Posers as Lagos State ‘excludes’ commercial vehicles in roadworthiness test
Time was about 11: 05 am and three Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officials were peering at vehicles that were crisscrossing the Palm Avenue section of Isolo Road to apprehend errant drivers.
As Isolo-bound vehicles queue awaiting the nod of the newly installed traffic light, vehicles from Palm Avenue slowly make their way to their choice directions having been permitted by the traffic light.
Suddenly, a battery of tricycles from the Mushin end of Isolo Road, swerved into the AP Filling Station located within the fringes of the traffic light, shunted severally and bypassed several vehicles on queue, and headed straight into Layi Oyekanmi Street.
Not many present at the scene were amazed by the tricyclists’ display of madness because it is the new normal, at least in many parts of the state.
While they wove their way round, the last two of the four tricyclists missed being crushed to death by a motorist, who could not fathom the impunity of being made to wait after the robot had given him the all-clear.
While all these happened, LASTMA officials stood hands akimbo watching the commercial transporters run riot and brazenly flout traffic laws, while they did every thing to accost drivers of private vehicles for the slightly infringing traffic laws.
As a result of the stress that motorists and residents experienced on Lekki–Epe Expressway, the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration carried out the removal of the Jakande and Chisco roundabouts in Ikate Elegushi axis of the road.
While the roundabouts were replaced with traffic lights, the road was also expanded with the provision of dedicated turning lanes and additional lay-bys. But despite government efforts to eliminate the excruciating traffic snarl and reduce travel time, commercial drivers have routinely abused the traffic lights and in the process contribute to the death of their passengers and other road users.
One of such ugly scenarios was recorded last June when a bus driver while trying to beat the traffic light, which was about to turn red died, and some of his passengers were injured in an accident along the Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos State.
The accident, which occurred at Marwa Bus Stop, around 10.44 am, happened when a speeding Volkswagen bus rammed into a Toyota Highlander, a sports utility vehicle, and somersaulted in an attempt to beat the traffic light.
The bus driver died shortly thereafter, while some passengers were hospitalised after sustaining injuries. Day in, day out, commercial transporters in the state seem to be perfecting their reckless driving skills, even as their brazen non-adherence to traffic rules and regulations has become worrisome.
In most cases, when private car owners attempt to act as careless as commercial drivers do, law enforcement agencies pound on them mercilessly, impound their vehicles, and extort them.
Across the state, commercial bus drivers, their counterparts that are riding tricyclists, and their commercial motorcyclists’ counterparts (in areas where they still operate) have become extremely notorious not only for contravening traffic laws, driving against traffic, picking passengers at un-designated spots, overloading of vehicles with passengers, and over-speeding among others.
As these unruly commercial drivers continue with the display of their madness, including running red lights right in front of policemen, LASTMA officials, and other agencies of government, members of the public are alarmed at the tacit exclusion of commercial vehicles from the newly-introduced roadworthiness certification, which requires owners to submit their vehicles for inspection at any of the 26 dedicated Lagos Computerised Vehicle Inspection Centres (LACVIS).
The situation is made more worrisome considering the major role that public transportation plays in society, and how Lagos appears to have successfully handed the sector over to alleged political thugs, who often act in a very unruly and disorganised manner.
According to development experts, an effective public transportation system is a sine qua none for an upwardly mobile city like Lagos because there is a compelling need to ensure the safety of the commuting public at all times.
At the commencement of the roadworthiness test, it was discovered that out of 26, 442 vehicles that were inspected in January, 15, a total 998 passed, while 10, 444 failed the minimum safety standard tests.
The Commissioner for Transportation Dr. Frederic Oladeinde, in a statement, said that the state government introduced the “No Vehicle Inspection, No Road Worthiness Certificate” Policy, and also put in place a booking system to address the surge recorded at some vehicle inspection centres.
He equally explained that some of the failed vehicles had been reported for a retest, even as he added that the 30-day inspection period had been reviewed to 60 days to reduce the panic surge witnessed at some of the inspection test centres.
Be that as it may, findings by The Guardian revealed that most of the vehicles inspected at the test centres are private vehicles and specialised commercial vehicles, while the ubiquitous yellow buses popularly known as “danfos,” which ferry thousands of residents daily were seemingly discountenanced.
