If you have driven in Abuja for more than a few years, you would be aware that there are several intersections where conflicting traffic lights or hand signals of traffic wardens could easily be misinterpreted by road users. Not far from these points, there would typically be two or more police officers crouched behind shrubs waiting to leap out at unsuspecting motorists. With the introduction of several strange traffic lights around the city, business has improved for the crouching cops.
This lovely Sunday morning around 11.45 am (today), I decided to drive through Jabi-Utako road; a route I am not very familiar with. On approaching the busy Jabi Park junction by Zenith Bank, I observed the light directly ahead of me was green with 15 seconds counting down. I figured it would take me no more than 5 seconds to go through the intersection as there were no cars ahead of me so I sped up and passed through. Some 10 metres after, 2 police officers emerged from the mess of taxis and tricycles that were parked by the roadside picking/dropping off passengers.
The policemen asked me to clear to the side of the road so I did that and wound down my window to ask what the problem was. They claimed I beat the traffic light and I explained that the light I saw right ahead of me was green and there was no way it would have gone down from 15 seconds to zero in the time it took me to clear the intersection since there was no car ahead of me.
If indeed the light was red when I crossed, why did I not run into any vehicles from any of the other lanes? One of the police officers (putting on a bullet-proof vest and carrying a rifle) entered the car and said I was to drive on to their “mobile court”. He asked for my (valid) driver’s licence and held on to it.
Having driven on Abuja roads for 8 years, I know the usual routine is that he would at some point before the slaughterhouse tell me to give him something and save myself the trouble of going to pay large amounts of money and have my time wasted. Sure enough, a few minutes from the place, he stated that he observed I was a gentleman and did not protest so he wanted to save me the trouble but I had to “do something”. Because I have a personal policy of not giving bribes, I would ordinarily have laughed it off and jokingly pleaded for leniency.
Today however, I was not having any of their rubbish. I explained again to the policeman that I had seen a green light and gone through it so I could not pay him anything. Seeing that I was not going to cooperate, he asked me to drive into the police post where he handed me over to his boss. Again I was given more than one chance to cooperate but I stood my ground; so I was asked to write a statement and my car impounded along with copies of my (also valid) car papers. I was asked to come back tomorrow Monday morning at 8am when the mobile court would be functional.
I took a stand today specifically because I have an axe to grind with the FCT authorities and the substandard traffic lights that have been poorly installed across the city centre. Usually, it happens in areas that I am familiar with so I know the traffic light installations that have issues.
I was in the middle lane in a narrow road and the traffic light to my right was green with a green timer. Without foreknowledge, how on earth was I to know that at this junction, a green light in front of you means STOP?
On the part of the police, rather than dealing with crime or advising the government about conflicting road signs, they go about exploiting motorists who would usually pay them off to save time. There are several other intersections in Abuja where traffic lights could be easily misinterpreted and I think now is the time to set things right.
I am willing to spend my time and energy to go through this case if that is what it takes to get the city authorities to stop being the architects of confusion. Hopefully, my car will not get burgled while in the make-shift police impound by Utako/Berger bridge.
After my car was impounded, I walked back to the place to capture some images and video to be sure I was not mixing things up. In the image below, you see Lane 1 for cars going left, Lane 2 which I came down through. The green light with the green timer was to my right and that’s what I saw.