New Lagos Traffic Law: Sanity and sins in the city
ANY time from now, Lagos State traffic enforcers may likely choose which roads to go on duty to apprehend traffic offenders. It would soon be heavy payday for the enforcers. And offenders will not be in short supply.
The roads where offenders would constantly be found are those with large potholes that force motorists and commercial motorcycle (okada) riders to drive against traffic. For more offenders that are arrested, the weightier the take home cash would be at the end of the day for the menders.
Unless Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola withholds assent to the bill, slated for his signing at the time of going to press yesterday, the bill was validly passed by the State House of Assembly on July 12, 2012.
The law will repeal and re-enact the road traffic regulation and make provisions for road traffic and vehicle inspection in Lagos.
Sponsored by Bisi Yusufu, Chairman, House Committee on Transport, the bill seeks to criminalise traffic offences and sanction offenders as part of a strategy to bring under control the chaotic traffic situation within the city of over 20 million inhabitants.
Fillers by The Guardian, however, revealed that majority of Lagosians are unaware of the new law and its provisions. The few that had an inkling of it have misgivings about the actual aim of the law.
The amended traffic law stipulates the following:
• Driving in a direction prohibited by the road traffic law (that is, driving against traffic, popularly known as one-way driving) now attracts a three-year jail term, while a first offender gets one-year term and the vehicle could be forfeited to the state government;
• Bullion vans are not exempted from the law as any bullion van driven in a direction prohibited by the road traffic law will be forfeited, while abandoned vehicles on highways will be fined N50,000 or three years imprisonment, or both fine and imprisonment;
• Riding a motorcycle against traffic and riding on the kerb, median or road setbacks will attract N20,000 for first time offenders, while subsequent offenders will get N30,000 fine or the rider’s motorcycle will be impounded;
• Riding motorcycle without crash helmet for rider and passenger, N20,000 or three years imprisonment or both;
• Smoking while driving will attract N20,000 fine;
• Failure to give way to traffic on the left at a roundabout, N20,000;
• Disobeying traffic control, N20,000;
• Violation of route by commercial vehicles, N20,000;
• Prohibits under-aged persons (under 18-year-old) from riding a motorcycle, N20,000;
• Operating a motorcycle in a restricted area or prohibited route, N20,000 or the motorcycle will be impounded; and
• Any person driving without a valid driving licence will have his/her vehicle impounded. Learner drivers without permit will attract a fine of N20,000; while driving with fake number plate will attract N20,000 for a first offender and six-month imprisonment or both for subsequent infractions; among several other offences.
The new traffic law is one of the several measures taken by the state government to address the perennial gridlocks on the streets of Lagos.
Besides the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA), Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, Lagos Drivers Training Institute and LAGBUS among others, the state-owned Traffic Radio – 96.1 FM was inaugurated on May 29 by Fashola to monitor traffic and safety matters in the state.
The first traffic radio in Nigeria, broadcasting in English and Yoruba, educates motorists on transportation, traffic news, alerts and diversions.
According to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Lateef Ibirogba, in order to make every investor get his money’s worth in the state, “the traffic situation must be well managed in a more scientific manner, hence the need for a traffic radio station.”
The listening audience observed that the station had helped in improving the effect of traffic bottlenecks and stress in the metropolis.
While some people greeted the new law with applause, very many especially the commuters felt that there were more pressing traffic issues to address that would have made the new traffic law unnecessary in a mega city.
Lagos resident, Taju Abegunde not only lauded the measures taken by the state government, but was also of the opinion that a three-year imprisonment penalty is too lenient to deter the perennial “criminal act” of driving against traffic in Lagos.
Abegunde has seen one too many people knocked down on their tracks by reckless drivers plying the popular one-way, either to beat traffic or in escape of law enforcement officials.
Explaining his misgivings, he said: “I have seen too many innocent people sent to their early graves by these rascals called danfo (sub-urban bus) drivers. Last year for instance, a young man in his 30s was knocked down at Meiran Bus Stop on Lagos-Abeokuta highway by a commercial bus driver. The victim was accompanying a visiting friend to the bus stop. The man died on the spot and according to his friend, he was to get married the next day. Just some days after that and close to the same spot too, I also witnessed the killing of three school children. They were rammed over by the notorious danfo driver driving against traffic. In both incidences, the drivers fled the scene with the vehicles.
“The question is for how long shall we continue to live lawlessly and without hints of civility? Should we wait till it’s our turn to get knocked down right on the pedestrian walkway? I don’t think so.
“In my opinion, I think the state government is taking a right step in the right direction, but the law appears not potent enough. I would have suggested that traffic rule offenders of this nature should be liable to lifetime imprisonment with their vehicles impounded as well,” Abegunde said.
Abegunde recommended that punitive traffic laws should apply in all the 36 states and endorsed by the National Assembly.
