Public auction of seized vehicles in Lagos
The decision of the Lagos State Government to review the Lagos State Transport Sector Reform Law (2018) is timely, following the controversy generated over the implementation of that law which has drawn emotional theatrics from motorists who wailed uncontrollably while their vehicles were disposed of.
The emotion could not have been less as many of the affected people claimed that the vehicles impounded and sold were the main means of their livelihood. In the midst of the controversy, and while the government was manifestly seeking to enthrone order in the transportation and commuting sector, it is clear that a review, and perhaps more public education, is necessary to prevent a re-enactment of the controversy.
Recently, the Lagos State Government via the Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences auctioned over 400 abandoned and forfeited vehicles. The event was filled with different dramas from bidders and businessmen, but the highlight was the trauma and agony expressed by motorists whose vehicles were disposed of.
The cry of the affected motorists attracted quite a bit of public sympathy as members of the public contributed money to allay the plight of some of them; while government opposition campaigned that the law was unduly punitive and destructive of the citizens.
Holding the brief of the government, the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the State, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), responded that the exercise was conducted in accordance with the law; and that the owners of the vehicles were given ample opportunity to reclaim them before the auctioning but failed to do so. He further clarified that the forfeiture process was not automatic and was done pursuant to court orders.
Perhaps the welcome news for concerned people is the commissioner’s statement that the law was being reviewed by the Lagos State House of Assembly for amendment. Onigbanjo said: “The amendments to the transport law are currently being reviewed by the House of Assembly and will be in place as soon as possible. This issue of driving against traffic has become such a nuisance, danger and menace to society that something drastic has to be done and the legislators at that time imposed these penalties.”
Clearly, the law was aimed at curbing a public menace as emphasized by Onigbanjo. Law is three-way traffic: for the victim; the accused and society at large. This piece of legislation prescribed punitive sanctions for various traffic violations; such as imprisonment, fine, and forfeiture of the vehicle, both imprisonment and forfeiture of vehicle. No doubt, the traffic situation in many parts of the state has been subjected to gross abuse, necessitating some drastic action by the government.
Specifically, the enactment of the Lagos State Transport Sector Reform Law 2018 was necessitated by the unrepentant dangerous and reckless driving of some Lagosians despite repeated warnings from traffic officials. Its inclusion of stringent punishments for traffic infractions was meant to curb this nuisance, and by extension minimise the resultant accidents and chaos in commuting in the state.
Whilst Lagos State cannot be legally faulted in the just concluded auction exercise, however, there is a need to give her extant transport law a more humane complexion. After all, the law is meant for man; not the other way around.
Similarly, the law is a social engineering tool through which society can be properly planned, set, and orchestrated to bring about the necessary and much-needed positive change, development, advancement, and improvement.
Consequently, it should not be used as an instrument of exploitation, oppression, and profiteering. This raises the fundamental question: “whose interest does the Lagos State Transport Sector Reform Law 2018 serve?”
It does appear that the law is more revenue-driven than governance-driven. Government may of course dispute this but unless it can show otherwise, it is safe to assert that it falls below the standard of an ideal law.
Any legislation that renders violators financially incapacitated even after paying a fine or serving a jail term is a bad law. Put differently, any law that prescribes multiple penalties for committing a particular offence is draconian.
Reassuringly, the Lagos House of Assembly now acknowledges this fact; hence is currently reviewing the law to inject “humaneness into [it] to prevent people from losing their sources of livelihood when they break the law.”
The decision to reform the stated traffic law is salutary. However, the government should also avert its mind to the issue of implementation of the law. Instances, where enforcement officers treat traffic offenders differently for committing the same offence, are numerous. Also, commercial motorists are usually waved on when they run afoul of traffic law whereas traffic regulators readily activate the full force of the law against their private counterparts. This discriminatory practice should stop.
Additionally, the tactics of placing sharp objects in front of vehicles or recklessly overtaking vehicles in motion deployed by traffic officials in a bid to apprehend alleged violators are unreasonable, unprofessional, and have sometimes resulted in accidents. The current administration should check the excesses of these officials and possibly adopt a more modern and technologically approved method on this. It is further observed that the officials are more focused on chasing perceived offenders rather than their core responsibility of traffic control and management.
Importantly, it should be put on record that the government is equally complicit in non-compliance with traffic regulations. Both political officeholders and law enforcement officers drive recklessly against traffic, drive on restricted lanes and flaunt other traffic regulations with impunity on a daily basis. It is incumbent on the government to set a good example not only by being law-abiding but by also penalising its officers when they breach the law.
Another salient issue is the multiple agencies, such as the Police, Federal Road Safety Commission, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, Vehicle Inspection Service, National Union of Road Transport Workers, and Kick against Indiscipline enforcing the same laws. These agencies often encroach on other transport-related issues, not within their purview. It behoves the government to ensure that they discharge their duties strictly within the confines of their respective laws.
As Lagos lawmakers embark on the transport regulatory reformation process, it is expedient that they should tackle the same holistically in ensuring that the new law adequately remedies the mischief inherent in the current law and addresses other issues raised.