It is common knowledge that most vehicles in the state, especially commercial ones are rickety, not roadworthy, and pose a serious threat to the lives of residents of the state. Their apparent exclusion from the exercise, therefore, defeats the objective of the roadworthiness inspection, which is to ensure that every vehicle using the roads is duly inspected to ensure compliance, without leaving out any form of vehicle.
It is interesting to note that most yellow buses do not have functional pointers, rear lights, or headlamps; are faulty brake systems; without complete vehicle documentation, or are generally rickety. Physically, a good number of them are in bad shape, without side mirrors, and with worn-out tyres.
The Guardian’s visit to some of the centres at Cele Bus Stop, PWD Yard, Bolade-Oshodi, Anthony, and Ojodu showed that more than 90 per cent of vehicles that showed up for inspection were private vehicles and a few school buses while the yellow buses were nowhere to be found.
A motorist, who was showing up for inspection for the second time at one of the centres, Muyiwa Olumide said: “I have been here twice. The first time that I was here, cars were much in the queue, but they moved slowly. The officials noticed an issue with my handbrake and I was asked to fix it and return at a later date. But all through my stay there, I never noticed the presence of commercial vehicles, especially danfos.
“I feel that the government is more interested in revenue generation than in the wellbeing of residents of the state. Or, how else do you explain why rickety buses are everywhere on the road, but not one in the queue to be inspected at the test centres? He queried.
Another motorist, Emeka Nwuzor, said: “Throughout my stay at the test centre, I never saw a single commercial vehicle drive in for inspection. But these commercial vehicles are what carry more passengers than private vehicles at any point in time. If they are not being considered for inspection, whose lives are the government claiming to protect.”
Nwuzor stressed the need for government to take seriously, not only encouraging commercial vehicle operators to make their vehicles available for inspection but to sensitise them on the importance of doing so, as well as the consequences of failing to heed the call.
Worried by the alleged exclusion of commercial vehicles from the inspection, a road safety expert, Patrick Adenusi, said that no vehicle should be exempted from inspection, stressing that inspection of commercial vehicles carries even higher weight than private vehicles because of the sheer number of persons that they carry at any point in time. He said: “You are aware that most vehicles used for commercial purposes in Nigeria are in a sorry state. This ugly development cuts across the length and breadth of Nigeria, not only Lagos.”
Adenusi who also doubles as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Safety Beyond Borders added: “As a nation, we place minimal value on the lives of the citizens. So, it’s on the strength of this that the attention that ought to be given to public transportation does not readily exist. If we are to start, even the process of obtaining a driver’s license for commercial driving purposes in most parts of the world is like writing a postgraduate examination, as it is given serious attention because they place a serious premium on the lives of their citizens. I am zeroing it down to Lagos State now because it is being as a case study. It may interest you to know that there are some states in this country where the entire vehicle inspection service staff are not up to 50. There are some states in this country that their vehicle inspection service personnel are not up to 20.”
The CEO added that over the years, the focus of vehicle inspection agencies has been on revenue generation, but lately, the Lagos State government has taken it seriously and upgraded its processes to the computerised vehicle inspection service.
“Previously, they just issued certificates with no inspection, but now, they have started inspecting all vehicles. But step by step the awareness campaign is increasing, compliance is also increasing. I’m sure that there would come a time when commercial vehicles would also comply. Some of them are already complying by taking their vehicle for inspection, but a large number have not really done that,” he said.
Adenusi continued: “By mere physical inspection, you would certainly know that a commercial vehicle is unfit; they don’t have rear and tail lights; they don’t have wipers; some don’t have functional doors, while others don’t have functional headlamps. But I know that going by the steps that the Lagos State government has taken through the computerised inspection vehicle system, it can only get better,” he said.
Commenting on the development, a former Dean, School of Transport and Logistics, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi, who said that the yellow buses were not exempted in principle, pointed out that enforcing compliance was the main issue, “as there is more to it than meet the eyes.
“You know how many Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officers have lost their lives, or that have been badly injured or maimed for life? No single officer or a few officers can safely take on the yellow buses’ drivers without the latter visiting hell on the government agents via drivers’ gangs. Private vehicles are easier and safer to deal with as, in most cases, no private car owner will join a mob to lynch, or attack law enforcement agents.”
