There is no denying the good intentions of the functions of the Directorate of Road Transport Service (DTRS) otherwise known as Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO), as enunciated in the extant laws. Those roles help to ensure that vehicles are road-worthy and not accidents waiting to happen.
Part of the duties of this office include: ensuring that all vehicles are properly inspected and certified before registration or renewal of vehicle particulars; inculcating traffic rules through public education and advocacy; maintaining effective patrols on roads and highways to carry out routine checks and enforce compliance as well as carrying out effective enforcement through vehicle impoundment and payment of fines.
Others are: ensuring that vehicle inspection plazas are well distributed for easy access within the metropolis; carrying out periodic training, retraining seminars and conferences for officers towards achievement of mastery in Motor Vehicle Administration.
It is important to note, in our opinion, that these roles undergird the functions and duties of the officers of the directorate. But the devil in the detail, sadly, in our view, is the attitude of the officers, their inclination to see themselves as enemies of vehicle owners on the highways through an over-bearing application of the rules which, in such cases, tend towards harassment and blatant intimidation.
At other times, it is also pertinent to point out, some of the officers create the unhealthy impression that they are the only people going through the harsh economic situation in the country. They display a condemnable tendency to extort money from road users for flimsy excuses and, in some cases, outright lies. This attitude become increasingly disturbing especially during festive seasons as the approaching Yuletide.
This newspaper has been inundated with these reports. They became so overwhelming that it took steps, considered necessary, to verify some of the complaints by motorists. The outcome of that investigation, which involves a personal experience, tells a lot that is not edifying about the calibre of staff on duty on the highways in the name of the organisation and their perception of what their duties are. The resort to ill-digested rules poorly internalised complicate the display of incompetence on the part of these officers.
One of the reports received by this newspaper betrayed either illiteracy on the part of the officer or a decisive predilection to take undue advantage of the vehicle owner. In the instance under review, a VIO staff on duty, on this fateful day, accosted this owner of a Toyota Camry, and demanded to inspect his papers. The vehicle owner confidently obliged him only to be told that his papers had expired in October when in actual fact it was due for renewal in December. The vehicle owner decided to play along just to expose part of the rot in the VIO system.
What followed, in our opinion, was shocking. First, the VIO staff inflated the fee from the official N12,500 to N15,000 and added extra amount as penalty for being on the road with expired documents. However, he suggested a way out which was for the vehicle owner to part with some money as bribe and the infraction will go away or he will be taken to the office where he will be made to pay the fee for the renewal of papers and the accruing penalty. All pleas that the vehicle was company property and all registrations are handled by the company staff in charge fell on deaf ears.
The vehicle owner, a journalist, feigning helplessness at this point, placed a call to the office of the Public Relations Officer of the Directorate appealing to him to intervene on his behalf. That, otherwise, professional courtesy was turned down because the officer claimed that he did not want to interfere with the job of his field officers.
The motorist, used in this investigation, as a true patriot, refused to part with money as bribe and opted to go to the agency’s office at Apo Resettlement to pay the official fee and the penalty. That was when the game changed as the VIO operatives discovered on their own that the papers were, indeed, still current and will expire in December and not October as claimed by the over-zealous and inordinately corrupt VIO operative who, by this time, had returned to his road show satisfied that he had performed his duty the way he knew it. The senior officers who were ready to extract their pound of flesh were thoroughly embarrassed at the turn of events and were full of apologies for the undesirable conduct of their subordinate.
But they did something else of their own. They were still determined to extort some money from the vehicle owner. They claimed that any vehicle that entered their premises must be inspected and the fee is N500. The vehicle owner reminded them that he was in their premises illegally and was not ready to be subjected to an illegal application of whatever law that was in place.
We are, by this report, appealing to the management of the DTRS to ensure due process in their recruitment drive. They owe the society the responsibility of putting on the road officers who, at least, understand what their job entails. Education and advocacy role of the Service should also be extended to their staff. The mentality of the average VIO on the road is that of a motor park tout, hungry and violent. Brute force is the order of the day. This is not good enough for the image of the organisation.