THEY are victims of a law that gives with one hand and takes back with the other. It is the law which in one breath says the Nigeria Police Force is one but in another breath fixes a terminal point with regard to promotion for men of its traffic section. The situation has left this category of policemen at the mercy of poverty. Unfortunately, the authorities appear to be reluctant to effect any change in the arrangement. Consequently, poverty does not only stare the men of the traffic warden arm of the Nigeria Police Force in the face, it sleeps and rises with them like Siamese twins.
You only need to see their homes to agree. The plight of these men and women who are part and parcel of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is proof that all animals may be considered equal, but some are more equal than the others. The men of the traffic section feel that the system gives them a false sense of equality. They believe that for too long, they have continuously suffered neglect, discrimination and untold hardship. They can only afford to live in slums not because they choose to but because they cannot afford anything better with their salaries and emoluments. Yet, come rain or shine, they stand on the roads across the country, struggling to ensure that traffic flows freely.
They all seem to agree that their nemesis is Decree 21 of 1975, which established the section. Unfortunately, the authorities concerned seem to be unwilling to change the law that confines their terminal position to Senior Traffic Warden. The case of Sgt. Bello Alli, a former traffic warden with identity number 809, illustrates the condition of traffic wardens. He was among the first batch of employees into the Traffic Warden Service (TWS) of the NPF, and he worked diligently at his post at Ilupeju Police Station, Lagos. He had been employed as a constable in the 1970s. But after three decades of service to his fatherland, he rose to the rank of a sergeant before he died of heart attack in 2004. Sgt. Alli’s promotion was stagnated for decades while his counterparts in the regular police service rose to become commissioners of police and so on.
Today, his family is struggling to make ends meet. Traffic wardens are known not to have offices in most police stations. One of them, who craved anonymity, said in many cases, they change for duty at beer parlours where they pay the owners between N100 and N150 for the safe keeping of their belongings. Of the numerous stations visited in the course of this story, the reporter discovered that only three had offices for traffic wardens or Motor Traffic Department (MTD). Even in those cases, the buildings that house the offices were either dilapidated or uncompleted. Recounting their individual experiences, some traffic warden officials said they could barely send their children beyond junior secondary school because their pay is too poor compared to those of their counterparts in the regular police.
The wardens, who pleaded that that their names should not be mentioned because of the sensitive nature of the issue, told The Nation that they were being treated as slaves. They decried a condition where some of them had not been promoted in 15 to 20 years, urging the Federal Government to come to their rescue. Victims of circumstances One of them, who had served for almost 35 years, said: “I have been in the service since its inception. I will be retiring next year after putting in 35 years in service to this country. Yet, I am still a sergeant and will retire as a sergeant, while police officers who met me in this job have risen to Superintendent of Police (SP) or Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). “If I was promoted normally, I should be a Deputy Superintendent of Traffic (DST) or Superintendent of Traffic (ST), but I am retiring as a Sergeant.
What then is the gratification for service if after serving for 35 years I cannot send my children to good schools or live in a good environment? “From the little money I earn, I starve myself, but my children cannot go beyond junior secondary school. We are being treated as though the government does not want the service to continue or has no good intention in establishing it. Even in the police, we are seen like enemies of the regular policemen. They harbour so much hatred for traffic wardens. “The last promotion traffic warden personnel received was in 2007, during the tenure of the former IGP Sunday Ehindero. He was the last IGP that promoted TWS personnel. “I was promoted as sergeant in 2003 under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, after a petition was written by an organisation, Vanguard for the Actualisation of Traffic Wardens’ Autonomy (VANCTRAWACT). Obasanjo told the IGP to ignore Decree 21 of 1975 that established the service and promote us. “As I speak with you, that promotion has not been confirmed, and it is now 10 years. So, even though I may retire as a sergeant, I will not even get the entitlement of a sergeant. It is that bad. I cannot wish that my enemy becomes a traffic warden. God forbid any of my relations joining this service.
