It was a cool morning on Monday when I set off for Gulu City aboard a Toyota Noah, registration number UBB 794A, a passenger vehicle that operates along the Lira-Kamdini-Gulu Highway.
This particular white vehicle was overloaded with about 13 passengers, way above the normal eight seats.
While at Lira Buspark, where passengers boarded, they were made to pay cash before they could depart. Booked in the front seat with another slim lady passenger, I was able to witness how the driver, whose identity has been withheld, had parked over 40,000 shillings in 2k denominations. For a moment, I wondered why he opted to put the notes under his seat on the right but not in his pocket with other notes he had collected from passengers.
Time check was 7:40 when we set off from the buspark for the journey, but before we could cover five kilometers, we met the first group of two armed police personnel seated under a medium-sized mango tree at Amuca P.7 School with one traffic policeman standing on the right who eventually waved us down and stopped the vehicle. As soon as he was stopped, the driver removed his right hand from the steering, dragged it down, and I thought maybe he was picking up his permit, but he carefully picked up (three) Ugx2000 notes and rapped them inside his hand, opened the door, and stepped out before he could greet the traffic officer who was behind the vehicle. He went straight to him and presented a firm handshake that lasted for some 30 seconds.
This driver turned back laughing, and I heard the traffic man waving him goodbye in Lango dialect, saying Apwoyo matek, wot Abe.
It should be noted that after waving the vehicle, the traffic officer remained behind, never checked the vehicle, never appeared closer to passengers, but stood majestically and waited to receive a handshake from the errant driver.
As the journey progresses, time check: 8:20 am, while we approached Aboke Corner Molen in Kole district, we were again waved down by another traffic man who was in the company of two armed police personnel.
Like the previous incident, the driver slowed down, removed his right hand from the steering, and deepened it. Again, he picked up three pieces of 2k note, stepped out, and presented a firm handshake to the medium-sized-looking policeman, a Lango by tribe. He returned laughing, and I heard the law enforcer chant Apwoyo Matek, a Lango dialect meaning, Thank you so much.
Time check 8:58 a.m., about a kilometer after Corner Atapara, Oyam District, and about two kilometers to the URA checkpoints, near a large farm of Eucalyptus trees, we encountered about four traffic lady officers in the company of two armed personnel.
One tall traffic officer waved us down while smiling, crossed the road, and remained behind the vehicle, waiting to meet the driver. Using his usual tricks, he slowed and stopped, then picked up five pieces of 2k note (10,000/=), and went behind the vehicle. Again, he presented a firm handshake to her, and all she did was say goodbye and drive safely. She never appeared closely to passengers, nor did she inspect the vehicle, whose rear tyres are in bad shape in addition to overloading.
At Palenga, on Gulu Road, we met yet another short and medium-sized policeman being guarded by a fairly old armed person. He stopped the vehicle, remained behind the car, and this driver, like he did to others, grabbed some money, but I couldn’t establish how much he had picked, but he presented a firm handshake, and as usual, he returned smiling and happy. The officer then said thank you.
What remained similar in all the engagements with the traffic officers was that all of them remained behind the car after stopping the vehicle, the driver gave all of them the handshake, and both the driver and traffic men and women parted ways while smiling and saying “thank you.” They neither asked for his permit, over landing and the poor state of the vehicle.At this point he was already complaining of having a bad day since he had met many traffic officers on the road.
The driver operates on a daily basis along this road and interacts frequently with the officers, which makes it hard for them to guarantee checks and balances as required by the traffic laws. This driver has mastered the art of his illegal operation with traffic officers; he operates a daily return trip.
All the 13 passengers paid Ugx20,000 each, meaning he collected Ugx260,000. He spent Ugx120,000 on fuel to cover his return journey. His 2,000 notes were estimated to be about 30,000.
With the personal account of how traffic officers make money from mostly errant passenger vehicle drivers, corruption seems to have mutated into a rather sophisticated vice to fight.