It was a catch-in-the-act undercover assignment. Saturday Tribune’s correspondent (names withheld) sneaked into the heart of an extortion ring being coordinated by policemen and street urchins.
Lagos State is considered by many to be no man’s land. This is because of the influx of ‘foreigners’ who go on to become major forces in the state’s political circle with representatives at both the federal and state assemblies and as well end up controlling the nerve of the state’s commerce.
Doing business, both legal and illegal, has also become an all-comers’ affair, with everyone with influence taking charge in areas where they have leverage and turn such into money-making ventures. Recently, Saturday Tribune discovered one of such locations where street urchins, popularly called area boys and policemen have erected ‘tollgates’ which make them smile to the bank daily.
People living around communities between Katangua at Super Bus Stop, along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, and Awori Bus Stop are still battling with the trauma of the demolition of their buildings as a result of the bridge being constructed by the state government in the area. However, the construction work has become a goldmine for a new set of ‘officers’ to do ‘business’.
Investigation by Saturday Tribune showed that the construction of the bridge has created an avenue for policemen, hoodlums and even construction workers to make quick money from drivers, both commercial and private.
Between Katangua and Awori, on both sides of the road, which is less than 200 metres, there are over 10 ‘tollgates’ created by the police, social miscreants and some personnel of the construction company working in the area.
A commercial driver who identified himself simply as Tony stated that: “It is a very bad situation. At times you pay twice within 20 metres. The government should dislodge these people from the road.”
He said further that “they take advantage of the constant heavy traffic on the Fagba-Ahmadiyya-Ekoro Road to extort money from drivers. The policemen collect money only from commercial drivers.
“Because of the fact that they collect money from commercial vehicle operators, they turn blind eyes to the activities of the area boys who mount roadblocks to extort money from both private and commercial vehicles”, Tony said.
At one of the checkpoints mounted by some policemen on one of the roads in the Katangua area, the following conversation ensued between a policeman and the driver of a bus carrying this reporter.
Policeman: Park! Park!! Park!!!
Driver: But I settled you when I was going.
Driver: No, not you, but I gave it (money) to your colleagues (pointing at three policemen who were standing about 10 metres away).
Policeman: That does not concern me. Park this vehicle. It seems you want to delay yourself and your passengers.
The driver was only allowed to leave after paying the policeman another N100. Some passengers of the vehicle had prevailed on the driver to ‘settle’ the policemen after it became clear that he would not entertain any excuses.
But the driver was not done yet. He had to hand N50 to a gang of miscreants who blocked the dilapidated road that leads to Super Bus Stop.
A commuter who identified himself simply as Baba Osupa stated that these illegal toll operators made a lot of money from this activity and nothing suggested any accruable revenue to the government from their daily collection.
“In some places like the U-turn at Awori Bus Stop, hoodlums operate only in the evening. They collect N50 from every vehicle, private or commercial. Thousands of vehicles pass through these places every day.”
The commuter continued that “when you look at the number of places where they collect money and how much they are collecting, you can imagine what these people are making every day. One thing about the hoodlums is that whenever policemen from places other than the local divisional station come, they run away and return after the policemen have left.”
Awoko, another commercial bus driver, shared a similar experience. He said: “There are different spots of toll collection. The police collect N100, while the miscreants collect N50. What is even funny is that some security men at the construction site also open a portion of the road in the night and use that to collect N50 from drivers.”
“The old Abule Egba Junction is where the majority of the construction work is taking place. There is no way a vehicle can be allowed through that path in the afternoon. They move heavy-duty equipment around the area in daytime. But in the night, some workers at the company usually open some portions and allow vehicles to pass through a one-way route to link U-turn. It is only those who give them N50 that are allowed to pass.
“The pipeline road that links Abeokuta Expressway with Ekoro Road is another spot where policemen collect illegal toll – only in the night. They allow vehicles coming from the Iyana Ipaja axis to drive through the one-way route as long as you can give them N100. If you refuse to give them money, your vehicle will be impounded for driving against traffic.”
The silent agony of motorists continues with no end in sight.