The death of 13 passengers on the Lagos-Benin highway in a fatal accident at the weekend was apparently still fresh on Abegunde’s mind.
Deputy Corps Public Education official of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Bisi Kazeem, confirmed that at the Toll Gate near Ovia North East Local Council of Edo State, a bus had a collision with an IVECO truck marked AAA 962 XB. The accident occurred on Sunday morning when the truck drove against traffic and ran into the bus.
A transporter who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity, however, took a different view. While he would not deny the excesses of commercial bus drivers and attendant loss of lives on the roads, he said that the new traffic law was targeted against lowly Lagosians.
According to him, it would have been ideal if the government had concentrated on fixing the bad roads to ease congestion and make laws against embezzlement of funds designated to public works.
His words: “The major cause of most traffic snarl is bad roads leading to traffic offences. With this, the new traffic law will be malicious if the perennial traffic logjam on our major roads are not first addressed prior to meting out punishments to lowly Nigerians in the guise of traffic offences.
“This is not to mean that I’m in support of driving against traffic or on wrong paths either by motorists, three wheelers or the okada riders. My point is, putting the first thing first.
“It amounts to injustice if a rather impatient motorist spends three years behind bars for breaking traffic rules, while the public official that siphoned funds meant to smoothen the roads causing heavy traffic jam, walks the streets a free-man or when caught, which is rare, is sentenced to six months imprisonment or paid a fine of N500,000,” he said.
Eminent Lagos lawyer and social critic, Chris W. A. Akiri sees the law as unworkable and draconian. He says:
“The Traffic Bill of Lagos State that may become law soonest is redolent of a draconian legislation.”
He defined a good law as, “a body of rules of action or conduct prescribed by controlling authority and having binding legal force. By reason of the fact that a law must be enforced by a determined authority, which authority is human, with all foibles associated with humanity, the circle of law must necessarily intersect with the circle of morality or equity or reasonableness.
“Today, prison congestion in Nigeria is a noisome problem. Efforts are consequently being made in certain quarters to decongest prisons. Sending citizens to gaol for traffic offences will compound rather than ameliorate the problems associated with the criminal justice system in Nigeria.
“If an okada rider who makes no more than N3,000 per day is fined N20,000 or sent to gaol for three months for failure to wear a crash helmet or for riding on a kerb, etc, then the Lagos State government should be ready to prevail on the Federal Government to build more prison yards in Lagos State to accommodate a prospective tribe of commercial vehicle drivers!
“A good law must be susceptible to enforcement and, they say, equity does not act in vain. According to the prospective Law, where you drive with a fake licence, your vehicle would be impounded. Much of the time, an applicant for a driver’s licence is unaware of how his application is processed after properly submitting it; when the government officials deliver the ‘licence’ to him, the poor applicant has no means of ascertaining the genuineness or otherwise of the licence for which he had paid the normal fee. When arrested by any of the troublesome LASTMA and FRSC officials, his vehicle is impounded!”
Akiri added: “In all probability, the inimitable governor of Lagos is unaware of the enervating problems which LASTMA and other uniformed officials, including FRSC officers, who have no business being on state roads, pose to commercial and other drivers in Lagos State. Even without a traffic law with the severe, Spartan penalties such as is being proposed, Lagos drivers are daily subjected to excruciating mental ordeal and extreme molestation, verging on robbery. The governor only needs to disguise himself one day and stay in any of the popular bus-stops…Ojota, Maza Maza (in Mile 2), Obalende, Oshodi, Ketu, etc.
“With the new law, all Lagos drivers, private and commercial alike, are in gnawing trouble with the multiplicity of uniformed traffic officials in Lagos State! In civilised places like Jerusalem, London, Washington, Paris, Berlin, etc., you hardly see any person in uniform on the road.
“One major problem with the Traffic Bill is the fact that neither State Ministry of Information nor the Traffic Management Agency ever made any attempt to embark on a semblance of enlightenment campaign on the contents of the Bill. The people should begin to know something about the Law when arrests are made and penalties imposed on unsuspecting offenders: That, to my mind, would be unfair,” Akiri said.
Senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Lagos, Dr. Dayo Ayoade towed similar path of criticism, describing the law as an overreaction and against public interest in democratic setting.
He observed that the traffic offences in Lagos had always been problematic in view of the nature of its roads, high population and chaotic environment.
However, is the proposed traffic law a proportionate response that addresses the problem? He answered in denial.
He said: “One might argue that the law does not meet the criteria for good law. The traffic law does not seem equitable, generally accepted or in accordance with the rights of Lagosians. Arguably, the law will not pass the constitutionality test in any civilized nation, as it unduly encroaches on the liberty of citizens.
