reasons behind the push for massive uptake of electric vehicles. In the Netherlands for example, legislation has already been passed banning the sale of internal combustion engines by 2025, while Germany may follow a similar suit between 2025 and 2030.
The documented effects of vehicular traffic emissions (especially Nitrogen Oxides) instigated enough concern that progressive taxation was implemented across vehicle groups with an aim to cut down the use of more polluting vehicle in favour of more efficient, less polluting ones and using public transport. The effects of increasingly tightened air pollution legislation in the EU has not been lost on the general health of the European people with just around 20,000 in the UK (DEFRA, 2015) suffering death annually due to air pollution related issues; Rivers State alone beats that figure in monthly air pollution related morbidity several times over. Without intending to make it seem like these are people we have picked as unlikely competition, these countries have taken steps in the right directions and should be emulated.
Taking a few from the mix, especially the VIO as Vehicle Inspection is literally in the name, and repurposing them to suit a purpose in a changing world where the political and economic imperatives of vehicles on the roads are of the same importance as the environmental impacts. Repurposing the VIO from a primarily traffic law/vehicular safety enforcement body, while still working with the Ministry of Transport, to one that focuses on reducing pollution from vehicular sources on public highways and also exists as an expression of governmental dedication to the cause of protecting human welfare by creating enabling and effective environmental pollution control legislation should strike authorities as crucial. This is especially more important in modern times as we understand better the effects of vehicular emissions on heath and their roles as carcinogens and substances that induce upper and lower respiratory tract conditions (i.e. asthma, bronchitis), reduce immunity, have been implicated as causes of birth defects (teratogens) and also exacerbate cardiac conditions.
Similar plans are and have been carried out around the world from the united states where the enforcement of emission regulations are monitored strictly by the US EPA from vehicle production to usage; or India where the Bharat Stage Emission have been implemented with a view to the same effect as the US. In Japan, emissions testing on vehicles ranging from motorcycles to Heavy Goods Vehicles are implemented not only in MOT test centres but also on random stop and inspect junctions on open roads around the country and this has given the country an air quality index better than the EU average.
Managing these issues may be uncomfortable for the most part. It may be quite easy for governmental regulations to be passed only to have compliance become another issue among the populace and this is where the law gets frustrated. In truth, law enforcement can only arrest and fine so many before getting tired themselves. Getting the populace to make the sacrifice for a better society sometimes fuels the notion that the Nigerian population is really the biggest obstacle to its own progress. However, the advantages of instituting this would reasonably include: cleaner air and the positive effects on health reduces expenditure on health through purchase of respiratory illnesses drugs for instance. Increased income and more revenue generation from increased use of public transport as well as vehicle emission taxation which would effectively add to contributions in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and put more funds in the pockets of the authorities for use on other issues. Roads would also see the use of lesser polluting and safer vehicles as regulation and taxation would prohibit the use of inefficient ones, preventing importers from turning the country into a dumping ground for undesirable vehicles. Finally, the use of more efficient engines running cleaner fuels saves the people money on operation and maintenance cost of vehicles. I mean, what’s not to gain?