Lagos Traffic Nightmare: Citizens debate Sanwo-Olu’s first Executive Order
That perhaps explains why Lagos State, established the Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), which prime mission is to develop a culture of regulation, control and management of traffic operations, and to ensure hitch-free traffic flow on Lagos roads.
Beyond this, the organisation also envisions “to reduce deaths, injuries and economic losses through road traffic accidents, conflicts, congestion and delays on the public highways by employing modern traffic management techniques to inject order and control into the road traffic system in the state.”
But as far as most Lagos residents are concerned, this agency has not effectively discharged its mandate, instead, it has constituted itself into a terror of some sorts extorting motorists, driving fear into them, threatening them with impoundment at will and going about the job of traffic management with coercion and financial exploitation.
That perhaps explained why the immediate past administration led by Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, charged them to concentrate on traffic management and control, and not principally looking out for traffic offenders.
Ambode also empowered the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) with tow trucks to effectively remove broken down vehicles from the road at no cost to motorists.
But the reality on the ground indicates that these LASTMA operatives are seldom on the ground, especially along major roads that require the attention of dutiful personnel, as they more often than not tuck themselves in hidden street corners and such locations, where they wrestle unsuspecting traffic offenders.
In other words, residents believe that rather than effectively contribute to solving knotty traffic situations and easing gridlocks, LASTMA officials are always more occupied with apprehending motorists because of the alleged kickbacks that they get.
All these notwithstanding, Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in signing his first Executive Order to address traffic control and management, fixing of potholes on the roads, sanitation as well as cleaning of drainages in the state, directed LASTMA to operate a minimum of two shifts by managing traffic until 11 p.m. daily.
He said: “We want to ensure that we control traffic until everybody gets home safely. LASTMA should, therefore, extend its working hours and ensure traffic control till 11 p.m.,” he said.
The governor then approved a 100 per cent increase in LASTMA’s hazard allowance.
He also charged LASTMA to effectively carry out their functions by ensuring strict compliance with all extant traffic rules and regulations as prescribed in the enabling law, adding that another pronouncement would be made soon to address the issue of one-way driving on Lagos roads.
Joshua Bassey, a journalist, who recently encountered LASTMA officials around Igando Bus Stop, said officials of the agency were still into random arrest with a view to finding faults where none exists and intimidating unsuspecting motorists.
“As I drove along Egbeda-Igando-LASU Road I had a telephone call, so I pulled up and parked close to the sheltered bus stop that was erected during the days of Babatunde Fashola for high-capacity commercial buses that were supposed to ply the Egbeda-Igando-LASU Road.
“As I made to hit the street again after my call, I drove across the empty bus stop. Suddenly, three LASTMA officials jumped out from nowhere and flagged me down. I stopped and they asked whether I knew why I was flagged down, to which I answered no.
“In a jiffy, one of them immediately opened my car and jumped in as they accused me of driving on the BRT lane. I was simply alarmed because there is no BRT lane on Igando-LASU Road. Secondly, the bus stop where I parked was empty and there were no long buses except a few traders that displayed their wares. So, when I confronted them with these and identified myself as a journalist, they simply said, ‘we are together bros,’ and let me off the hook. I still do not understand what they wanted from me because I committed no traffic breach.”
Another resident and a lawyer, who is also displeased with LASTMA’s conduct Joy Ani, advised the state government to review the law setting up the agency, and review the levies, adding that not doing so will cause more harm than good.
“Even if there are penalties to be paid by defaulting motorists, such levies should be reasonable. The levies in place now are simply outrageous,” she stated.
Ani added that beyond the review, a centre should be set up where motorists unjustly arrested by LASTMA officials would table their complaints and seek redress/compensation.
For Abiodun Obisesan, a corporate communication professional, the conduct of most LASTMA officials suggests that, “they lack requisite training on how to discharge their functions effectively without unduly terrorising road users.
“Most times, LASTMA officials are busy extorting money from drivers of commercial buses and tricycles while abandoning their traditional functions of traffic management and control. Stiff penalty should be meted out to officials that are extorting motorists while traffic rules defaulters should also be made to pay for their indiscretions.”
Deploring the high-handedness of LASTMA operatives, the Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said Lagos State has consistently tried to repudiate the well-established democratic principle of governance that government exists for the people and not the people for the government.
“Although Ambode tried to mellow down on the profiteering mentality of the Lagos State government, which was entrenched during the Fashola-led administration, it appears Sanwo-Olu has now chosen to follow the harsh path of Fashola.
