Enugu and its unruly traffic marshals
I WAS born and I grew up in Enugu in the mid 80s. Life and living was calm and social infrastructures worked. Pipe-borne water, waste management services, constant power and well managed traffic with the use of traffic lights. I enjoyed government housing especially as provided by government institutions to their staff.
A city dominated mainly by public servants back then, Enugu offered a certain kind of serenity and orderliness befitting its status as the capital of the Eastern Region.
The city as we knew it back then was also well planned, demonstrating the handiwork of Europeans who settled in the city and helped plan it.
With a number of higher institutions of learning and very decent public primary and post primary schools, Enugu offered a very good level of quality education and life to lower and lower middle class homes. This made it a destination of choice for persons seeking urbanisation.
As population expanded and urbanisation continued, the city began to lose its serenity. Public infrastructure and social services suffered and things basically worsened. It did not seem like there were plans to anticipate the population growth. Coupled with the failing quality of governance and successive military regimes, Enugu capitulated just like many other cities in the country.
Enugu became chaotic with all manner of issues plaguing it: Poor road networks, housing deficit, crime, dwindling academic quality, chaotic traffic scenes; basically, dearth of social infrastructure. I would come into Enugu on visits and can’t believe how things have gotten out of control.
In a clime where planning is key, this should have been anticipated and properly planned for. However, government became overwhelmed at the speed with which this has happened.
A good administration will aim to strike a good balance between the rate of population growth, matched with the same level of infrastructural expansion and availability of social services. A lack of this balance is that residents after paying tax to the government are forced to provide most of these services for themselves, the same services for which they are taxed for.
It is in a bid to provide these services that government resorted outsourcing. In this instance some public/social services are given to private organisations to manage. On one side, to provide the needed social infrastructure expected of government to the citizens and on another hand, make profit for themselves providing these services.
This has shown to produce results; from housing to public power, water, waste management and even traffic. A good advantage of outsourcing is that it brings the needed level of efficiency and service delivery quality that one would expect in a competitive environment.
I was in Enugu recently; the weekend of February 19 for a normal visit. I had to run a few errands for my parents. I borrowed my sister’s car and set off. I have done all my rounds and was returning home about 3 p.m. I passed the traffic light in front of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium at amber convinced that I did not run a red light.
Not up to 1 kilometre from the traffic light, two traffic marshals on bike blocked my path. One got into the car and accused me of running a red light.
We found a spot and parked. Argument ensued. I asked them to provide any evidence indicating I ran a red light. They insisted I must have my car impounded and booked. I was accused of a traffic offence I was convinced I did not commit, and in the same breath, will be punished.
I needed to find out what system punishes people without going through a competent legal arbitration? I was convinced I did not run a red light and there was no evidence to prove otherwise.
Eventually, one of the riders, calmer though, seeing they were not making any headway with me, pulled me aside and started begging me to ‘give them money for fuel.’
I probed further to find out why they were rude, uncivilised and full of lies? What I discovered next might shock some people, but for me, went ahead to confirm what I had always believed with regards to traffic management in Enugu and indeed most outsourced social services.
My ‘captor’ showed me a text message (an sms) indicating that they had a daily target to meet with regards to the number of cars they were to impound and bring back to the office, ‘to prove that they came to work…’ (Friday 20.02.2015)’, quoting the sms. He also said they had target in terms of cash to send back to the office. After much cajoling and begging for ‘fuel money’, I gave him N1000.
It felt like I have helped the ‘poor boy’ given the way he pleaded, but my heart couldn’t stop thinking that I may have enriched the pockets of a rogue politician who is being compensated for his allegiance to the government of the day.
That sms basically confirmed my belief that this was no civic responsibility to maintain traffic in the metropolis but to generate revenue for the government and, indeed, some private pockets. Their disposition as one would expect should have been corrective rather than ‘impound and fine’ which is the order of the day.
These people confuse motorists with conflicting signals to move and another telling you to stop. Confused, you will stop at the centre of the roundabout only for them to pounce on you and charge you with traffic violations.
Go to Nowas Junction in Trans Ekulu, Enugu, and see human barbarism in full glare. They have dislodged the police from that particular location just to fleece motorists.
Residents and motorists live in fear of these boys rather than a genuine intent to obey traffic regulations. Also, while you are making an effort to be civil and law abiding by observing the queue, some politician with police protection or even police van and the same set of traffic ‘rascals,’ break the regulation at will and get away with it. What then is the essence of this service if not to enrich someone?
If any Enugu State government official reads this and, indeed, any state government running this sort of system, please something needs to happen to bring sanity and order back on our roads.
Not only is this function sidelining the job of traffic police, who sits by and watches these boys do their work, and in some cases, acts as an accomplice to such an extortionist regime, it is very dangerous to recruit boys straight out of the motor park or wild streets with no adequate training and an understanding of the laws and their jurisdiction, and thrust them onto the roads to enforce traffic laws.
Anambra State started this way and marshals ended up physically embarrassing motorists over perceived traffic infractions. They called them ‘ndi mpiawa azu’. Thanks to the current governor who came in and is trying to sanitise the traffic management system.
Last Christmas, I came to Onitsha to pick some goods from a motor park on Iweka Road. I parked by the expressway while my elder brother crossed to the service lane into the park to pick the goods. After three minutes, a traffic marshal walks up to my car, and addressed me in the most gentle but stern mien, directing me to where to park.
Imagine the same scenario in Enugu? Someone would simply jump into your car and ask you to drive to their office. Of course, you know the rest.
I am also charging lawyers who live in Enugu. It will take only a court case and judgment to put a stop to this faceless traffic regime in Enugu. That was all it took for the Park and Pay regime in Abuja to be sent back to where it came from; the pit of hell. If not, what gives the traffic authorities the power to punish people without being convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction? I might lack a good understanding of the law, but something needs to be done about this.
We all understand the importance of orderliness in traffic control, but that is not the case. Some politicians have hijacked the process and turned it into a money-making venture.
Their objective is not traffic control, but traffic chaos and profit! This is one function the government cannot afford to outsource but should, rather, enhance the delivery capacity of the agency saddled to do it to ensure and assure efficiency.
•Anarado is a senior associate, Bluechem Associates Ltd.