By Carthia Ndingi Elangwe
Give it to commuter drivers, whether on the highways or within the townships. They could, if they so wish, state at any given point in time that policemen are on their payroll. It is, of course, an open secret that cops make more cash from commercial vehicle drivers than they get from what the state pays them monthly.
This is on account of the millions in bribe money reluctantly, albeit, routinely paid to policemen on patrol. Otherwise, the average rank and file officer would not be dying to be posted to the highway or any such place where they could rip off bits and pieces of cash from defaulting or other naïve drivers without breaking a sweat.
But like the late sage, Chinua Achebe wrote about the bird flying and not perching in response to hunters shooting and not missing, taxi drivers, especially in Buea, have resorted to working in such a manner as to avoid coming into contact with the ubiquitous checkpoints dotting the town.
They even employ mobile phone technology to locate and avoid the “cats”. From say 8.00pm to about 12.00am, taxi drivers hardly accept to transport passengers to some particular neighbourhoods like Bakweri town, Campaign Street or Long Street, for fear that they would be intercepted by policemen.
The Post learnt that policemen hardly mount checks on the main Buea Boulevard, where the activities of the policemen are “illegal”. Cops purportedly collect money from them ranging from FCFA 2,000 to 15,000, irrespective of the availability of documents. “Policemen are just out to exploit us, sometimes you present all your documents but they still take you hostage until you give them some money,” a taxi driver complained.
“The only way they escape from policemen is through well designed networks established with inhabitants of these quarters who update them through phone calls. Approached, with respect to the issue, the Southwest Regional Delegate for Transport, Ivo Vevanje, said the police have every right to check abnormalities and that it is actually their responsibility to ensure maximum security to the nation.
“It’s wrong to ply the highway without regular car documents and in such a situation, the forces of law and order, who are out there to control indiscretions, have the right to make sure that the owners of these vehicles have the necessary documents. Overloading is wrong as it goes with lots of consequences. We expect taxi drivers to take upon themselves as an obligation to make sure that they have the recommended documents which give them the go-ahead to operate in the transport sector,” Vevanje said.
On the question that many taxi drivers don’t respect road signs and don’t have a mastery of the highway, the Delegate said his delegation is planning on how to work with driving schools to see how they can have refresher courses organised for drivers.
“A taxi driver must own a driving license; for which the driving licenses of today are computerized and drivers with archaic “carton” licenses should endeavour to get rid of them as they are no longer recognised; they need to register the vehicle, have a transporter’s license, which gives them the mandate to run a taxi, own a ‘carte bleu’; a document which confines them to a particular town, amongst others.
The Delegate, however, was not in accordance with persons who call themselves “Majeurs’ owning numerous unidentified taxis and wouldn’t comply with legal authorities when involved in criminal offenses.
He regreted the fact that there are few or no court cases related to unprofessional taxi driving in the Region. A policeman at the Southwest Regional Delegation of National Security told this Reporter that taxi drivers are agitating because they don’t have regular documents and that they are accomplices to many crimes committed in town, especially at night.
“People always see policemen as perpetrators of corruption because they are the ones always patrolling the streets in uniform. The truth is that the job of a policeman is mainly to check irregularities for necessary actions to be taken by other law enforcement bodies like the courts and Council.
In the case of irregularities in Buea, when we identify a fault, the Buea Council, the Delegation of Transport and the Courts, among others, are the main sectors that pass judgment on any taxi criminality. Sometimes a taxi driver will even present a document from the Council authorising him to operate. After confiscation at times, the case may just be killed at the level of the court or the Council.
Now, if something goes wrong in the process of ensuring that justice is effected and illegality, poor driving continues, it’s no way the fault of policemen,” the policeman stated. The policeman challenged the views of some taxi drivers who said they avoid checks on the boulevard because of police illegalities.
“It is wrong to expose yourself to your enemy to be caught without retaliations; it’s like going to a battlefield without a strategy, or, better still, without a gun. If taxi drivers are aware of a particular spot where we mount checks, then, we will not be able to catch them, so we definitely have to set traps for them,” he said, explaining why they set up make shift check points.