Row over two traffic rules for Lagos motorists
For Lagos private motorists, especially non-residents, the fear of law enforcement agencies is the beginning of wisdom.
Though the road traffic laws, in their vague multiples, were designed to sanitise one of the most chaotic cities in the world, the malfeasance of its enforcement agencies is readily skewed against private owners— the soft targets.
The noble assignment given to them by the State has literally assumed the status of extortion, harassment and daylight robbery.
Indeed, the primary objective of traffic managers is to ensure the free flow of traffic. However, many motorists have complained about the modus operandi of the traffic management officers, which targets private owners than errant mass transporters.
Available data from the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) showed that private motorists suffer more arrests compared to commercial vehicle owners when the reverse should have been the case from the everyday experience of road users.
Assistant Director, Public Affairs at the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Olumide Filade, disclosed that out of the 3,850 motorists arrested within three months, 2,062 were private vehicles, while 1,790 were commercial. He said that 130 drivers were referred to Lagos State Drivers Institute (LASDRI) for recertification.
Similarly, statistics from the Lagos Sector Command of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) showed that a total of 23, 625 vehicles were arrested from January to May 2021 with commercial vehicles having 11,944, while private vehicles had 11,681, government and diplomatic vehicles 23 and five respectively.
Filade said that the agency impounded 580 privately-owned vehicles and 367 commercial vehicles in May. While 745 private and 527 commercial vehicles were impounded in June. LASTMA impounded 955 private vehicles and 676 commercial vehicles in July.
Filade said the Lagos State government was “actually trying to bring sanity to the roads, by enforcing the law on violators but members of the public are not helping us.”
However, concerns have been raised in some quarters on the fairness of the law and its applications.
An official of the Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS), who wants to be anonymous, said commercial vehicles are captured by the Automatic Number Plates Recognition (ANPR) device. “I can tell you that the purpose has been defeated because of zero compliance by the commercial vehicle operators.
“This is as a result of ownership-operator-drivers’ chain that operates on our roads. When a vehicle is flagged by the ANPR, a notice would be transmitted to the phone number registered with the vehicle, which in most cases is the phone of the owner who may never have driven the vehicle for once,” he explained.
On another note, he said some of these numbers do not even belong to the owners/drivers as such vehicles may have at some point changed ownership. There are limitations to technological advancement, he said.
In his words: “The ANPR is solely designed to capture and check vehicles particulars and not to inspect vehicles. “Our officer’s inspect vehicles plying our roads to ensure a safer passage for every road user. There are no targeted vehicles or road users. If you are found on the other side of any of the Lagos State Road Traffic Law (RTL2002), it is the only time you can be either fined, fined/impounded or charged to court as the case might be.”
Speaking on the notion that private motorists are usually targeted, he said: “Frankly, I can’t really place it now, but what I am certain of is that commercial vehicles are mostly stopped, fined and impounded than privately-driven vehicles. Commercially driven vehicles range from Trucks, Mini Trucks, Pick up, Taxi busses and Tricycles.
“Every zone within the state would accost these categories of vehicles every day. This is not because they must do so, but rather these are the kind of vehicles you would find with broken tail lights or not having at all, broken or shattered windscreens, worn-out tyres, among other damages.
“But what we noticed is that these owners don’t usually complain because they understand their offenses and don’t usually contest the fines levied against them, while private car owners mostly have a point to prove even after showing them a reason for the arrest”.
A former Chairman of Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Yinka Farounbi, said it was important for the government to do something about the deplorable state of roads, which according to him does not give room for stiff punishment against traffic offenders.
According to him, laws all over the world are meant to be enforced. “However, in making and enforcing the law, the environmental practicability, influences and implications should be considered. The major traffic offence we have today, especially in Lagos is driving against traffic or passing one way. There should be no reason for that and it ought to be sanctioned, but what is the state of our roads? You can be in traffic for three hours for a journey of 20 minutes. In a situation like this, will people not cut corners?” he asked.
He also wondered if, in actual fact, it is every offender that is punished. “The same law enforcement agents commit the same offence with pride and nothing happens.
“I, therefore, advise that everything that needs to be done for ease of traffic should be done in the first instance and all violators afterwards should face the music.
“Our law enforcers should again carry out the job professionally without any colouration whatsoever. Rules and regulations work better when citizens freely obey them. This is where enlightenment and orientation come to play,” he stated.
Former Director, VIO, Lagos, Abdulhafiz Toriola, had in the past revealed that a total of 285,953 vehicles/individuals were arrested from 2015 to 2019.
The vehicles/individuals, according to him, committed traffic offences, which cut across a violation of vehicle documents, illegal operations, reckless driving and driving of un-roadworthy vehicles.
“If the voluntary compliance model of the VIS is followed and implemented; there will be a significant reduction in the number of traffic offences in the State which by implication will promote safety, sanity, standards and security of life and property on our roads,” he said.
For Chief Operating Officer, Automedics Ltd, Gbola Oba, traffic officials operate a systemic corruption process where many LASTMA and traffic police officers daily augment their take-home with payment arrangements with transporters, while the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW)) functions as a quasi-agency of the ruling party’s godfather.
Prof. Samuel Odewumi of the School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), identified three basic rationales behind those. The first according to him, is that the commercial drivers are getting more difficult to handle because of their potential violent streak, especially since after the #Endsars protest. Secondly, it is far easier to get better “settlement” from private car owners than commercial drivers. Thirdly, the commercial drivers have their unions that are working in “collaboration” with the enforcement officers.
Road safety expert, Patrick Adenusi, lamented that there should not be discriminatory punishment because an offender is an offender. It is a failure on the part of the government that commercial drivers flagrantly commit offences, he said.
Adenusi, who doubles as the founder, Safety Beyond Borders, said some of the commercial drivers are party members, when they are apprehended get easily freed by political families they belong to. The drivers, he added grow wings and the law enforcement agencies are handicapped because when they arrest such drivers, they would receive calls from top politicians.
He said it is unfortunate that global best practices are not implemented in this part of the world especially in Nigeria.
“We don’t have enough road signs, while most motorists are not used to seeing road signs. Places where the signs are there, motorists do not see it because they have lost sight, having covered over 90 per cent of the journey without any sign, only to see it at a point where traffic officials carry out their enforcement.
“It is unfortunate that people are not observing, if they observe they will see the sign. Because they are used to driving without seeing signs, they won’t bother to pay attention. Also, everyone offers counsel on how the law enforcement job needs to be done. Nobody is taught how to do his job. Enforcement requires offenders to be arrested. Advocacy is when you are being redirected to another route, which is not the job of enforcement agencies. It is the role of motorists to observe their environment and study the road signs and don’t drive through such routes,” he declared.