Growing up there was this jingle on TV I loved, ‘Make una call police oh, make una call police oh!’ It ended by saying, ‘The police is your friend!’
In kindergarten our teacher, Mrs F always emphasized that the police was our friend. We always preferred to be police when playing ‘police and thief’ and after traffic wardens, police were the next set of people I loved to randomly wave at while my mom drove by in her white peugeot 504. Those were the days.
As I grew older and became cooler, I wondered why Lagos didn’t have cops or bobbies, we had olopas and mopos and our traffic controllers were called yellow fever! Why give such disrespectful names I wondered? Did it have anything to do with their shoddy appearances and shifty eyes?
Everyday I was regaled with tales of evils done by the very people supposed to protect us from crime. Tales of bribery, thievery and harassment. I couldn’t believe my ears or eyes. Even my friend Y who wanted to be a police officer back in primary school promptly gave it up. No one wanted to be part of the oppressive lot that asked for your particulars and after asked for your fire extinguisher and chasis number only to beg for something for the boys after delaying you for several minutes.
No one wanted to be associated with law enforcement agents who’d kill a man over 20 naira.
The police force became on the most part a band wagon of half-baked, barely educated riff-raffs who smoked igbo on the job and were as trigger happy as the number of bullets in their fire arm allowed!
There were a few good men no doubt but somehow the bad cops always craved the spotlight!
People quivered as they neared a police check point. Frantically searching for the photocopies of their car documents and any lose change and silently saying a prayer to God and on the flip side, the police seemed to quiver at the sight of actual armed criminals remembering suddenly that they had kids at home and a wife to feed.
Citizens learned quickly that running to a police station for help when a house was being robbed or when they needed a hero was the most futile of attempts.
The Government continued to loudly air on government-sponsored stations that the police was our friend and there to serve and protect while ignoring the plight of the police force, leaving them under-paid and desperate despite the potential risk their lives were subjected to on a daily basis.
Yes the police was our friend. Our friend, the thorn in our side and just another on the lists of menaces to our increasingly corrupt society.
In lasgidi we thought things couldn’t get any worse. Most of us had even mastered how to handle these uniform men and some of them were actually nice and helpful till the governor at the time introduced LASTMA, the force to be reckoned with!
If you’ve never driven a car in Lagos or been in a car that got flagged down by LASTMA, you can stop reading now.
LASTMA is unique because these blood-thirsty law enforcement agents don’t carry a gun or any form of ammunition yet they are feared above the police by majority of Lagosians.
Yes they are supposed to be there for our own good, afterall road traffic accidents have sky-rocketed and obeying traffic regulations goes a long way to ensuring preservation of motorists’ lives but like every common man given power, the average LASTMA guy has seen it, tasted it and gotten drunk with it.
It has become a very lucrative job!
It pays the bills, puts food on the table and pays for shayo whether the government pays their salaries or not.
Their highest number of victims come from the group comprising of johnny just come motorists. Drivers not familiar with the Las gidi terrain, who look frantically for the no U-turn sign and find none only to be shown a barely visible, crooked, half-buried sign by an over-eager LASTMA guy with a wide grin on his face! “Thanks for falling into my hands” he seems to say.
After you stop sometimes you are unfortunate to have left the back door open and a Lastma guy jumps in. Following this are the two longest hours of your life as you beg, bargain, reason, beg again, scream, cry and eventually part with an undisclosed and usually exorbitant sum of money and you never got a ticket cos they make you believe they did you a huge favor by saving you from paying the hefty sum charged to offenders at their office. You feel frazzled and far from ecstatic and the Lastma guy can barely contain his excitement as he counts your hard-earned cash, promptly pockets it and bids you a good day as his mind wanders to Mama Eze’s bukka and the huge plate of food he’ll order not to mention that bringing money home to the mrs tonight means he may be getting some! So yes you’ve given to charity, a bitter lesson learnt and the LASTMA office non the wiser!
I’ve gathered some tips Lagosians swear by in tackling LASTMA!
I call it my LASTMA-SURVIVAL GUIDE:
1. Makesure all your doors are locked.
2. If they flag you down, speed off unless you are on Ozumba where there’s a traffic light every 5 minutes or if you can spot a LASTMA vehicle.
3. If they ask for your licence, always give a photocopy.
4. If they are hell bent on taking you to their office, immediately beg. If that fails, speak their language immediately (please tell me you know I’m talking money)
It costs you less in the long run.
5. Watch your car key like a hawk, they’ve been known to snatch them from the ignition in the twinkling of an eye.
6. If your seat belt is bad put it across you and sit on it.
7. If you see them afar off, double check your seatbelts and reduce your speed. Also look out for easily broken traffic regulations and avoid falling for ’em.
8. If your car lacks air-conditioning still wind up the glasses when approaching them. Some say it is better to keep a barrier between them and you even if you die of heat!
9. If they are in your car and are acting unreasonable, scream at them and threaten to drive to a destination unknown. (I must warn that this only works on rookie LASTMA guys)
10. Pray against LASTMA as you leave your house!
As a doctor, much as I hate to be on their side, especially with the level of corruption amongst their ranks, I must warn that they were put there for a good cause.
Everyday the average emergency doctor sees at least three victims of road traffic accidents and only one out of three survive.
The commonest causes of such accidents are drunk driving, exceeding speed limits and ignoring traffic regulations.
LASTMA is actually here to help.
Better your money, than your life but to ensure they do a better job;
1. Ensure they give you a ticket if the money they are collecting from you is exorbitant. Caution fee is 15,000 naira. That way the money doesn’t enter their pockets.
2. Be vigilant. Some armed robbers disguise themselves as LASTMA guys.
3. Most importantly, obey traffic rules.
-Use your seat belts
-Don’t run a traffic light or a stop sign
-If you’re not sure a U-turn’s allowed or if it’s a one-way, slow down and ask, don’t drive head-on into their hands.
It’s christmas season and Maga must pay!
Help them help you.
Don’t be the maga.
LASTMA is your friend and speed kills!
May we all live to see 2011. Amen.
Have a great day peeps and merry christmas! Xoxo