“They’re doing this because they think of Lagos only as a commercial enterprise for profit-making, and not as a community for public services.
Traffic problem in Lagos can never be solved with coercion and financial exploitation of the people. It is a bad approach to helping a state under the “torture” of traffic logjam. This new introduction by Sanwo-Olu will in no time corrupt the LASTMA officials, as many offenders will opt for a backend settlement. There is no adequate camera surveillance of the state to expose compromised traffic officials.
The way to go in solving the traffic problem in Lagos, for Atoye, “is ensuring a new mindset, a new strategy and a new perspective, and not a knee-jerk intervention.”
He asked the Sanwo-Olu-led government to seek experts’ advice and open up a new conversation around traffic management in the city.
“We do not need the numbers of cars plying the Lagos roads daily; we need a new parking arrangement in Lagos and I can tell the governor that there are new inventions on how to address traffic and parking challenges.
Lagos is big enough to introduce e-traffic management system for dealing with offenders and doing a lot more. Let Sanwo-Olu know that knowledge and information can solve problems,” Atoye stated.
While human resource practitioner, Yewande Agueh-Ajayi, has stressed the need for traffic offenders to be decisively punished so that other motorists would be deterred from committing breaches, the National Coordinator of the Committee for the Protection of Peoples Mandate (CPPM) Nelson Ekujimi, insists the existence of law without enforcement is a nullity because it is only enforcement that gives teeth to any law.
Ekujimi, who alleged that Ambode’s administration watered down the powers of the traffic management agency, thereby contributing in no small way to the traffic indiscipline on Lagos roads, described Sanwo-Olu’s executive order as a step in the right direction. “But we should also be very careful and not allow some bad eggs in the traffic management agency to exploit the attempt to correct an observed anomaly.”
But Ayo Oso, a legal practitioner disagrees with Ekujimi on Ambode watering down LASTMA’s powers, saying the immediate past governor only asked the operatives to be civil in relating with the public, while Sanwo-Olu’s executive directive is too punitive.
“There are several offences attracting imprisonment. Imprisonment for minor offences is unacceptable, as it is not commensurate with the offence. Moreso, now that our prisons are already overpopulated,” he said.
For Idris Faro, another legal practitioner, he noted that across the world, “the observance and enforcement of road traffic laws remains vital in regulating the activities of motorists and pedestrians on the roads. A large number of motorists in this country are lawless, reckless and have no regard for the safety of other road users. Motorists over-speed, and ride against traffic, thereby causing chaos and knocking down pedestrians. They stop on the highway to buy articles and also park at T-junctions and turnings. For all these offences, there must be sanctions. And to bring offenders to justice, there must be enforcement agents.”
However, “Only real offenders must be arrested and dealt with according to the law. CCTV should be installed on our highways to monitor motorists so that operatives will not constitute a nuisance on the road, by breaking side mirror, bashing cars and unnecessarily blocking vehicular traffic just because they want to arrest offenders, who refuse to stop. It is also important to properly train and retrain LASTMA operatives on the need for them to be civil in the discharge of their duties because a lot of man-hours are lost and hopelessness reign when gridlock happens.”
The immediate past General Manager of LASTMA, Mr Olawale Musa, who spoke to The Guardian shortly before he was drafted to the ministry, expressed dismay that most drivers were ignorant of roads’ signs, as many have never gone through driving schools. “Some do not even look at road signs, and they expect LASTMA officials to correct them for failure to implement what they ought to have been taught while at driving schools.
Musa, who identified traffic lights and road signs vandalisation as another challenge that his men encounter in their bid to effectively manage traffic, added that enforcement of traffic laws and traffic control go together. “When a driver commits an offence, the vehicle needs to be physically taken over and naturally the offender would resist arrest. These usually result in conflict between LASTMA officials and motorists. Although the state is deploying technology to enhance traffic management, the challenge could be locating the driver thereafter.”
While not ruling out the presence of some bad eggs among LASTMA operatives, he appealed to motorists to come forward with genuine complaints, which he assured would be looked into.
On the claim that his men were more focused on enforcement of the law to the detriment of managing traffic, he disagreed saying: “the issue is that when there is a bit of traffic, impatient motorists drive against traffic. If an officer is controlling traffic and a motorist drives against traffic, that motorist must be immediately apprehended because if he/she is allowed to go, the road would get locked down in no time.”