Harassment/Extortion of Drivers Continues Unabated
What is fast becoming the order of the day is a regular deployment of officials on the streets of the city to control traffic, and these are only seen extorting money from drivers, especially commercial drivers.
Moving around the Lumley axis, one will notice that there are now OSD officers in uniform, traffic police officers, general duty police officers, Road Safety Corp officers, and most recently a task force. All these do only one job, control traffic, yet the traffic at Lumley is still heavy, with long lines of go slow traffic from Freetown Supermarket to the Lumley round-about. The most unfortunate thing is that each arriving party comes with new directives. Areas where Kekeh and bike riders used to collect and offload passengers have now been changed, thereby confusing both the riders and passengers. This therefore creates the enabling environment for the officials to extort money from the drivers, as they are not aware of the new change in location. Even along the Wilkinson Road, Aberdeen Road axis, another set of road safety corps have arrived, and these have again changed the stopping point for drivers to collect or off-load their passengers. Some have told the drivers to off0load or collect passengers at Cole Farm, instead of Aberdeen Road junction, where passengers normally alight and board vehicles. At another time another set of officers will direct the drivers to park near the original stopping point.
What this does is that it is creating confusion among drivers and passengers, and also depriving passengers of easy access to and from town. It is unreasonable to tell a passenger that has walked from one of the side streets along Aberdeen Road and has arrived at the Aberdeen Road junction to wait for a vehicle to get to town, to again walk from that junction to Cole Farm. What if the passenger is an elderly person, or is sick and family members are taking him or her to the hospital in town, should they walk all the way from Aberdeen Road junction to Cole Farm to board a vehicle?
The most unfortunate part of the whole episode is that there are no specific bus halts that passengers can wait for transport. Since the authorities know this, is it not another way of encouraging their workers on the streets to extort money from the drivers? After all no driver will want to be thrown into a police cell for off-loading a passenger where there are no specific signs that they should not do so, thus, in the event that they are arrested, they will be ready to part with some cash, which they use to bribe the officials to get off the hook, and will eventually transfer this cost to the innocent passengers.
At Lumley and along all the streets of the city, all the work of these officers is merely to extort money from the drivers and not to control traffic, as they can be seen harassing drivers in traffic, with little attention or concern for the other road users. It is therefore not surprising to witness police patrol bikes and others on private bikes running after ‘okada’ riders at the detriment of other road users, with little concern that in the process, such a rider might hit other road users. What was also revealed was that most of these officers on the street join the local savings scheme known as ‘Osusu’, and pay money to their respective ‘Osusu Master’ every day, from what they extort from the drivers.
As for those in the offices, our information is that they too benefit from this exercise, little wonder then that some officers lobby to be posted to the Traffic Division. Many riders say that some of them have lost their bikes, as they have not been able to retrieve the bikes that have been impounded by the police. They maintained that it is some of their bikes that the police are using as theirs. All these allegations have been denied by the police, but what will one expect the police to say about all these allegations? Is it surprising that year-on-year the Sierra Leone Police has been named among the most corrupt institution in almost all surveys conducted by various independent organizations?
Some social analysts say that the reason for the continued extortion of drivers by the police and their cohorts is as a result of the status of the Law, which provides only for a statement from the Police in Court that the said driver is guilty of a traffic offence, and that is it. Even the Magistrate remands the driver for the said allegation, and the said trial will take ages to be concluded. This has been the reason for so many drivers to be seen in the correctional facilities across the country. Had there been recognition of the provisions in the law that the accused is presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent Court of Law, and such accused are given bail on their first appearance in Court, and the arresting officer forced to offer proof of his claims against the driver, which will include photographic evidence, most drivers will not be in prison and the extortion of drivers will end. Traffic policing will then become a less attractive enterprise.
Some concerned citizens are asking about what role the OSD officers will play in controlling traffic, other than extorting money? After all, they are supposed to be police trained to handle riots and not traffic. Why is it that with all the number of police and other traffic control officers on the streets, traffic is still heavy?
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