The attempt by the Lagos State government to bring sanity back to Lagos roads attracts mixed reactions and fears over proper implementation
It appears that Babatunde Fashola, governor of Lagos State, is gunning to gloss his curriculum vitae with a trophy that has eluded past administrators of the state. This coveted prize would certainly not bring him any money, but the honour of being the administrator that finally reined in the legendary lawlessness of many motorists on Lagos roads, while also taming the traffic monster. These twin evils have indeed made Lagos roads one of the most dangerous places to ride a vehicle in the world. Fashola seems convinced that the traffic bill he recently signed into law would deliver this holy grail of traffic bliss on a platter of gold to Lagosians.
While appending his signature to the bill called, Lagos State Road Traffic Law at the Banquet Hall, Lagos House, Ikeja, on August 2, the governor noted that the new law would make the roads safer and improve the lives of the citizens of the state. He said, “We have to live by some rules, rules that have worked in other dispensations, rules that we obey when we go there. It is time to really show commitment for the place that we really call home”.
Indeed motorists may need more than their 10 fingers to count the number of offences captured by the new law. For instance, it is an offence to eat, receive call, drink, count money or smoke while driving, each of which attracts a fine of N20,000 for first offenders. One should also be prepared to pay N20,000 fine for driving without permit, with fake number plate, without valid driving licence and disobeying traffic control, among other offences.
Even commercial drivers, who had thought that the government had forgotten their predisposition to breaking traffic laws, would have to change or face the long arm of the law. It now becomes a punishable offence to drive commercial vehicles without the approved colour, without valid hackney permit, without certificate of roadworthiness. They would also be liable to fines for driving with doors left open, overloading commercial vehicles on highways and allowing conductors to hang on the tailboard of moving vehicle among other offences. But that is not all; the possibility of going to jail also awaits those who are second or subsequent offenders of some of these laws.
But it appears that commercial motorcyclists popularly called Okada riders would bear the greatest weight of the new law. It has become an offence for a motorcyclist to drive without crash helmet, without riders’ permit, conveying more than one passenger and installing musical gadget on a motorcycle. They should also be prepared to pay N20,000 fine for driving within a restricted area, using horns designed for cars, carrying pregnant women, and carrying adults with babies. Still, failure to operate without side mirrors, trafficators, break lights, among other offences also attracts a fine of N20,000.
But this new legislation appears to have reserved a surprise package for members of the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, and other road unions who are in the habit of collecting money from commercial drivers and Okada riders. Such act of collecting money from bus drivers and Okada riders on the road has now been proscribed.
Though Lagos State government insists that the new legislation is meant to make the roads safer and saner, some stakeholders have criticised it as being one of the numerous drives of the government to raise revenue, even from the devil itself. This could be the reason why members of NURTW, Motorcycle Transport Union of Nigeria, MTUN, Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, and other road unions met with the Lagos State government last Monday to express their distaste about the new law. Kayode Opeifa, commissioner for transport who chaired the meeting, however, assured them that the government would give a 90-day grace to commercial transport operators to re-register their vehicles, after which sanctions would be applied. For now, the unions have agreed to continue to pursue dialogue with the government.
“It should be noted that most of our workers are daily paid drivers and as such, we appeal to the governor to grant us the privilege to collect membership dues from our member drivers in the motor parks and garages as done throughout the country,” Tajudeen Agbede, chairman, NURTW, Lagos chapter, said at a press briefing last week.
But it is not only road workers who have an axe to grind with the new legislation. The Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, last week warned that the law may lead to breakdown of port operations, thus crippling international trade between the country and the rest of the world. This is because almost 90 per cent of the country’s import and export businesses are done through Lagos port. Incidentally, these goods are mostly conveyed on roads by trailers or cargo trucks. But under the new law, trailers and other cargo trucks are now banned from moving within the metropolis between the hours of 6am and 9pm, meaning that they can only operate at night. This is why AMATO warns that the law would lead to port congestion and might adversely affect the federal government’s revenue drive through the port.
Remi Ogungbemi, chairman, AMATO, while speaking to a daily newspaper affirms that the law would affect the federal government’s drive to realise N1 trillion through the ports this year. “There is no way such a regulation will not have a negative economic implication on the nation. The port is the second largest income earner for the country. Besides, the new law also exposes truckers and goods to insecurity. Even in the daytime, there are incidents of loaded trucks being hijacked on the way. Our activities cannot be limited to night time alone”, he explained.