“I am a sad man. Each day I look at my family, I look at where we stay, the poor sanitation in the place, my inability to send them to school like many other children, at times I feel I am a useless father. Is this what one gets after putting so many years into service? “More painful is the fact that before my eyes, little children that joined the police less than 15 years ago have risen to become my seniors. So, what is the joy in being a traffic warden? “I remember clearly that signals came from the IG in 2009, 2011 and 2012. In each year, we were asked to come to the state headquarters for promotion interview. These interviews were conducted across the country. “But at the end of the interviews, no traffic warden was promoted. The recent promotion of the rank and file will confirm what I am telling you. Go and check if any traffic warden was promoted. We have always been abandoned and yet they claim we are part and parcel of the NPF.
“Government should please separate the TWS from the NPF if they want us to survive. It is better to even merge us with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) or make the service independent. Then, if they feel they have no need for the service, it is better they scrap it than put people in perpetual bondage. The suffering is just too much.” Another officer said it was near- impossible to see the child of a traffic warden, who has put between 15 and 20 years into service, in the university. He said: “You will hardly see any traffic warden who has put 15 to 20 years into service who has a child in the university. The best our children can attain is the junior WAEC, after which they are forced to face the hard life. Those who are fortunate join the army or the police. “Go to Ijora Badia (Lagos), you will see for yourself the kind of life traffic wardens are exposed to.
They live in the worst houses in the slum community. I weep each time I think of the situation because it is very pathetic. I weep not for myself, because I have less than three years to put into the service, but for the young ones. “Does the government expect them to give their best when there is no encouragement? Are they expected to be happy? I have a junior colleague whose wife suffered a stroke and died. He could not raise enough money to save his wife, and yet he goes to work every day. Is that a life? “The service is not encouraging. I cannot allow my child to become a traffic warden.
The Federal Government is not encouraging us. How can someone be a slave in his father’s house? “Police officers are promoted at random, but you hardly see a traffic warden promoted. That decree establishing the service is long overdue for a review because that is where the police hide to stagnate us. Decree 21 of 1975 says our terminal point is Senior Traffic Warden, which was disregarded by President Obasanjo who told then IG Tafa Balogun to ignore the law and promote us after we had complained. “So, 21 graduates who were already in the service were sent for training and promoted to the rank of Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Traffic (AST) with one star, while our terminal rank was extended to DST, an equivalent of a DSP in police. “I was elevated to an Inspector in 2006 during Ehindero’s era, and I can tell you that many wardens who were promoted to sergeant in 2003 are still sergeants till date. Some of us who were promoted to one star have sat and passed the promotion exam but no confirmation.
“If the Federal Government wants to encourage us, the TWS should be removed from the police. Because when it comes to our welfare, the police is maltreating us seriously. The TWS can be made independent of the police, a retired military or police officer can be appointed to head the service. “Would you believe that despite orders by the IG that all DSTs and STs should head the traffic departments of the police, black clothed policemen with no experience in traffic are posted to head the MTDs? “We are treated unfairly by the police. Yet, we are the ones who stand in the sun or rain on a daily basis. I am just praying to God to give me strength to complete my remaining years so that I will leave the service. There is little to look forward to.
“We are just hoping that the government will take a lasting decision on this issue. Several committees have been set up on this issue, but at the end of the day, nothing rewarding comes out. We have heard that many recommendations have been made but we have not seen any result because the hostility and animosity increase by the day.” The way forward A public commentator, Abiona Olanipekun, said: “I wonder why traffic wardens remain on the same rank for longer period than the general duty officers. I have seen a traffic warden of 13 years on a rank without being promoted while a general duty policeman had been promoted at least twice, and some even thrice within the same period. “For instance, a policeman who enlisted in the Nigeria Police in 1993 has attained the rank of inspector while a traffic warden that was enlisted in 1983 remained a sergeant, despite similar duties being carried out by the police and traffic wardens. I still wonder why the traffic wardens are being so unfairly treated.