New Lagos Traffic Law: A Mega-city Fights Its Demons

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As the new Lagos State Road Traffic Law takes effect, GEORGE OKOJIE writes that Lagosians are divided over the aptness or otherwise of some of its provisions:

The Lagos traffic gridlock is like no other in the world for a variety of reasons, chiefly the ‘madness’ of the average driver, private or commercial,? on the road in the state. It is the stuff of legend for which the muses inspired the late Afro-beat musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, to immortalise in the track titled “Confusion,” using the Ojuelegba intersection snarl as metaphor for the country’s anomie.

Like most of his predecessors in office, Governor Babatunde Fashola appears bent on curing the ‘insanity’ on the state roads by taking recourse to the kernel of his life-long profession – the Law.

Earlier in the month, the governor signed into law the new Lagos State Road Traffic Bill passed by the state’s lawmakers. The new law prescribes a rash of penalties including psychiatric checkup, breath and urine tests, fines and prison terms for traffic offenders in the state.

While signing the Bill into law, Fashola said it was all about the safety of Lagosians, rather than arresting and sending them to jail as many feared.

His words:? “Unlike the provisions under the old traffic law the new law has made provisions for not only payment of fines, but for convicted offenders to engage in community service, such as controlling traffic for a specified period.

“The objective of the new law is to get people to comply, rather than getting them arrested or apprehended. There is nothing spectacular about the provisions in the new law that is not applicable in distant locations.”

However, many residents appeared to have taken the governor’s assurance with a pinch of salt, arguing that the legislation was another pointer to the premise that Lagosians have become hapless victims of a predatory government determined to shore up its revenue base by hook or crook.

Some of the new law’s provisions that many residents have found difficult to swallow go thus:

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 jail 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 owners of abandoned vehicles on highways will be fined N50,000 or three years imprisonment, or both;
riding a motorcycle against traffic and riding on the kerb, median or road setbacks will attract N20,000 for first time offenders, while repeat 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, 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;
under-aged persons (under 18-year-old) riding a motorcycle, N20,000;

Operating a motorcycle in a restricted area or prohibited route, N20,000 or the motorcycle will be impounded; and
resident driving without a valid driving licence will have his/her vehicle impounded. Learner drivers without permit will attract a fine of N20,000;? and
driving with fake number plate will attract N20,000 fine for a first offender and six-month imprisonment or both for subsequent infractions.

Chairman, Taxi Drivers’ Association, Egbeda Unit, Mr. Salami Taiwo, said the new legislation, which he described as “an emergency law,” could be used to throw many Lagosians behind bars if enforced.

Taiwo said: “The law is to oppress the people, especially transporters. We all know that the drivers and okada (commercial motorcyclists) riders are 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 owners.”

For a Senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Lagos Dr. Dayo Ayoade, “the law seems to be an overreaction” to an age-long menace, thus “it is? against public interest in a democratic setting.”

Ayoade noted that driving in Lagos had always been problematic in view of the nature of the state’s roads, high population and chaotic environment.

The academic stated: “One might argue that it does not meet the criteria for a 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 civilised 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” .

But Mr. Alex Adegbenro, a driver at a new generation bank, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND: “The new law is good. I can tell you that though ‘madness’ on the road is not too good, you need some measure of it to drive successfully in Lagos state. This is not a state for people that are not ‘sharp’. You need to be raw sometimes, even in driving, or else you will be frustrated to keep your car at home.”.

A medical doctor, Kemi Emejo, agreed with Adegbenro. She said:? “Let see whether the law will work or not but for me I won’t employ any driver that is gentle to drive me on Lagos roads. The only way to be a successful driver in Lagos is to match other driver’s ‘madness’ for ‘madness.’

Also, Mr. Gboyega Aboluwade, a Lagos resident, gave the state government kudos for having the courage to take such measures.??

In fact, Aboluwade said the only reservation he had about the law was that the three-year imprisonment prescribed for those who drive on one-way “appears too lenient to deter dye-in-the-wool offenders who have cultivated the habit of driving against traffic in the state.”

Aboluwade said the law would go a long way in checking reckless drivers who, he said, had sent many people to their early graves in their reckless bid to beat traffic.

His words: “On some occasions I have personally witnessed such avoidable accidents that sent law-abiding people to their early graves, all because these brutes called danfo (minibus) drivers want to beat traffic. Last year, a young man in his 30s was knocked down at Olososun Bus Stop on Kudirat Abiola Way by a commercial bus driver. The man died on the spot.

“Not long ago, I also witnessed the killing of three school children. They were crushed by a driver going against the traffic. In both incidents, the drivers fled the scene in their vehicles”.

In supporting the new traffic law, Mr. Moses Eze , a pharmacist, argued that it was high time the state curb lawless Lagosians.

He said: “For me 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 offenders who knock down people on the pedestrian walkway, for instance, should be liable to life imprisonment with their vehicles impounded as well.”

Against the backdrop of this division among residents, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Goddy Okpamen, said rather than see the new law as fait accompli, Lagosians who felt strongly about its provisions should approach the courts to challenge the state over the matter.

Meanwhile, in a puzzling? pronouncement – given that the outfit is a federal institution, hence not expected to get involved in a state’s matters – Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Lagos Command, Mr. Charles Akpabio, has said the commission was fully prepared to enforce the new traffic law.

Akpabio said the Command had already launched a sensitisation campaign to educate motorists on the legislation.

He urged drivers in the state to comply with the new law, “rather than wait for enforcement officials to apprehend them.”

Akpabio said: “It’s not meant to punish anybody, but to bring back sanity to the road. Lagos is very much important to Nigeria and is home to a lot of tourists. The new law has come at the right time and we are prepared to partner with the state in that regard”.

For now, all waits with bated breath to see if this latest attempt to rein in the Lagos traffic demons would succeed.
As it is though, Lagos residents and visitors driving to the state must beware!

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