Amuche Nnanna, a freight forwarder operating at Tin Can Island also echoed Ogungbemi’s fear. He submits that the law would affect the target of the federal government to bring down the man-hours it takes to clear goods, which is one of the cornerstones of the federal government’s Transformation Agenda to make the economy more business friendly. “The 48 hours cargo clearing target is further an illusion amidst other hampering factors caused by the new law? All these only amount to policy somersault in a nation where you have one government policy countering another directly or indirectly,” he said.
The state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is however categorical that the new law smacks of a desperate attempt by the state government to shore its revenue up. The party points to the fact that fines levied against offenders were exorbitant. The party also flayed the state government for not making the new laws readily available to the public. “Yes, we have heard of a traffic law, but nobody can claim a copy of the whole provisions”, the party said in a statement made available by its spokesperson, Taofik Gani. [You can access it on our website, log onto www.tellng.com]. The PDP chieftain added “we are unequivocal in our belief that the state government is driven by the desperation to increase its revenues.”
But there are those who though are not opposed to the law, but believe that the government put the cart before the horse. These people believe that the state government ought to have first fixed the bad roads in the state before enacting such a law. This school of thought argues that the deplorable state of roads push Lagosians to flout traffic regulations. “The major cause of most traffic snarls is bad roads which leads many to commit traffic offences. With this, the new traffic law will be malicious if the perennial traffic logjam on our major roads are not first addressed prior to meting out punishment to lowly Nigerians in the guise of traffic offences,” said a private motorist who craved anonymity. He has an ally in Francis Njoku, a lawyer, complains that the new legislation is rather draconian. Njoku predicates his submission on the fact that the minimum fine is higher than the minimum wage. “In terms of prescribed punishment for offenders, I think it is too stringent in certain areas. Considering the minimum wage in the state, one may be forced to conclude that it is excessively stringent. It seems the minimum fine under the law is N20,000. How do you justify this in a system where the minimum wage is not more than N18,000?” he queries. This could be the reason why Tayo Bamidele, a bus driver, insists that the new law is just a ploy by the state government to empower the Lagos State Transport Management Authority, LASTMA, to continue to extort motorists. “This is only 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 aspect of the law are simply draconian”, he said.
In the same vein, Bisi Ajayi, a housewife, complained that the section of the law that forbids motorcyclists from carrying a woman and a child would disrupt her mode of conveying her children to school daily. “Not everybody has cars, some of us use Okada to carry our children to school. This will affect many parents negatively,” she laments.
Tope Aronipin, an Okada rider, also echoes the fears of many of his colleagues when he concludes that the new law is an attempt to punish those who ply the trade in the state. “ For a long time, Fashola has been trying in vain to stop us from eating and this time around he wont succeed,” he says.
Despite the opposition, the new legislation also has considerable support. For instance the Federal Road Safety Corps, Lagos Command, has hailed the law as a step in the right direction, which the agency insists would enhance traffic management and return sanity to the roads. “The law is certainly not to punish, but to bring back sanity to the road, Lagos is very important to Nigeria. The new law has come at the right time and we are prepared to partner with the state”, Charles Akpabio, Lagos sector commander, said during a courtesy visit to Fashola last week.
This support is however not restricted to the agency as some motorists have also applauded the legislation. Raheem Ojoye, a commercial bus driver says the law is appropriate. He also commends the section of the law that bans NURTW members from collecting money on the road. “This so called agbero [touts] have caused so many problems. My only advice is that the state government should create more garages and bus stops”, he says. Ojoye has a supporter in Waheed Folorunsho, another road user who insists that the new law would make the roads safer. “If the government can effectively implement the new law, it will be good for all. The whole law will increase safety and ensure security in the state. I give kudos to the government because it is trying to modernise the transportation industry in the state. But there is urgent need for more garages”, he said. Taju Abegunde, a Lagos resident, on his own part, is happy that the law also carries the possibility of jail sentence “I have seen too many innocent people killed by bad driving. The state government has taken the right steps”.
Many however insist that the government should embark on wide campaign of the new law before enforcement commences. Adedapo Oyedipe, founder, Nigerians Unite for Road Safety, insists that this measure is necessary to prevent turning innocent motorists to offenders. “Before enforcement can commence, there need to be awareness, advocacy and have course training fashioned for the benefit of the different road users,” he said.
Additional report by Olusegun Adeosun