When an articulated vehicle with plate number FST 811 XQ belonging to Freequest Nigeria Limited was impounded by LASTMA at the gates of Seven-Up bottling company at Ikeja Motorways, Lagos, on May 2, the owner had no idea that would be the last time he would see the truck.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, Mustafa Mohammed, a retired captain and the CEO of Freequest, a logistics company, said after paying the fine levied on his company, the Zone 12 headquarters of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) claimed the N38million truck it detained had gone missing from its yard.
“We paid the fine and took N100,000 cash to them as towing fee and at that point, it was discovered that the truck is missing,” Mr Mohammed said.
The businessman also said the LASTMA officials who impounded the truck demanded bribe which he refused to pay. He said he then prevailed on them to issue the appropriate fine for his truck’s alleged crime.
“On May 2nd, his truck (Chidozie Anujoma the driver who drove the truck) was impounded by LASTMA at 7-Up while trying to gain access to the compound. They asked to be settled and I told them I don’t give bribe and he should be given docket.”
“It took them about three days to do so and when it was given, it was scanned to our office in Port Harcourt and the money demanded was N50,000 for obstruction which they said is to be paid to the bank and N100,000 cash to be brought for towing of the vehicle.”
He said despite its failure to produce his truck, LASTMA recently proceeded to worsen his business trouble by confiscating another of his vehicles without reason.
“When the first truck got missing in their yard despite them insisting they are still in possession of the key and battery of the truck, I was told that the truck was driven out of their premises and that they have it on CCTV footage and I asked them to present it to the police but they refused. They then said while the truck was impounded, the driver was bringing women to sleep in the truck.”
A RECURRING PATTERN
Mr Mohammed said the matter of the missing truck is not the only battle his company currently has with LASTMA.
He said another of his trucks was illegally impounded by the officials on September 30. The traffic agency then failed to say what offence the driver committed or issue fine notice.
“We had suspended the driver (Mr Anujoma) pending the outcome of an investigation by police after the first truck went missing but he was recalled after a while and he was issued another truck,” Mr Mohammed said.
“He was driving the new truck issued to him. He was going to Coca Cola to offload materials and at their gate, he said he saw LASTMA officials, one Mr Onitiri and their commander. I don’t know his name but he said one Mr Oduntan was also there.
They came and accused him of hit and run. He said he denied the accusation and they changed the allegation that he is driving a stolen truck and took him to their office where they beat him and put a tyre on his neck and threatened to burn him before the police arrived.
“The police tried to verify the vehicle details with the earlier missing truck and it was not the same and the police asked LASTMA to release the truck while they continue searching for the missing truck but they refused to release the truck until I got across to the brigade commander in Lagos before the truck was ordered to be released on the 4th of October.”
“But the truck’s gearbox and clutch had been damaged so the truck can’t be immediately moved and as we speak it is still at their yard.”
He also said he had tried to reach out to LASTMA officials at management level but that the responses he got were discouraging.
“I met the zonal commander of LASTMA Zone 12 on October 2 and he was telling me it was a problem between the company and the government and that the company can sue the government and I pointed out that he was rude because I came in for enquiry and he is a public servant and that he has no right to address me like that.”
“I think LASTMA officials, especially at zone 12, are emboldened to trample on citizens rights because their boss does same because if I reported their misconduct to their boss and he addresses the issue in the manner he did, then there is a problem.”
Mr Mohammed says by failing to produce his truck, and then seizing another, LASTMA has caused his business severe setbacks.
“It is a Mac truck and since its misplacement, we have been incurring a loss of about N2million monthly. For the one currently with them, it has goods worth N12 million in it that should have been delivered to Coca Cola and its also costs about N38 million.”
WE ARE INVESTIGATING
When this reporter reached out to the Director of Public Affairs at LASTMA, Mahmud Hassan, on Saturday, he said he had no prior knowledge of the case and asked to be given till Monday to respond to our inquiries.
When he was reached again Monday afternoon, he said the issue was being investigated and asked for another 48 hours for an update.
“We are on the case and investigating what happened, we will get back to you in the next 48 hours,” Mr Hassan said. “The management is investigating how a truck got missing. The issue just came to my notice and we are working to resolve it. We have spoken with the DPO of Alausa, ASP Shola, we will release the second vehicle within 48 hours.”
PREMIUM TIMES also spoke with a police officer attached to LASTMA, Ahmed Abdulkareem, who admitted that officials of LASTMA were wrong to have impounded the second truck and that they could be sued.
“We are just hearing about the case now,” Mr Abdulkareem said. “The people from Alausa (LASTMA headquarters) are with us now and we are trying to resolve the case. LASTMA should not have impounded the second truck because that is not the truck that is missing.
“The DPO explained the case to me and I know LASTMA officials were wrong. They should have handed the case over to the police to at least advise them instead of keeping the truck like that. I informed them they can actually be sued for wrongfully impounding the truck and I promise the truck will be released unconditionally.”
But contrary to claims by LASTMA officials that they just became aware of the case after this reporter made inquiry, screenshots of text messages exchanged by Mr Mohammed and the General Manager of LASTMA, Olawale Musa, show that the management of LASTMA was informed of the missing truck on May 3 and of the illegally detained truck on October 2.
According to the screenshots, Mr Musa advised Mr Mohammed to file his complaint through a text message. The businessman did so. But the LASTMA official failed to respond to the complaint and other follow-up messages.