“Despite the good intention of the Lagos State government, the design and outcomes of the law are fatally flawed and perhaps not in the public interest. The penal sanctions, heavy fines (up to N50,000) and outright forfeiture of vehicles seem unnecessarily draconian and out of step with democratic norms,” he said.
Ayoade added that without adequate safeguards and accountability, the possibility for abuse are outrageous. “It can lead to the corruption of LASTMA officials and cause violent conflict between the public and government officials. As the law degrades the liberty of Lagosians, it is a bad law that will be impossible to implement effectively.
“It is alarming that the most progressive government in the federation has come up with an atavistic, military type, over-reaction that has not benefited from proper or in-depth research, and policy analysis,” Ayoade said.
Reacting similarly, Lagos-based contractor and manager of Solak Paints Nigeria Limited, Hakeem Salaudeen applauded the new traffic regulation, though raised concern on proper enforcement of its provisions and sustainability.
He noted, as The Guardian’s findings also revealed, that many road users were still unaware of the provisions of the new traffic law and a potential threat to its smooth enforcement.
“For all that the law is worth, its implementation is the most important issue that should be addressed to make it sustainable. We have made too many laws in this part of the world that at the end died prematurely.
“Again, how do we ensure that the law enforcement agencies, especially the Police, LASTMA, Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) and Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) do not see the law as an avenue to extort money from road users and enrich themselves in place of actually enforcing the law?
“It might interest you to know that many of the LASTMA officials are also commercial bus and motorcycle owners, apparently giving confidence to their drivers to violate traffic rules…It is a collective effort that is needed to have sanctity on our roads and not just the law,” Saludeen said.
Chairman of the Taxi Drivers’ Association, Egbeda, Lagos, Salami Taiwo, observed that if the “emergency law” is enforced, then all Lagosians are at risk of going to jail or paying the fine or N20,000.
According to him: “The law is to oppress the people, especially transporters. We all know that the drivers and okada riders are so stubborn and reckless, but there is nothing the bus owners can do about it. To impound a vehicle because its driver violated traffic rules is injustice to the bus owner.
“While there is the need to bring normalcy to the roads, I think the approach of publicly disgracing a reckless driver, will reduce their excesses. This may sound crude, but I think erring drivers should be publicly flogged, rather than have them imprisoned or pay fine,” he said.
While he stressed that bad road is not an excuse for driving against traffic, Taiwo also urged the government to rehabilitate all roads and make them motorable.
Some commercial motorcyclists who spoke with The Guardian were of the view that in respect of their huge number and patronage, there was the need for the state government to start creating dedicated motorcyclists lanes like the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) lanes on major roads.
The motorcyclists that ply the Lagos-Abeokuta highway to Agege Motor Road down to Lagos Island cited that there is hardly any need to break traffic offence by the motorcyclists in China or Benin Republic among others were the exclusive lanes were obvious.
The riders, though barely aware of updates on the new traffic law, said that they would brace up for “war” should such law suddenly come into effect.
Sunday Kekere, who plies the Egbeda-Oshodi route, said that the commercial okada riders hardly use the crash helmets because “we have found that it exposes the riders to more accidents.
“Wearing a crash helmet makes it difficult to properly have a side view and difficult to hear horns of approaching vehicles. Our passengers don’t want to use helmet for fear that they might be used for rituals or contract scalp diseases.”
He added that the Local Government Task Force was already making life difficult for motorcyclists, extorting up to N2,000 to N5,000 from okada riders daily. “With this law, it further empowers them against us,” Kekere said.
A lawyer, Chinua Asuzu of Assizes Law Firm added that the passage, implementation, and potential repercussions of the Road Traffic Law were objectionable and deserved the citizens’ resistance.
“In law and order reform, more haste, less speed. This is because a rushed reform programme cannot be sustainable, thus creating the need for a later administration to retrace the steps already taken. In the fields of law and justice sector reform, especially in law making and implementation, major mistakes can easily be made.
According to him: “The law stipulates vicarious liability for owners of vehicles with which road traffic offences have been committed. This is unsound in criminal law. Every adult offender should be personally liable for his crime.
“Not only is each adult personally liable for his crime, he is also solely liable for it, except in cases of aiding or abetting, conspiracy and the like, in which case the aiders, abettors and conspiracies have each committed crimes anyway – so that the principle of personal liability remains inviolate. Such exceptions are not relevant in the Road Traffic Law under review.”
Besides, Asuzu argued that the fines imposed by the Road Traffic Law of Lagos State were excessive and too severe and were not at all commensurate with the regulatory offences in question. He said minimal fines usually punished regulatory offences such as traffic violations. “The amounts of such fines must take into account the average income of the working class in the jurisdiction. The fines should not be so high as to make any options of imprisonment inevitable in most cases.”
He advocated a repeal of the law and stated that it was imperative for the state to put in place road traffic education for the benefit of the populace.