An Electrical Engineer has alleged he was maltreated by Lagos State Environment and Special Offences Enforcement Unit (Task Force) and its mobile court.
Mr Ettu Mohammed claimed that he was assaulted by the government officials, but the mobile Court Coordinator, Mr Femi Alabi, denied the allegation.
Mohammed, who lives on Akowonjo in Alimoso Local Government Area of the state, claimed that he was dragged on the road, beaten, injured in the eye and detained at the mobile court for over eight hours. He said he paid N50, 000 to bail himself.
“On January 25 around 7.45am, my wife called me that she was involved in an accident while taking my son to school in Akowonjo area. It was a multiple accident which involved five cars. I drove to the scene and parked my car about 20 metres from the scene and proceeded to evacuate my wife and son.
“Officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) were on hand to clear traffic caused by the accident. After about an hour, some officials of the Lagos State Environment and Special Offences Enforcement Unit, drove to the scene, some of the officials jumped down from their car, moved towards my car and removed my car number-plate. I know my car was parked on the road side, but it was because I needed to be close to the accident scene to get my family into the car. I could not have parked far away from the scene.
“I proceeded to meet the officials, tried to explain why I parked on the road side but they gave me no audience. My problem with the officials started when I took a snap shot of them with the different number plates they have removed from cars. Some of the officials immediately came down from their car; they ran into me and started beating me. I noticed my eyes were swollen and my phone was seized, they treated me like a criminal. I was later ordered to be detained by the Mobile Court judge in the Black Maria, leaving my family helpless at the accident scene. I was battered the second time and tear gassed, I was assaulted and I almost lost my life. We were about six people in the Black Maria.”
According to him, there were three judges, two lawyers and a court clerk, in the Black Maria, “who will force one to plead guilty to charges or one goes to jail if one pleads not guilty.”
“I was coerced to plead guilty of whatever they accused me of, threatened with jail by the mobile court officials if I pleaded not guilty, and fined the sum of N50,000 which I paid before I was granted bail. They told me my fine was initially N250,000 or two years in jail or both. They were deliberating on my case as if I killed someone. I was coerced by almost 20 people to plead guilty to charges I never committed despite the fact that my wife and son were involved in a terrible accident which they were aware of.
“I noticed they drove me to different parts of the state and removed car number plates. When they got to Iyana-Ipaja, the hoodlums in the area chased and prevented them from removing number plates of cars in the area, so they ran away. They later drove to Alimoso Local government.”
“It took the intervention of LASTMA General Manager, Musa Olawale, the Sole Administrator of Alimosho Local Government and a member of the state executive council to release me after paying N50,000 for bail. They also deleted all the pictures on my phone.”
Mohammed demanded justice, saying he wanted to know why a mobile court will force people to plead guilty or be jailed.
“My offence is a traffic offence and I should not be charged with assault. I want to know why I was treated like a criminal. Was I wrong to have come to the accident scene with my car to rescue my family? Why was I taken away from the scene of the accident at the expense of my family’s safety?” He asked.
The Public Advice Centre said it was working on the case.
Denying Mohammed’s claims, Alabi accused him of fighting with the Task force officials “and he is therefore liable to imprisonment or bail.”
“Lagos State Mobile Court, an initiative of the state government, normally goes out on the enforcement of traffic laws to decongest the road and not to cause hardship to people. On that day, our officials went to Akowonjo based on traffic request. There is always serious traffic jam in the morning in that axis. They were trying to free the road when this guy came and in the course of explaining that his family had an accident, it resulted into a fight with our officials. He hurts the enforcement officials which is an offence. He was furious, and really assaulted them. This carries punishment under the road traffic law.
“Nobody will force him to plead guilty. He later apologised. For somebody to fight with our officials, he we arraigned before the Customary Court proceeding in the mobile court. They did not take him to a cell, they took him to a local government where they sat and he apologised and chose to get bail rather than go to prison.”
Source: The Nation