Abuse of Their Uniforms

Staff fighting a driver
Staff fighting a driver

Security, military and para-military personnel abuse their uniforms by refusing to pay bus fares on the pretext of being “staff”

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Aug. 12, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

A PASSENGER boarded a commercial bus from Iba junction to Iyana Ipaja. As the bus was about getting to Egbeda bus-stop, the conductor started calling for Iyana Ipaja passengers. Shortly, passengers going to Iyana Ipaja started jumping into the bus. Suddenly, a policeman also jumped into the bus. On sighting the policeman, the conductor asked him to alight that he wasn’t interested in conveying any “staff” but the policeman refused. The driver then changed his mind about the route and told the conductor to call Oshodi passengers instead, while he asked the policeman to alight from the bus since he is no longer going towards his route.

But the policeman insisted that he would follow the bus to wherever it would go and threatened to deal with the driver and his conductor when they got to Iyana Ipaja bus-stop. This resulted in a tensed argument that led to them insulting one another and the policeman got provoked by the utterances of the conductor and gave him a hard punch on the face. Instantly, the conductor started bleeding profusely from the nose while the policeman brought out his belt and whipped the conductor continuously.

The above scenario is what goes on in Lagos, everyday as a result of the refusal of uniformed men and women to pay the required fare when they board commercial buses. A “staff”, according to commercial bus drivers in Lagos, is any person in military, police and paramilitary outfits, who boards a commercial vehicle. Such a person, according to them, is not expected to pay the required transport fare. The idea, it was learnt, evolved from the habit of stubborn policemen and women, who whenever they boarded commercial vehicles in Lagos, refused to pay the bus fare, claiming they were “staff”. It has now become a trend for other military and paramilitary officers who always insist on not paying a dime as bus fare whenever they appear in their uniforms.

Investigations by Realnews revealed that the list of agencies, whose officers claim to be “staff” in public buses, has extended from just policemen to include, soldiers, naval and air force personnel, staff of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC, Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, men of Lagos State Traffic Management Agency, LASTMA, Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI and even Man ‘O’ War, Boys’ Scout and Neighbourhood Watch, an agency of the state government.

Realnews also learnt that some uniformed men are often hired as escorts to accompany vehicles carrying goods to various destinations to help owners of such goods evade arrest or unnecessary delay from law enforcement agents. Some drivers, who spoke with the magazine, agreed that it was not as if they loved having these uniformed officers in their vehicles, but that it was the only way to prevent their vehicles from being impounded, especially by LASTMA officials and men of the Federal Road Safety Corps.

Police fighting bus conductor
Police fighting bus conductor

A driver, who simply identified himself as Uzorchi, said, those people called “staff”, especially the police and LASTMA officers, are those you can’t do without. “You should not be too close to them; if you fight them, you are in trouble, if you run away from them, you are in a bigger trouble.” He admitted that he usually looked for military men to sit in front of his bus as they were the most feared of all the security officers that claim to be “staff” in commercial vehicles. “At times, LASTMA officials will disregard police officers and impound your vehicle, but they dare not try that with soldiers. We don’t give them money; we only exempt them from paying the transport fare like other passengers,” he said.

Kingsley Azubuike, a driver, also told Realnews that people who call themselves “staff” are part of the people killing transportation business in Lagos. At times, about two or three of them will board a single vehicle and the conductor will not ask them for money. The driver, however, disclosed that he allowed “staff” in his bus whenever he noticed that there are many Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIO or FRSC officers on the road. “In fact, I have told my conductor to stop allowing staff from entering my vehicle, except there is a problem on the road,” he said.

 He described the police as the worst among the security agents that always claim to be “staff” in commercial vehicles. “Many of the police officers will abandon you if LASTMA officers arrest you, but soldiers and naval officers will stay by you and ensure that your vehicle is not impounded. Situations like that has led to clashes between different law enforcement agencies and the drivers.”

The growing trend among people, who claim to be “staff” in commercial buses, is not limited to uniformed officers. Investigations have revealed that some security agents who are in mufti sometimes refuse to pay bus fares. Jude, a commercial bus driver, said that some of the uniformed men in the state had taken it too far, as many would wear traditional attires, but would put on their berets, while some would hold their belts, so as not to pay. “The police are the worst; when others are not on duty, they always pay and they don’t wear anything that you can use to identify them, but for policemen and women, some of them wear Ankara and put on their berets so as not to pay. They always hold something that you can use to identify them, while in mufti,” he said.

On whether they receive any support from the police when their vehicles are impounded and taken to police stations, Jude said, “Even, if you carry a “staff” in the morning, he may arrest you later in the day and you will certainly not leave the station without dropping something.”

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