Nigeria’s government threatened to block media organizations including CNN from operating in the country unless they admit there is no link between human rights and its toll collection infrastructure, a representative of the Lagos State government and vice chairman of the Toll Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria told the Monitor in an email.
The statement came despite a government-commissioned independent investigation, that concluded toll gates could not be used as a weapon in human rights abuses against residents. The investigation, which included a 90-day study in the Greater Lagos Area, found it was “unlikely,” that toll gates could be used as “effective tools for more directed human rights violations” as claimed by those who oppose them.
According to Nigerian officials, journalists from CNN and other media organizations had falsely reported human rights abuses by the toll collectors, according to the Monitor’s translation of the email from Wale Babalola, Lagos State Committee for Road Traffic Administration and vice chairman of the Lagos State Toll Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria.
Mr. Babalola said the journalists refused to retract the stories in question, claiming they were inaccurate, and that they had failed to provide the government with proof to support their claims.
In a public letter Thursday to several media outlets, Babalola claimed that multiple media outlets were colluding with the state to undermine the toll authority.
“We have strongly enjoined you to provide the proof you claim you have to the Lagos State Government on your assertion that Toll Collectors are engaged in human rights violations,” he wrote. “We have a report on You Tube with irrefutable evidence that shows that you can no longer forge the independence of the Toll Agency. We have written to you and we are waiting for your reply.”
The Monitor has requested confirmation and comments from CNN.
Earlier this week, Mr. Babalola said that the toll operators “fully own” the toll gate infrastructure in Greater Lagos Area. Residents pay a toll gate fee for each car on the road in the area. As part of their monthly fees, residents can register their cars and are given a transit pass, allowing them to park on a toll road, but not on another road.
During the investigation, reporters from both the Daily Sun and THISDAY newspapers reported other allegations of tollgate workers using revenue generated to buy vehicles for their personal use, including one who bought six Mercedes for 500,000 Naira ($1,900) each, citing toll agency officials.
“Those who sell (toll card) is our own revenue so if they are buying one to two cars and it adds up, we cannot keep doing same,” former Toll Proprietor’s Association of Nigeria Chairman Mrs. Yemisi Akinbayo told the Monitor. “If they bring a new car and they are making money out of it, we have to tell them (toll gate operators) that the new car is not what we are purchasing. We have to tell them that the new car belongs to somebody else, and now for them to use the vehicle to harass and mistreat other owners is really happening and it has to stop.”
Meanwhile, government officials have also found wide-spread and widespread abuse of toll payments by paying vehicles. A public statement by the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s office blamed residents for paying inappropriately, and for not taking time to read the fine print before receiving their toll cards. The statement said the government was suspending all new toll customers and tightening sanctions on current customers.