Olawale Musa: My Major Focus is Changing the Narrative, Perception of LASTMA

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Saturday interview

His men are hated because some bad eggs and corrupt officers among them have soiled the good works and reputation of his agency. That’s the General Manager of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Wale Musa. He talks to Adedayo Adejobi, about the challenges of running the agency and steps so far taken to weed out bad eggs 

What exactly are the roles of LASTMA?

The role of LASTMA encompasses the control and management of traffic, traffic advocacy and road traffic law enforcement. You cannot control and manage traffic without enforcing.  We also remove impediments for the free flow of traffic.

There’s been a new wave of fines, and it seems more of a revenue generating mechanism for your agency; what’s actually behind these stiff fines?

We don’t make the laws, we only implement. The laws are same ones that have been in existence for a while. I think the social media seems to spread falsehood. We saw it and thought we needed to educate members of the public as most of the information on social media is false. It’s not new. Those fines are meant to be deterrents. Once people know that when they drive against the flow of traffic, they can forfeit their vehicles, they begin to think twice. There is the need to let people know because we are going to increase enforcement on the road. Some of the reasons we have traffic on the road are attributed to impatience and indiscipline. If you can’t pay the fine, don’t commit the offence.

There is a widespread notion that a large number of your workers are illiterates recruited from the motor parks. Hence the level of unwholesome arrests, sharp practices, charges and impunity on Lagos roads. Is that so?

I have a lot of educated LASTMA officials. I have people who are more qualified than me in the workforce. I have mechanical engineers, surveyors, engineers on the road.  It’s because of the society that we live in. It reminds me of an incident that happened in Iyana- Oworo lay bye. I was there incognito, nobody knew who I was. A LASTMA officer arrested an offender and he came down from his car, called the official ‘Ordinary LASTMA’. I was vexed and told them to impound the vehicle. I then called the man to ask him what his qualification was. He replied that he had a Higher National Diploma. The LASTMA official he was talking to has a Master’s degree. That notion is very wrong. I have three LASTMA officials who have doctorate degrees here. They are well qualified. And the truth be said, when we are on the road, everybody behaves as if we are mad. When I say ‘everybody’, I mean it symbolically. Our attitude changes when we are on the road. Our attitude on the road is not a LASTMA attitude but a societal attitude. Do those who misbehave on the road expect LASTMA officials to be different? The only difference between the person on the road and LASTMA official is the uniform. They are human beings and from the society. But we are advocating that respect begets respect and that’s why every week I train over 300 men, including offenders. It’s not easy dealing with drivers.

The average Lagosian sees LASTMA official as corrupt, mean, wicked and conniving. How do you deal with such a huge reputational challenge, and what could help get the trust, integrity and confidence of Lagosians?

Naturally, people don’t like to obey laws. It’s imprinted in our psyche as we grow up and anything that forces us to obey laws, we hate them naturally. It becomes worse when a few of our officials are corrupt because I can tell you that we have a few that are corrupt. For every 12 disciples, there must be a Judas. I have seen and caught them myself, and so I would not deny that we don’t have corrupt officers. But it’s a function of the society. For a person that is already corrupt before coming to LASTMA, it becomes difficult for LASTMA to do anything about it. The best thing is to identify and weed them out. And that’s what we have been doing. We always call on members of the public to assist us by reporting these corrupt LASTMA officials. People report and don’t follow up. The officer who has been reported is innocent until proven guilty. We can’t act until we see evidence. If we act, the officer would go to court and win the case against us. We have seen that happen. We need people to report corrupt LASTMA officials and stand by it.

Last month, we paraded two who asked for money to be transferred to their accounts. Very recently, I caught another two. Under the law, they’ll be shown the way out. If they haven’t reported with evidence, we wouldn’t have been able to establish cases against them and prosecute these officers. We have monitoring and surveillance teams but can’t be everywhere. When they know I’m around, they comport themselves. Once they see my car, they begin to behave. And so I have to change my car every time in order to see what they are doing. We need members of the public to complain so we can make changes.

Are there other platforms Lagosians can seek redress in cases where they have been unduly arrested, heckled, fined and punished?

