The growing audacity of insanity in Lagos

By Douglas Anele
Some psychologists believe that human beings manifest some level of insanity. That is very true, because every individual experiences strong emotions, which usually precipitate irrational behaviour. Persistent existential deprivations that characterise the human condition in Nigeria right now is particularly conducive to insanity. Last week, on a lovely Monday morning, I went to buy some pre-recorded compact disks at Yaba. It was difficult to find somewhere to park my vehicle because virtually all the parking lots around were full. After driving for about fifteen minutes, I was able to squeeze my jeep behind another vehicle along Montgomery Street. When I came out of the vehicle, I noticed that it extended beyond the white line on the ground.
However, before leaving I made sure it did not obstruct traffic in any way. After purchasing the CDs I wanted, I went back to my vehicle. As I entered, I discovered that the driver’s door would not open properly. I tried to free it from the obstruction by driving backwards a little bit. Moments after, with the engine still running, I tested the CDs one after another to ensure they are okay before leaving.
I looked up when I heard a knock on my window. A man wearing a reddish-brown or maroon coloured uniform (let us call him Mr. A) signalled me to wind down the driver’s window and I complied. He said I have committed an offense by packing my vehicle beyond the white mark on the ground. Politely, I told Mr. A that the engine was running and that my jeep did not obstruct the road at all. As we were arguing, his colleague (Mr. B) joined him, and after a brief exchange between three of us, both men decided that my alleged offence deserved punishment.
Meanwhile Mr. A brought a camera and took a photograph of my jeep. He threatened that if I refuse to comply with their directives, he would bring a tow van to remove the vehicle to their office in Adekunle. To cut a long sad story short, they tricked me into driving to their office. As I drove through the gate and entered a compound that looks like a makeshift garage, a man who called himself Hon. Muyiwa who claimed to be Chairman House Committee on Works approached me. He entered my vehicle and insisted that I must pay a fine of twenty-five thousand naira. I tried to reach an amicable settlement with him because I thought that as a legislator, Muyiwa is likely to be more reasonable than the others are.
However, I was wrong. I pleaded with him that as a university teacher, I would not deliberately disobey traffic rules and regulations, that the so-called offense I committed is insignificant, and that he should use his discretion to let me go. He refused. Instead, he threatened to deflate my tires, recommend that I should go to a designated place for psychiatric examination, and refer my case to “headquarters.”
I felt humiliated and angry. How could a purported member of Lagos State House of Assembly who, judging by the low intellectual quality he displayed while we were arguing, is not even qualified to sit in my Master’s class, be the one to recommend me for psychiatric evaluation? Even after explaining that lecturers are on strike and that it is necessary to conserve funds because the federal government might stop our salaries, Muyiwa “the oga at the top” remained adamant.
At this stage, there was a hot exchange of words between him and me. Muyiwa angrily accused me of disobeying the law, and boasted that he is the leader of a task force established by the state government to apprehend and punish offenders. He ordered a vulcaniser to deflate my front tyres. I was thinking of what to do and wondering why Lagos State government created another outfit to deal with traffic issues when LASTMA is still functioning – then it occurred to me to call Ade Ipaye, a colleague and current Logos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.
Luckily, he picked my call and his timely intervention saved me from further embarrassment. The entire horrible episode lasted for over one hour. Afterwards, a few friends and colleagues I told my ordeal narrated their own ugly encounters with the same people. It is quite distressing, I must admit. For quite some time now, Lagosians have been complaining bitterly about unwarranted incessant harassment by KAI and LASTMA officials and all sorts of miscreants-in-uniform. But the government has not done anything concrete to address the complaints.
The level of intimidation and embarrassment is unacceptable. People are now afraid to drive their cars because different officials claiming to work for government fabricate excuses to extort money from them. Concerted efforts of the state governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, and his lieutenants to increase the internally generated revenue base of Lagos State are commendable. Nevertheless, must ordinary citizens be harassed, intimated, and oppressed just because government is trying to raise additional funds? Officials of LASTMA, KAI and others constantly cajole, insult, bully, and threaten people in order to extort money from them.
Of course, some of them are nice and reasonable: only the bad ones, the “animals in uniform,” enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on Lagosians. Their uniforms intoxicate them to the extent of megalomania. Given the crude and uncouth manner of KAI and LASTMA officials, qualifications for employing staff for these outfits should be strengthened. In other words, the qualifications must be tightened to minimise the influx of miscreants and undesirable elements into the system.
I believe that politicians create most of these outfits to resettle and create jobs for thugs they used during elections to capture power. But this approach usually boomerangs, with devastating effects on the society, as is evident in the emergence of Niger Delta militant groups and Boko Haram. To repeat; there is an urgent need for thorough overhaul of the employment procedure of KAI, LASTMA and so on.
The reform must include adequate training for those employed to improve their emotional intelligence, appreciation of civilised conduct, and respect for human dignity. It is extremely important that government officials dealing with the public in whatever capacity must learn to treat people with respect, and exercise discretion whenever it is necessary to do so.
The stress of living in Lagos is already very high and health threatening. It is not the business of government under any guise to increase it by empowering all manner of insane people to intimidate and extort money from law-abiding citizens. The insane audacity of miscreants masquerading either as LASTMA, KAI, and task force officials is going out of bounds. We are supposed to be operating a democratic system which requires that government officials no matter the situation must respect the citizens.
I suggest that Governor Fashola should take a hard or critical look at his internal revenue generation strategy and come up with appropriate and effective ways of eliminating the jarring highhandedness of government officials running the system. I hereby express my sincere gratitude to Ade Ipaye for rescuing me from predators-in-uniform. He is a good man indeed!

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Lagos Traffic Law: Panic Over Enforcement, Imprisonment

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.

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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.