Some soldiers attached to Operation MESA and truck drivers clashed in the Iganmu area of Lagos State. The soldiers, who came in a patrol vehicle, marked, SL 684 KJA, served as security back up for the Lagos State Committee on the Removal of Abandoned Vehicles and Special Duties, a government agency which impounds abandoned vehicles parked on the side of the road.
An amateur video footage made available to PUNCH Metro shows the soldiers shooting into the air on Jimoh Odutola Street in the early hours of Thursday in a bid to impound some trucks offloading Indomie noodles into a warehouse. It was learnt that the truck drivers refused to allow the soldiers have their way and a clash ensued. In the ensuing confusion, the soldiers were said to have shot into the air and also shot at bystanders who were recording the incident with their mobile phones. A truck driver, who identified himself only as Thomas, said the side glass of his truck was broken by the soldiers. He said, “We usually load the products from Sango Ota and offload them at the warehouse on Jimoh Odutola.
Most times, we have to form queues on the side of the road leading to the warehouse because we are many. “I was inside my vehicle when the soldiers ordered me to come out. When I asked what I did wrong, the soldiers punched me and then used the butt of their guns to smash my glass.” The truck drivers accused the abandoned vehicles agency officials of extortion, adding that it was time the state government looked into it. A truck driver, Matthew, said, “The duty of those officials is to impound abandoned vehicles. Ideally, if a vehicle is abandoned on the side of the road, they are supposed to issue a warning and paste it on the vehicle. “It is only after the owner of the vehicle refuses to move after a stipulated time that they should impound the vehicle, but what they now do is to impound any vehicle indiscriminately, especially trucks, and then they tow the vehicles to their yard at Oshodi.
“On getting to the yard, they will extort between N80, 000 and N100, 000 before releasing the vehicle to the owner. They never issue us receipts.” A recharge card vendor, who was allegedly beaten by the soldiers, said they smashed his telephone because he was recording the incident. He said some others were also shot at, but escaped unharmed. “These soldiers are on illegal duty because anytime they come here, they do not wear their name tags and they are always in a hurry. They beat me and tore my clothes because they knew that if the video was made public, they would be in trouble,” he said. The head of the Abandoned Vehicles Agency, Mr. Bisi Odeomu, told our correspondent on the telephone that officials of the agency did not extort money from people. He added that the soldiers were not on illegal duty. He said, “We have been warning those drivers for a long time, but they never listen.
Our job is to impound abandoned vehicles. When we see an abandoned vehicle, we place a sticker on it, giving the driver a three-day grace period to move his or her vehicle. It is after the time has lapsed that we impound vehicles. “We do not extort money from members of the public and anyone with a complaint is free to make a report at my office. “The soldiers in question were not on illegal duty, we applied for them through the right channel. We used to use policemen, but drivers used to beat them all the time.” The spokesman for the Nigeran Army 9 Brigade, Major O.J. Gbadamosi, said, “I am not aware of such. If it should repeat itself, let the drivers get the number inscribed on the side of the patrol van and report to us.”