Seventy-seven-year-old retiree, Mr Dotun Falua, is still in shock. A short visit to a friend’s place over the weekend became a bane for harassment and extortion by men who claimed to be task force officials.
That afternoon, Falua had decided to visit a longtime friend, Mr Madiaga Okumagba, at Redstar Express, off Airport Road, Lagos, whom he had not seen for a long time.
They had exchanged some phone calls and agreed to meet that day. After spending a few hours chatting and exchanging pleasantries, it was time to leave.
Falua, who did not drive, was to take a cab or any of the ride-hailing services but his friend insisted a driver took him in his car.
“It was far too kind of him, especially at this period when the price of fuel is on the high side,” Falua said.
After a short drive, along Ajao Road, Falua said he decided to make a quick stop at a grocery store to get some supplies. He had forgotten that there were some things he needed to get from the store for his home. This was around 2pm that day.
He asked the driver to park by the roadside so he could quickly make that stop, buy the groceries and continue the journey home.
The driver had barely stopped when he noticed that the shop he thought was opened was actually shut.
Before the man could close the car door to continue the journey, some young men opened the front seat of the car and jumped in, sitting side-by-side with the driver.
This made Falua and the driver confused.
“Are we being robbed? Is it a kidnap? Who is this man?” Falua recall asking himself.
He said, “It was like magic. I did not understand what was going on. The man faced back and said he was a local government task force official and that I had broken a traffic law and would have to follow him to his office.
“The driver and I begged him. The engine was even still on. I didn’t even step out of the car. All I did was open the door and close it. All this did not take up to two minutes before the task force man jumped in. He said we should not have parked where we parked and that we had disrupted traffic and caused a major obstruction. He said a lot of things but the driver and I kept on apologising, telling him that it was not intentional.
“We even drew his attention to the fact that the engine was still revving and it was going to be a quick stop which eventually did not happen because the grocery store was locked.
“He was a man in his early 30s and he spoke to me in a rough voice. I begged and surprisingly, he accepted. He said we should drive him to a location in front he would show us. Little did we know it was a trap.”
The drive went on. As they passed a junction, the official pointed at another. When they passed that one, he pointed towards another until they drove to Okota.
It was a Monday afternoon, and the sun was shining at its apex.
Falua said he was shocked to see that he had been rounded up by similarly-dressed men, who ordered the driver to park the car and come down.
The Ekiti State indigene said he no longer felt safe, as they behaved like criminals, who had ulterior motives.
After a few minutes, the man said the driver parked and he saw that he had been driven to the Okota Taskforce Office.
“It was a surprise. I tried my best to see if I could get the name of the man who followed us there, but I could not. He did not state his name. He also did not present us with any means of identification. So, it could have just been anybody.
“The way these young men swarmed the car, you would think we were criminals. I am sure the driver was becoming apprehensive. The official in the car ordered us to come down and we did and the car was seized.
“They claimed our offence was a grave one and that we were obstructing the free flow of traffic with indiscriminate parking.
“Again, there, I explained to them that we only parked for me to get something from a shop, which we met lock and didn’t make the stop again but they did not want to listen. Our entire plea, too, fell on deaf ears,” he said.
After a lot of fuss, Falua said the men said the charge for the offence was N55,000 before the car would be released back to them.
Falua said he was both livid and surprised at the amount they mentioned.
When he told them why the amount was too high for an offence, which, according to him, he did not even commit, the officials reportedly told him that it was the least they could go.
They also reportedly insisted that they would not release the car.
“I explained to them that the car was not mine and that it was even a kind gesture from a friend who offered for his driver to take me home. They said it was because of that they would collect the N55,000. Else, it would have been higher.
“I pleaded. The driver pleaded. Imagine me pleading with those young men to, please, let me go with my car so I could go back home to rest, but they refused,” he said.
Falua said he had to call on his friend who owned the vehicle to explain what happened.
He, too, was said to have begged the officials for leniency and to beat the charge down, but the officials said they would impound the car and the charge might go up after that day.
The retiree said he spent more than one hour begging the men to be lenient with him, but they refused, adding that they had other cases to attend to.
“My friend offered to pay the money but they refused to give their personal account details. They told us to go to a Point of Sale operator to transfer the sum of N55,000 and N2,000 charges, making it N57,000 to the PoS operator’s account and bring the receipt.