Odewumi recommended the introduction of digital enforcement as a strong backup to the one done physically to enforce effective compliance.
While efforts to speak with the Director of Vehicle Inspection Service, Akin-George Fashola, proved abortive (as calls to his mobile lines were not picked up, nor were text messages replied to), the Managing Director, Lagos Computerised Vehicle Inspection Service, (LACVIS), Segun Obayendo, insisted that there was no truth in the claim that commercial vehicles were not made to undergo roadworthiness tests.
According to Obayendo: “From the position of the law, private vehicles should be inspected once a year, while commercial vehicles should be inspected twice a year. Because of the nature of our environment, we have reached an agreement with most of these commercial vehicles to be attended to on Saturday and Sunday, but the media has not been watching out for them going for inspection on weekends. Some commercial vehicles do that late in the evening under a special arrangement. We are doing that.
“But what we are saying is that the critical mass has not yet complied, but we are doing enough persuasion, and awareness that we can do to get them to key in. It is changing; it takes time, and it won’t happen overnight. But give it to the Lagos State government under the leadership of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for starting the ‘no inspection, no roadworthiness certificate.’ Which other state is doing it? Only Lagos State. We plead with all governors of Nigeria to take a cue from Lagos State,” he said.
But reacting to claims that commercial vehicle operators were defiant and unwilling to comply with the state government’s efforts at ensuring that only roadworthy vehicles ply its roads, the Secretary, Lagos State Parks, and Garden Agency, Olayiwola Lemboye, blamed the VIS for his members failure to comply.
As a matter of fact, he punctured the LACVIS boss’ claim that commercial transporters were having their vehicles inspected at weekends.
He said: “Is it possible for commercial drivers not to go to where they have been summoned by the government? You know that without vehicle inspection you won’t be able to collect your vehicle license. If our members are not visiting the inspection centres, then the problem should be from the vehicle inspection service. If the agency did its homework very well, this would not be occurring.”
Also commenting on the attitude of most commercial transporters in the state, the Lagos Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) Lagos State, Segun Ogungbemide, said: “It is not only commercial drivers that violate traffic laws in Lagos; it is all road users who violate the law and we are tackling these behaviours accordingly… We know that both private and commercial drivers are violating the law, and carrying out different kinds of misconduct on the road because as at last year, we recorded 59,000 arrests, and 27,000 of those arrested were commercial drivers, while the remaining were private. It is an indication that we know what is happening, and we are tackling it head on.”
When asked why officers of the Nigeria Police Force seem to look elsewhere when commercial drivers glaringly flout traffic rules, the Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Benjamin Hundeyin, said he was yet to get any report of such “because this is the Lagos that I know that people take pictures and videos when policemen misbehave. I am yet to see somebody post the video of a commercial bus beating a traffic light and policemen doing nothing about it. So, what you are saying is new to me.
LASTMA’s boss, Bolaji Oreagba, also denied reports that his men were complacent in arresting erring drivers be they private or commercial ones.
“That is not correct. You can go into our yard to see the number of commercial vehicles that are impounded. Even last week, we were at Apongbon inward Costain to enforce compliance. You know that road construction and rehabilitation works are going on around there because of the new sign-up recorded there months ago. Some of these people decided to convert a certain portion of the bridge into a bus stop, or a motor park. We removed about 18 commercial vehicles, most of them are Volkswagen buses. They are all in our yard at Oshodi. I am just trying to prove people wrong that we only concentrate our enforcement on private vehicles.”
On allegations that his officers use commercial vehicles as bait for private vehicles, he described it as false.
“One very rampant thing is the proliferation of unregulated transportation systems. When you are going to work in the morning, you decide to use your vehicle to convey passengers or commuters from one place to the other in the name of family support or alternative means of getting money, and most of these people too are not well trained, neither are they certified drivers. Most of these people don’t make use of laybys or bus stops; they just want to hurriedly drop passengers and move on. And as a result, they fall on the wrong side of the law. So, if you go somewhere like Iyana-Oworo in the mornings and the evenings, that is what we contend with.
“If you go to Ikorodu road in the morning, that is what we also contend with. We also understand that the economy is biting hard and sometimes you want these people guided, but we cannot continue to encourage impunity, or lawlessness,” he added.