I want to start this piece with a commendation to Justice Eze Francis Njemanze for taking the bull by the horn and for the landmark judgment he gave against an illegally constituted authority, which many people today agrees as a timely intervention against unwholesome extortions, intimidation meted on good number of Imo people in recent time. The judgment which was awarded in favour of one Mr. Jude Ogamba on the 21st of March 2017 made headline news in The Leader Newspaper of Sunday April, 9 2017. The Newspaper gave insight into the ruling and the declarations of the erudite judge against obnoxious acts by rampaging members of the Ugochukwu Nzekwe’s led Imo State Task Force Committee on Traffic Offences before it was declared an illegal entity and the state government ordered to pay Five Million Naira compensation to the victim as damages.
The look of things after the landmark judgment suggests that there have not been any meaningful change in attitude to suggest that the state government has made a tactical withdrawal or complied to the court ruling by way of disengaging these illegally constituted task forces which has been a thorn on the flesh of Imo motorists. The hungry-looking members of these illegal task forces are still harassing motorists and still impounding vehicles and extorting money from innocent Imolites in the name of generating revenue. The situation on the ground shows that all is not well in the state as it could be likened to a lawless society under siege by all manner of thugs, hoodlum masking in the name of Task Force or agents of government, extorting money, bulling and harassing motorists and impounding vehicles at will with all manner of dangerous weapons and with brutal force. Majority of these overzealous miscreants and hungry-looking jobbers still shield under the cocoon of the state government to perpetuate all kinds of atrocities and evil on our roads in the name of raising internally generated revenue (IGR) for Imo state without recourse to the rule of law and orderly conduct.
In Justice Eze Nzemanze’s ruling in the suit no; HOW/568/16 filed by Mr. Jude Ogamba, the judge affirmed that “no law allows or encourage hoodlums, thugs or any person or persons to parade on the street with cudgets, planks planted with nails, dangerous weapons, guns, machetes and implement of warfare in the name of effecting or effectuation of the law or sanitizing traffic” He described the action of the task force as anachronistic, anathema and ancient attitude of brutal force to coerce a result, he emphasized that no reasonable Tribunal or Court would allow or sustain such law. He noted that, Imo state Traffic Management Authority law no 14 of 2011 did not make any provision for the appointment of, “Chairman Task Force Committee on Traffic Offences Imo State” the position the respondent Ugochukwu Nzekwe occupies in the authority. The judge affirmed that by virtue of the 4th schedule of 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, it is part of the function of the local government to construct and maintain roads, streets, naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses etc, adding that in the instant case there is no evidence from the respondent of any regulation, rule or public order by the Owerri Municipal Local government showing or stipulating or list roads or streets in Owerri metropolis as “one way” or prohibited or restricted motorists plying the roads or streets.
The court affirms that the respondent are not agents of Owerri Municipal Local government and their action before and now as it relates to the streets in Owerri Municipal are illegal. The judge hold that the 1999 constitution and section 4 of Imo State Traffic Management Authority Law did not give the powers to do this, stating that all the respondents were interlopers and usurpers of the function of Owerri Municipal Local government and their action is not valid, unlawful, illegal and unconstitutional. The court reasoned that the schedule of fees in the said law showed that the whole essence of the law was to generate revenue and not what is envisaged, that is smooth and harmonious movement of traffics, maintaining that rule of law must remain the guide to protect all persons in Nigeria and not the rule of arbitraries and oppression as witnessed in Owerri. Imo State the eastern heartland in recent times has been in the news severally for non performance with regards to payment of its workers and pensioners after collecting N26.8 Billion as bailout fund, an average of N4 Billion as monthly allocation from the federal government apart from other IGR for more than 5 years now with an additional N13 Billon Paris Club refund. The shameless, incoherent, incomprehensible justification of such evil acts in the name of raising IGR in not only an embarrassment but has send a bad signal that Imo is presently a troubled state for motorists passing the state during the day. The level of lawlessness and illegal checkpoints of the roads by illegal groups has reached an alarming proportion and it appears the government is not concerned or may be running short of ideas on how to solve the economic problems bedeviling the state as at now. Using crude methods in the running of government programmes shows how poorly minded those running our government can go in managing our economy.
Many have continued to allege that corruption has turned to corporate leadership in Imo state. The leadership has been accused of having insatiable appetite for material wealth and ostentatious living, an issue people are considering as an affront to their collective intelligence. Public confidence has been eroded by decency and evil manipulation has become the order of the day. Using our youths as porn to bully-forcefully our citizens while trying to replicate and enforce non-existing traffic rules in most cases people are squeezed to cough-out money at all cost with all manner of tactic to private pocket is now reigning in Imo and the federal authorities like the Nigerian Police and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) who are vested with the powers of enforcing traffic rules and regulations has been relegated to the background. These have allowed corruption, bribery, mediocrity, favoritism and lack of purposeful work plan to be obtainable in traffic-rule-delivery system. We all know these evils are the cankerworms that prevent society from putting its abundance human resources into productive use. It is a product of bad governance which often leads to poor economic growth as well hampers economic development of a state like we are seeing in Imo state.
People are asking if this is the kind of job that was promised during the election campaign period, because this kind of job is not dignifying and decent by all ramifications. Making them to look like hoodlums, tugs and criminals chasing and fighting motorists with assorted weapons is on its own dehumanizing and cannot be rated as given them a good and quality job, when agricultural intervention which the federal government, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is harping on has never been harnessed by Imo government since its inception. Agriculture is a good source of improved revenue generation when properly managed; it has the capacity of giving great number of people quality work while they pay taxes on return of investment. Imo government should stop this idea creating dehumanizing jobs for our people. They should live up to their campaign promises. “Agboro” jobs are never a good job and cannot be used to short change Imo citizens as the kind of job promised before the election. Imo youths deserve better jobs and nothing more. I pity those doing these jobs, because of the inherent hazards.
Finally, the traffic section of the Nigerian Police and FRSC who are vested with the constitutional powers should come brazen to stamp their foot as those empowered by the Nigerian law to enforce traffic regulations. The idea of allowing people without proper training under guise of whatever name is a dangerous dimension that must be tamed and discouraged before it turns into another ugly monster and fight back the society like corruption that is plaguing Nigeria now. With the landmark judgment of Justice Eze Francis Njemanze, the authorities can now see the wisdom in harmonizing issues raised by the judgment and do the needful. I know the authorities concerned should do something now and save innocent motorist against daily embarrassment perpetuated by illegal groups answering “Task force”.
By Cyril Aririguzo,