In Defence Of LASTMA —FOLA LAWAL

Opinion

I have not read the detailed judgment of the Federal High Court on the suit brought against LASTMA, the Lagos State government agency responsible for traffic management in the state. The locus of the judgment from what I read in the newspapers is that LASTMA has no power to impose fines on erring motorists and can not be the accuser and the judge at the same time. The rule of fair hearing must be seen to prevail and that the proper agency to impose fines on traffic offenders should be the law court and not the agency.

While one may share the sentiments of the judge in his reasoning on the application of the rule of natural justice, one might say it is stretching the law too far and the application of the judgment might bring more chaos in traffic management in the state.

Traffic offences have been considered to be minor offences and the law has not been very strict in the enforcement. If not, how can a dangerous driving causing death warrant two or three years imprisonment and at times option of fines? An ordinary fighting between two individuals involving death is murder, simple, depending on the facts of the case. This is just to show the flexibility of the law pertaining to traffic offences.

We all know that even in advanced countries you can be ticketed or fined for packing in the wrong way or unnecessarily obstructing the traffic. Why should it be different in the case of LASTMA? Are we saying by this judgment the FRSC and the VIO cannot impose fines on traffic offenders too?

In this era when we are all talking of alternative disputes resolution and the courts are so congested with so many cases, should we further saddle the courts with day to day traffic offences, especially where there is a law enacted by a duly constituted state assembly establishing an agency to handle the matter?

I believe we should have a second look at the impact of the judgment on the society. In a chaotic society such as Lagos and the bad mannerism of driving which has been taken as the norm, it will be a herculean task taking each offender to court. We need to save lives on the road, we need to instill sanity in road users. These are the duties of government agencies like LASTMA and FRSC. Taking away the power of enforcement of road traffic rules from them is like disabling a principal of a High School from disciplining erring students without recourse to Education Ministry. How can the school maintain discipline?

While I might agree with the judge on the issue of fair hearing, we need to know that in modern society there is the need for devolution of powers in order for smooth and orderly running of a complex society. What the court should do in this instance is to establish rules or procedures that will assist these agencies in the discharge of their duties so that they may not unnecessarily infringe on the rights of individual citizens.

That judgment cannot and will not stand the test of time either now or in the future. It is archaic and does not take into consideration the complexity of modern society. This argument in itself will not exculpate the attitude of LASTMA officials. The government should retrain them and give them proper orientation and inculcate in them the art of civility in carrying out their official duties. All these agencies are agents of social change and their main objectives should not be revenue generation or imposition of fines. This is taking them away from their laudable goal.

The law setting up LASTMA should be reviewed. The way it is now it is exploitative and dehumanising to genuine road users in distress. There should be attitudinal change in the way staff of LASTMA discharge their responsibilities to the public The Lagos State Government should be commended for appealing the judgment if not for anything but to enrich our jurisprudence and instill sanity in road users.

•Lawal writes from Lagos