BY TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA
TO transport operators of different categories, the signing of Lagos State Road Traffic Law (2012) has been generating fright and panic over imprisonment clause despite repeated attempts by Governor Babatunde Fashola and his aides to allay fears that the law was not enacted to sentence traffic offenders, but rather deepen the culture of public safety.
The law, which repealed the 2003 Road Traffic Law, according to the governor, contains some innovative clauses that were brought into the legal regime, first to ensure public safety within the state, and second, to boost Lagos megacity status.
Section 36 (3) of the law states: “In sentencing a person convicted of committing an offence, the court may, in addition to or in lieu of the prescribed sentence, direct suspension or revocation of the driver’s license and direct the person convicted to render community service,” thereby setting a tone for deterrence and voluntary compliance.
But the section is not complete in itself. It is only operational under Section 347 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (2011), which sets definite circumstances and conditions by which any court of competent jurisdiction can order a person convicted of certain offences to render community service.
Also, the court, under the same section, can direct a person convicted of committing an offence to enroll for and attend courses at the Lagos State Drivers’ Institute (LASDRI) for a period not less than seven days at his cost. At the discretion of the presiding magistrate, such person may be sentenced to both community service and enrolment in the drivers’ institute.
This, thus, explains why Fashola during the week, said the law is all about the safety and benefit of Lagos residents as it was not meant “to send anybody to jail. A jail sentence will be an extreme case, especially when the presiding magistrate has identified an offender to be hardened or such person has been committing a particular offence over and over again.
“Unlike the provision of the old traffic law, the new law has made provisions not only for payment of fines, but for convicted offenders to engage in community service such as directing traffic for a specified period among others. 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.
“So, the popularity of the law is very evident. Everybody should comply. For anyone who is convicted, he will either undergo compulsory training at the drivers’ institute or community service by managing traffic. Traffic management is a reality of the country’s large population. That is why we have also introduced a traffic radio to provide advance information to residents on how they plan their route,” Fashola said.
AN in-depth examination of the law gives an insight into various challenges it intends to solve. Under Section 1, for instance, the law prohibits the use of any specified road by vehicles of specified class; regulates the conduct of persons driving, or riding any vehicle or animal on a highway and restricts the use of sirens as well as the sounding of horns or other similar appliances either in general or during specified period.
Subsection 2 and 4 gives power to the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officers “to arrest where appropriate and prosecute any persons reasonably suspected of having committed any offences under the provisions of the law.” But LASTMA’s power to prosecute any suspect is subject to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
Section 3 also prohibits any person from riding, driving or manually propelling a cart, wheel-barrow, motorcycle and tricycle from no fewer than 11 highways, 41 bridges and 496 routes, which are all stated under the Schedule II of the new traffic law. As contained in the schedule, these categories of vehicles are restricted from plying any route in Eti-Osa Local Government, which covers Victoria Island, Lagos Island as well as Ikoyi.
Under Subsection 4, commercial motorcycle riders are expected not to carry more than one passenger at a time. Aside, the subsection also states that a pregnant woman, a child below age of 12 and an adult with a baby or heavy load placed on her head or which obstruct normal sitting shall not be carried as a passenger, an act, which authors of the law, believe can cause untold suffering and multiple loss.
If any operator fails to comply with these provisions, subsection 5 therefore spells out stiff penalties ranging from serving a three-year imprisonment or rendering community service or the offender might have his vehicle forfeited to the state government, but an award of such penalties will be at the discretion of a presiding magistrate.
The Schedule I x-rays a wide range of traffic offences, which relates to any form of action that precludes drivers from operating with two hands, such as eating and drinking, making use of mobile phone, counting money and smoking while driving.
THE law has equally stoked stern reaction from different quarters. Chairman of Motorcycle Operators’ Association of Lagos State (MOALS), Tijani Perkins, described the law as anti-people. He observed that the new traffic law might create more social problems than it intends “to solve originally. Furthermore, the law breached an agreement, which associations of motorcycle operators had with the state government on August 24, 2010. The agreement spelt out the routes on which okada riders can operate in the state.”
An okada rider, Tope Aronipin, said the law is meant to punish operators for practising in the state. “For a long time, Fashola has been trying in vain to stop us from ‘eating’, and this time around, he won’t succeed. I am, however, happy for the law banishing agberos from the road. These people are just criminals and touts, who rob commercial bus drivers and okada riders in broad daylight in the name of collecting tolls.”
Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeola Ipaye, cited instances where human heads were smashed due to reckless operations of commercial motorcycle riders, traffic gridlocks created as a result of lawless driving of many motorists, and diverse cases of armed attacks on unsuspected residents, all of which he said, necessitated the enactment of the law “to avoid a situation whereby Lagosians are used to such gory scenes.”
In 2010, Perkins said it was agreed that okada operators would not ply all bridges and highways across the state. But he expressed dismay at the enactment of the new traffic law, which he said, was designed to disengage all okada operators out of business. “It is unfair to restrict our operations to Trunk C and D roads. This is unacceptable to us. On the 2010 agreement, we stand. We also have rights under the 1999 Constitution and shall exercise them.”
He explained how socio-economic challenges brought thousands of his colleagues to eke out a living from okada business. “How can the state government decide to disengage people going about their lawful activities without providing alternatives, especially in this era of depressed economy. As a body, however, we have decided not to take the matter to the court of competent jurisdiction until the law is gazetted and its enforcement equally takes off,” he said.
Musiliu Saka, like many of his colleagues, is not too happy with the enactment of the law, which he believes, will threaten sources of livelihood for many citizens with its adverse ripple effects on the society.
On his part, a bus driver, who plies Ketu-Oshodi route and simply identified himself as Bamidele, said the law would not work, urging that what the government had succeeded in doing was to empower LASTMA officials to continue their extortion spree. “This is a way of further enriching the highly corrupt LASTMA officials. Tell me how one could drive in a day without falling foul of the law. The government is indirectly saying we should pack our bags and go to our villages. Some aspects of the law are simply draconian,” he said.