“One of them even accompanied us to the place where we paid the money into a Palmpay account, with the name: Oluwabunmi Mogaji. I have the receipt of the payment because it was the owner of the car who did the transfer. Until the alert came, they did not allow us to leave.
“When the PoS lady saw the alert, she alerted them and we were released to go.
“I want this matter investigated. This is theft. Let the appropriate authorities take this matter up to check the rubbish that goes on in that area and return that money back to the owner.
“The poor young man had to squeeze out that money that Monday. With the way things are in the country today, losing N57,000 to unnamed and unregulated local government task officials is unacceptable,” Falua said.
Meanwhile, a senior government official, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH, stated that motorists had been complaining about the activities of the men.
The source said, “They are notorious for that and we have warned them many times, but they refused to listen. We told them that by virtue of the state traffic laws, local governments have no power or authority to collect fines for traffic offences, but they refused to listen. We are tired of receiving complaints on this and the council chairman cannot say he is not aware.
“These thugs were people who worked for them during the elections. But after the elections when they could not find any place or position for them, they allowed them to roam free and extort money from peaceful Lagosians.”
When Journalists visited Okota on Wednesday morning to trace the event, passersby confirmed the activities of the hoodlums.
A resident, Kalid Gbenga, said the men were working for the Isolo LCDA.
According to him, he sees them going in and out of the secretariat.
“I know them very well. They are from the (Isolo) LGA. That place they call their office is not really their office. I am not sure because there was a time the state government came for a raid in 2020, and they ran away,” he said.
Another lady, who sold food in a cart and gave her name as Chika, said the ‘task people’ used to disturb not just motorists but hawkers and businesses.
“They said they work with the government. I cannot tell if it is true or false. As I am here now, I pay levies to them but I know that those levies do not enter into the government purse, as it is always paid through PoS or collected as cash.
“In the morning like this, you will not see them. They have gone out to ‘catch’ people. From 11am, 12pm till evening, you will see cars lined up here paying for different offences,” she said.
Getting Oluwabunmi Mogaji, whose PoS was used to perpetrate the fraud, was unsuccessful.
Our correspondent, disguising as a customer, said he wanted to transfer to a Palmpay account at three different PoS centres. They all had different names.
When our correspondent asked one of the operators of Mogaji’s stand, he said he knew no one with that name.
His tone also became hostile to this reporter.
Isolo LG boss speaks
When contacted for a comment, Mr Damilola Kushimo, the Deputy Chief Press Secretary to the Isolo Local Council Development Authority Chairman, Bayo Olasoju, said the council did not have any knowledge of the extortion.
He also added that when more information was provided, he would swing into action and get the perpetrators.
He said, “I just placed a call to the supervisor. He is more like the commissioner for special duties we have in the local government. He said he had no idea about it (extortion). For now, there is no idea about that extortion. He (the council chairman) is currently in a meeting,” Kushimo said.
Olasoju asked our correspondent to come to the council office to provide information about the extortion.
On Wednesday, however, when our correspondent reached Kushimo, he said investigations were already ongoing, adding that he was not aware of any task force office at Okota.
Meanwhile, Mr Gboyega Akosile, the Chief Press Secretary to the state Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was positive that the suspects would be apprehended, said the incident was a case of ‘bad eggs in the society’.
“It’s a case of bad eggs in the society; you should talk to the chairman of the task force,” he disclosed.
LG officials wrong – Lawyer
A human rights lawyer, Ikechuku Ani, said according to the Lagos traffic laws, fines for traffic offences are determined only by a court of law and enforced by traffic agencies like the Federal Road Safety Corps, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency and the traffic unit of the Nigeria Police Force.
“The Lagos traffic laws do not authorise local government officials to receive or act in lieu of the state, on whose ‘soil’ the offence was committed.
“According to the law, there are only a few reasons why a vehicle can be impounded, and parking by the road to purchase an item is not one of them.
“When a driver drives without a licence, his/her car may be impounded. Disobeying a LASTMA official can also lead to one’s car being impounded. Not displaying a hackney permit for people who need it can also lead to this. Driving without a roadworthiness certificate or being caught smoking while driving and a few others are also cases that can lead to a vehicle being impounded. So, the officials acted out of order and should be investigated and punished,” he said.
He urged the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to step into the matter and clear the mess, adding that if the matter was taken to court, it might become worse.