We’ve tried to educate members of the public and it seems it’s not getting there or people are refusing to listen. It’s easier for them to watch Big Brother than watch news on how we are educating everybody. LASTMA does not issue fine to anybody anymore. For over a year, we’ve started issuing a referral to court where they alongside the LASTMA official have the opportunity of presenting their cases to the magistrate who is neutral, because we know our men can misbehave and show indiscretion on the road. But our people run from coming to court because our men who want to be corrupt also prey on those who don’t want to come to court. Once they hear court, they induce them. We have lost so many cases in court where our men did not show enough evidence. Just recently we lost five cases. But people don’t want to come to court. Let them seek their rights.

There are allegations that some LASTMA officials stationed at the mobile courts create fear. I’m aware of an instance where a colleague was told to plead guilty, else his fines might be doubled and his car would be impounded for days such that he’ll pay heavy fines and demurrage. Are you aware of this and what should be the ideal situation?

I’m not a magistrate and I don’t know how the courts operate. When our boys arrest you, they’ll tell you that if you get to our office, it is N70, 000 and the offence might just be between N10, 000 and N20, 000. Once you hear that amount and look at what you have in your pocket, you are forced to give them N10, 000. They do it because our people are naturally afraid of going to court. Once a LASTMA officer tells you that your offence attracts a particular fine, he wants to play on your ignorance and he is corrupt. He should not tell you. He should let you go to court, except you waive your rights to go to court, which you can do. And that means you must be guilty. In waiving your rights, you must sign that you are waiving your rights and you’ll be issued a ticket.

What other challenges do you face in a city as boisterous as Lagos and how do you think they can be addressed?

My Challenges are two folds – the public, behaviour of people on the road is a big challenge, our advocacy reaching the people and removing impediments and breakdown on the roads. Everywhere people see traffic, they assume LASTMA is responsible even when we can’t do anything about it. The number of breakdowns in Lagos has increased three-folds in the last four years. We have data to show it. It means that the volume of traffic caused by breakdowns would increase three-folds. We need more advocacies. As General Manager, what distresses me the most is when I hear there’s traffic anywhere and I’m constrained. Yesterday, I didn’t go to bed until 1am when an issue was eventually resolved. By 5am this morning, I’ve gotten a call of another breakdown on the road.

The problem of corruption and inducement are other challenges. Members of the public induce our men whilst some LASTMA officials are corrupt. We have men who are dedicated and hardworking, and so it pains me when a select few soil them. I know some officers who resume on Monday morning and don’t’ go home until Saturday morning. They sleep in the office because where they stay is far away from work – that’s another challenge. We have a lot of challenges but we need the cooperation of the people to make things easier for our men on the road.

The Lagos State government recently doubled the allowances of LASTMA officials. Will that in any way cushion the effects of the rigours on the job?

It’s just the hazard allowance and not the salary. It’s some sort of motivation for the officers and they are sincerely happy about it.  

Is that in any way suggestive that your agency is not properly funded?

I won’t say that. The needs are more and the resources are few. The ability of government to provide all these services is also dependent on the resources available.

If you had a blank cheque, what would you ask the government to do?

I would ask for everything. We have a lot of challenges. If we are able to remove impediments on our roads quickly, it relieves the burden and stress on our men. We need more tow trucks and the government is coming out to provide and so I’m not bothered. It might take a lot of time. The government is also looking at Public- Private sector participation, and they are paying attention to the roads. The government is aware and working at it. It’s a gradual process, but we’ll get there.

 What are the milestones since you assumed office?

My major focus is changing the narrative and perception of LASTMA. Welfare is also key to our success. We now also have a LASTMA Band and ceremonial uniform. I started the traffic control cubicles. Our Ambulance checks the vitals of our men on the road every week. We still need to do more but feel constrained by resources available.

What’s your word to aggrieved Lagos road users?

The LASTMA you see on the road is your tax at work. Every Lagosian who pays tax is our employer. Technically, you employed the officer to work for you and you must allow them to do their job and cooperate with them. Never pay any LASTMA officer cash. We’ve provided facilities for them and they should be prepared to plead their case before a court of competent jurisdiction. They should never be afraid when they commit offences. No LASTMA officer is allowed to issue tickets. And we are everybody’s friend.

Pix: Musa.jpg