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The withdrawal of Lagos VIOs

The Lagos State Government recently ordered its Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) off the roads, to the relief of many vehicle owners in the state.  The withdrawal order followed incessant complaints from the general public about the overzealous and disturbing activities of the VIOs.

We commend Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and his cabinet for their prompt response to the cries of Lagosians on this matter. This is how things should be, if our democracy is to be seen as working well. Government and its agencies exist for the benefit of the people. When particular agencies become a clog in the wheel of progress in the state as has become the case with the VIOs, such agencies should be done away with.

Although the government has said that the withdrawal will be temporary, since it is only to afford the VIOs more training to acquaint them with modern trends in vehicle inspection, many Lagosians would probably wish they be permanently taken off the roads.  There should be better ways of doing vehicle inspections without the VIOs constituting a nuisance on the roads like they presently do.

Truth be told, VIOs have become a veritable menace on Lagos roads. They are brazen and, sometimes, uncouth, in their approach to drivers. They are also inconsiderate of road users and road safety, as they stop vehicles right on the roads to do their stop-and-search. This defeats the very purpose of their presence on the roads.

Whatever government gets by way of internally generated revenue from their activities, there is no doubt that their attitude in the discharge of their responsibilities defeats  the  purpose of governance, which is to offer service to the people, before any other consideration.

They are also not averse to extorting road users with impunity, and have scant regard for their core mandate of seeing to the general roadworthiness of vehicles. When these vehicle inspectors stop vehicles, they not only check the state of the windscreens, lights, tyres and brakes, they sometimes go beyond their mandate to ask to see vehicle licences and tax certificates. The fact that a motorist has just been checked and cleared by one set of VIOs would not save him/her from being stopped for another round of checking by other sets of the ubiquitous VIOs along the same route.

When these officials are on the road, traffic builds up uncontrollably, as they often narrow the lanes to accost vehicle owners. In the process, they become a nuisance and a potent danger to other road users. What is even more painful is the impunity with which they go about their work. They engage in fisticuffs with vehicle owners, especially commercial bus drivers, and use very crude and uncivilised methods to enforce their mandate. Only recently, reports emerged of the physical assault and detention  of a motorist over the controversial burning of his vehicle on the premises of the Lagos Vehicle Inspection Service.  Accounts of untoward experiences in the hands of these officials are rife in the state.       

Is it a surprise, then, that the ban was received with popular acclaim and instant jubilation in the state? As noted earlier, the popular expectation is that the VIOs will not be allowed to return to the roads. This is a legitimate expectation as other organisations such as the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and even the police also check vehicles on the roads.

If the Lagos VIOs must return to the roads, it must be under new, acceptable and verifiable terms. They must understand, first, that they are servants of the people. In this case, the Lagos authorities should institute a reliable feedback mechanism which allows the government and their direct supervisors to get instantaneous updates on their activities, with a means of correcting them promptly when they cross the line.

In any case, their functions should be well spelt out and fully communicated to the general public. Not many Lagosians know the exact mandate of these VIOs. When both parties in a bargain know exactly what to expect, their interaction will, hopefully, be smoother.

The Lagos State Government should think of other ways of enforcing the mandate of the VIOs. It should consider restricting them to motor parks and other vehicle parking lots in the state. This would greatly reduce their harassment of motorists on the highways, and the danger they pose to safety on our roads.

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