Tales of encounter with marshals

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 27 Apr 2008

TWO major things activate the prayerful spirit in my wife. One is when she sees me in a vision with ladies. The other is whenever we are on the road, especially beside a container-bearing truck or a Molue. Most of these truck drivers don‘t latch the containers they carry. The Molue driver will first cover your vision with excessive smoke. Then, he will push you dangerously out of the road or even hit your car with impudence. At such moments, chants of “blood of Jesus” usually rend the air.

Really, driving on Nigerian roads amounts to travelling to Golgotha. There are many obstacles motorists contend with: bad roads, rickety vehicles, armed robbers etc. Just last week, a container-carrying truck crushed two vehicles on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The accident reportedly happened because the two affected vehicles were fleeing from armed robbers operating on the road. They made a U-turn and drove against the traffic. In the process, they had a head-on collision with the truck. The container on the truck fell on the vehicles, resulting in the tragic death of 13 people.

There are people who also make U-turn when they sight law enforcement agents, particularly officers and men of the Federal Road Safety Commission. The reason is that people perceive them to be more stubborn and uncompromising. The police may collect N20 and leave you, but marshals may not. Their own collection, call it fine if you like, goes far above N20.

For instance, sometime in 2003, I ran into their net at Aba in Abia State. My major offence was that I had an expired fire extinguisher. Despite my pleas and in spite of the fact that some of them, including their commander, were my friends, they booked me. Immediately I returned from my travel, I went to their office and paid my fine. They told me that I could have gone to the bank to pay. But because I was their friend, they decided to save me the trouble by collecting the fine in their office.

Since then, I vowed never to fall into their trap again. I make sure I always have fire extinguisher, caution sign and all such things that they ask for. And so, it was with confidence that I stopped when some marshals flagged me down on Kingsway Road, by NNPC Filling Station, Ikoyi, Lagos. It was on Monday, 14 April at about 2.40pm. I had passed another group less than 100 metres on the same road. The lady marshal, who was detailed to check me, first asked for my driving licence and vehicle particulars. I gave them out with all pleasure. She held them as she asked for my fire extinguisher and caution sign. I provided all these. “Go and march your brake,” she ordered.

Meanwhile, two other clean vehicles were behind me: one, a Japanese car; the other, a Jeep driven by a woman. The woman was fuming, “I am going to the hospital. I don’t know what you people are talking about. This is my husband’s car. I don’t know where he keeps his fire extinguisher and C Caution.” Immediately, she called her husband to complain.

As she was yelling, I marched my brake as ordered. With triumphant glee, the marshal said, “Your brake lights are not working.” I expressed surprise at this discovery. To convince me, she called her colleague to come and check as well. The second person came and asked me to march again. I did. Her verdict was that the right side was working, but the left side was not. I simply told them that a car, being a mechanical device, could develop fault anytime. “Oga,” she said, “this is an offence. So what do we do?” I knew where she was going, so I threw the question back at her.

The penalty for my offence, she said, was N3, 000, which I must pay in their office on the island. But to show me some mercy (like their Aba counterparts), she said I could pay N2, 000 there without bothering to come to their office. I rejected her kind gesture. It was then she said I should talk to their oga. I waited as the oga was booking the man behind me. After this, the oga, without uttering any word, started booking me. When he was through, he gave me the ticket and walked away.

The following day, I went to their office located on Sura area of Lagos Island to pay. At the registry there, they gave me a Union Bank deposit slip with which I paid N2, 000 into the FRSC account at the Lewis Street branch of the bank. When I came back, they collected the customer’s duplicate copy of the slip from me. They not only forced me to buy their booklet, The Revised Highway Code, for N300, but also apologised for not giving me any receipt for all the transactions I made with them. They claimed they had run short of receipts.

Though I wasted my time and energy going back to the island to pay, I felt happy with myself. I was happy that I didn’t succumb to the subtle attempt to make me pay N2, 000 that may never be officially recorded. I was happy that the experience enriched my knowledge of traffic offences and the punishment accompanying them. And I was surprised to find out that the official fine for my offence, known as lights/sign violation, was N2, 000 and not N3, 000 as the lady marshal erroneously told me.

Some other offences and their fines include road obstruction violation, which is N3, 000; driving licence violation, N3, 000; dangerous overtaking violation, N3, 000; traffic light disobedience, N5, 000. Others are attempting to corrupt marshal, N10, 000; use of phone while driving, N4, 000; seat belt violation, N2, 000; hospital rejection of accident victim, N50, 000 and excessive smoke emission, N5, 000. There are many other offences.

Indeed, no sane society condones reckless violation of traffic rules. In the United Kingdom, Immigration Minister and MP, Liam Byrne, was fined £100 last year for using his mobile phone while driving. A Sutton Coldfield Magistrate’s Court also ordered him to pay £35 costs and gave him three penalty points on his licence. This was in spite of the fact that the minister was taking an important call on a deportation matter. Ironically, Byrne, according to media reports, is a strong campaigner for road safety. In 2005, he reportedly tabled a petition from constituents, which called for tougher penalties against dangerous drivers. He was also said to be on the committee that inculcated in UK’s 2006 Road Safety Act, an increase in fines for using a mobile phone while driving.

Similarly, the Wrexham magistrates fined the former Chairman of roads policing at the association of Chief Police Officers in Wales, £350 and banned him from driving for 42 days last year. Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes was caught on camera driving on a speed of 90mph in a 60mph zone.

My sincere wish is to see a Nigeria where marshals can book a minister or his convoy for over-speeding; where safety considerations override collection of fines or bribes; where more attention is focused on the express roads, where scores of Nigerians perish everyday rather than on less risky roads as in Ikoyi; and where every road user behaves so rationally that there may not be any need to shout “blood of Jesus” whenever we are on the road.

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