By: Winstanley.R. Bankole. Johnson
I am among the few Sierra Leoneans that will not support public censorship of the Police as an institution. This is because apart from the fact that our family members also make up their numbers or no matter how loathsome we are of them as individuals, the Police are invariably our ultimate adjudicators of first instance. So no matter how aggrieved citizens feel, they have always ended up swallowing their pride and disdain for the Police as an institution, and eventually co-operated with them in their investigations.
That sai I have serious challenges validating their pseudonym-: “The Force For Good”, because whether at their duty stations or in their general community relationships beats and public comportments, as prosecutors in our Courts of Law or on traffic duties, they more often than not rarely manifest such sublime attributes. And it is on their irrational traffic management that I shall attempt to dwell on in this piece, because there would appear to exist some “Unwritten Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) between public transport owners and operators and the Police, which as with all Police/Citizens MOU is parasitic in nature and restricted to the pleasure and benefit of the Police only.
It is disappointing that the Police can be so fastidious in the enforcement of that “Unwritten MOU” in this era of limited earning opportunities and restricted economic growth. For example, if you manage to put a commercial vehicle on the road to augment your paltry income, you immediately become the target of Traffic Police and Wardens who misinterpret your acquisition as their own supplementary income stream. They do this through persistent molestation of drivers and operators, and in manners which when properly analyzed are tantamount to brazen white collar highway robbery. Rather surprisingly, the recently introduced Traffic Warden guild has so effectively copied and perfected the “art of extortion”, from commercial vehicles’ drivers and operators that you’d think they too have been in existence long before the Police as an institution was formed.
And they molest drivers and operators with such efficient bile, that you’d be further forgiven to think the Traffic Police and Wardens have partitioned the city into zones and spheres in influence and control, from which they could only wander away at their peril. Doing so means paying double the daily protection fees. In their systemic extortionist propensities, no commercial vehicle is exempt; not even container trailers, though our delivery vans stand out as the most vulnerable.
The ease with which the faces of Traffic Police and Wardens are transformed and contorted into anger and fits of rage at the mere sight of a strange commercial vehicle “in their turf”, followed by the fierce bellowing command of “Park Yanda” is perhaps comparable only to the attraction of a swarm of flies to a pile of feaces in an open field. The ensuing dialogue between them and the vehicle drivers and operators can be as meaningless as ever. The more their antics are resisted, or the more panicky the driver, the greater the delays they are likely to face, because the game plan is to subject them to inordinate delays and loss of income for refusing to co-operate. I have advised them many a time to swap their uniforms for a commercial driver’s seat if they believe the latter can be so profitable but to no avail.
Illiterate and panic stricken drivers bear the brunt most. They are first whisked away for detention at the nearest Police station where false charges are preferred against them for same day Court appearances. And as if to complete the cycle of connivance, all traffic cases from wherever or whichever Police station are sent for collation at the Central Police station, and thence to the Pademba Road Traffic Courts. The time line between the drivers’ arrests and the afternoon Court sittings have been deliberately synchronized (and prolonged) to allow for “under the table” settlements, failing which remands until the next distant adjournment date is a sine-qua-non.
I have personally glimpsed on this before in October 2012 under the caption-: “Traffic Police Ambush”, highlighting its potential impact of underwriting the unpopularity of any incumbent government, but to date neither the supervising ministry of Transport and Aviation, nor the SLRSA or the Police would seem to care.
“Special Police Clearances”
Container Lorries bear their own brunt too. The Police and Traffic Wardens know full well that Containers are not allowed to ply the roads before 8PM. They also know that consignees unable to offload before noon the next day are constrained to pay double the normal hiring rates of charge for the trailers, yet they would spare no mercy in harassing drivers striving to return to the docks at dawn, unless against the payment of huge protection fees.
The current Ebola epidemic which precludes business operations after 6PM and clustering of peoples has worsened the situation. And if you try to reason out things with them, they will re-direct you to “Sovulla” or “Vincent Nabieu” for “Special Police Clearances”. Yes. “Special police Clearances” for vehicles already licensed to traverse the very roads covered by the validity or tenor of their Road Users’ Licenses issued by the Sierra Leone Roads Safety Authority (SLRSA). If you’re passing through busy thoroughfares you could see commercial vehicles displaying stickers of such “Special Police Clearance” that are not even recognized within our Road Traffic Acts and Regulations. Yet they are issued out. So the fact of the matter here is that irregular as that particular aspect of the Police/ Transport Operators and Owners MOU may seem, superior officers of both the Police Force for Good and Traffic Wardens Guild are fully seisable of it.
I feel it’s about time a more rational and far less exploitative code of conduct or bye-laws compliant with existing Traffic Laws and Regulations be introduced for an otherwise hardworking and law-abiding sector of our toiling masses who are merely trying to complement the government’s agenda for private sector growth by being self-reliant.
Perhaps for a start, Traffic Police Officers should begin to be rotated periodically between regular duties after every two years on traffic duties, as a way of discouraging them from perfecting the culture of exploitation of vehicle owners and operators, whilst the remit of Traffic Wardens should be reviewed and restricted to issuances of tickets, clearances of obstructing, derelict and abandoned vehicles to designated impound yards. The regular deployment Traffic Wardens alongside Traffic Police Officers represents an unnecessary duplication of resources and must be discouraged.