LASG, Lagosians Draw Battle Line

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Residents of Lagos State say they are ready to resist the new transport bill that is about to be passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly calling it draconian in nature. EROMOSELE EBHOMELE reviews the bill

When members of the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Transport, led by its Chairman, Prince Bisi Yusuf, paid a courtesy visit to the State Ministry of Transportation, they praised the Commissioner, Kayode Opeifa, who dazzled them with the activities of the Ministry.

Among other challenges facing transportation in the State, Opeifa categorically complained about the menace of commercial motorcycle riders, popularly called okada as well as commercial vehicles, also known as danfo. He said the two had given the Ministry sleepless nights and though plans to ban okada operations had been discouraged, because it could lead to security concerns, the Ministry was sending bills to the House to restrict some of their activities. He put the number of bills at over 15.

However, in what seems like an attempt to test the wits of Nigerians living in Lagos, the first of such bills from the State Government to the House of Assembly has proposed that in most cases, once a vehicle driver or the okada rider commits an offence, such offence would be deemed to have also been committed by his passenger.

Titled: “A Bill For A Law To Repeal And Re-enact The Road Traffic Law And To Make Provisions For Road Traffic And Vehicle Inspection In Lagos State,”  the bill, which scaled through public hearing last week and may be passed into law very soon, is seen as giving officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), the powers to arrest, fine, prosecute and ensure that traffic offenders are sent to jail.

These include owners of vehicles including motorcycles, tricycles, often called keke NAPEP or keke Marwa, and bicycles and even passengers of the vehicles in some cases.

The bill further gives powers to LASTMA operatives to prohibit or restrict the use of highways and other such roads as they deem fit, just as it granted the body the power to prohibit the use of sirens where possible.

The bill further gives them the power to “demand psychiatric evaluation of any person who drives against the normal flow of traffic or who fails to comply with any of the provisions of this law,” if such an evaluation is seen as necessary by the traffic officials to determine the person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle.

Section 2 of the bill which has 42 sections stipulates that in the exercise of the functions of the authority, its officers “shall have the power to arrest where appropriate and allow the alleged offender to pay the fine stipulated for the offence under this law.”

This would put to rest the controversy surrounding the right LASTMA officials have to fine traffic offenders.

Section 3 of the bill states that apart from petrol tankers and long vehicles used to convey passengers, no trailer, including those which carry containers, is allowed to enter into or travel within the metropolis of the State between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Subsection 2 of the section stipulates a fine of N50,000, a term of six months imprisonment or both as the case may be and that the vehicle should be impounded.

The bill which bars commercial motorcycle riders from plying restricted areas of the state also stated that nobody would be allowed to ride a motorcycle or tricycle without first getting a rider’s card from the State Motor Vehicle and Administration Agency (MVAA).

Warning that no motorcycle rider must operate without a helmet and that they must not carry pregnant women, women with babies and children under the age of six, it stresses that, “any person who fails to comply with any of the provisions of this section commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of three years or to render community service in accordance with the provisions of Section 347 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State and shall have his vehicle forfeited to the state.

“The passenger shall also be liable to the same penalty, provided the passenger is not a child,” the bill states.

The bill also states that drivers and owners of any heavy vehicles who use a bridge not designed for the purpose should be prepared to repair the bridge should there be any damage.

Section 9 of the bill further stipulates that any vehicle driver that fails to follow the instruction of a LASTMA official on duty or drives against oncoming traffic is liable to three years imprisonment or community service in lieu of such imprisonment.

Any vehicle owner who parks his vehicle along the road for an unreasonable length of time shall have it impounded. Such owner, according to the bill, would be fined N50,000 and must pay the towing fee.

Anyone who also fails to report abandoned vehicles in his area may be arrested and fined N25,000 if found guilty and where the owners of such vehicles refuse to claim them within a month, the government must dispose of it.

The bill which also empowers the police and Vehicle Inspection Officers to arrest offenders and impound their vehicles where possible, further prescribes a seven-year jail term for any driver who kills anyone recklessly and that anyone who drives recklessly is liable to a fine of N100,000 or two years imprisonment or both.

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Anyone according to the bill, who drives on highways without due care or reasonable consideration for other users of that highway may be fined N200,000 when found guilty.

It states further that anyone who drives under the influence of alcohol or drugs shall be liable to a fine of N100,000, two years imprisonment or both and shall be disqualified from driving for one year.

The bill which gives power to arrest without warrant, also declares that it is an offence for a driver to enter the BRT lane as the driver and his passengers would be made to face the law.

Where a commercial vehicle driver is arrested for overspeeding, the owner of the vehicle shall also face the law.

Prince Bisi Yusuf, while speaking during a Town Hall meeting in his Alimosho Constituency 1 at the weekend, informed them that soon the law would be passed stressing that the people should henceforth be careful because the law does not respect anybody. He also told them that once it becomes law, it would help to rid the State of illegal transporters, illegal okada riders and sanitise the sector because it would help curb the excesses of road users.

According to the lawmaker, who spoke mostly in Yoruba, “the law provides for strict regulation of the transportation sector and most of the offences would send the offenders to prison. If you drive against traffic, you would first be taken to the Psychiatric Hospital to ascertain your mental status before you are tried.

“Most of the prison terms have no option except that, depending on what the officials think about you, you may be asked to do what we call community service.”

Good as this bill may look in the eyes of those in government and even the lawmakers of the State Assembly, many residents of the state see the government preparing the ground for battle between the law enforcement agents in the state and the people.

“Even when the law has not been passed, I can tell you that the Police in Lagos State, officials of the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) and the LASTMA have become a thorn in our flesh. It is always our prayer point that we should not have any reason to meet them each day.

“Now, tell me what would happen to us should the law be passed,” Tunde Adeleye, a Business Administration graduate who rides okada between Iyana-Ipaja and Ayobo, lamented.

Nuru Ogidan, a businessman in the State, when asked to comment on the law, simply asked the P.M. NEWS correspondent to go and listen to a popular song by the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He said: “Bros, make you go listen to that Fela song wey say ‘When trouble dey sleep, yanga go wake am…wetin e dey find? Palaver, e dey find, palaver e go geti ooo. That is all I can say to it.”

For Simeon Okechukwu, another businessman resident of Agege, the law would end like the Tenancy Law. “How many Lagosians have you seen indicted over the Tenancy Law. The issue is not just about churning out laws, it is about implementing it.

“But in this case, the Police and LASTMA would see it as a means to make money illegally. Check out how many motorcycles they impound on a daily basis. The worst is that once you allow them take your okada away, if you go to their offices the next day, you won’t find it.

“Each day, I see policemen riding new okada without plate number, and I doubt if they bought them with their own money. I can tell you that in as much as it would create a big opportunity for the law enforcement agents, it would also endanger them.”

For Christopher Aiyelawa, the challenge with the bill has to do with indicting passengers where a driver goes wrong.

He said passengers and drivers often quarrel over the way such commercial drivers handle their buses when in motion. “Most passengers are always scared till they get to their destinations. Is the government now saying we should struggle with the driver when he is not driving well or going against regulations?” he asked, even though he appreciated the section which barred trailers from moving within the state during the day.

While advising the lawmakers to take a second look at the bill before it is passed into law, most of the respondents who spoke with P.M.NEWS reminded politicians to always remember that they are in office to protect the people who voted for them and that they should abstain from making laws with dictatorial tendency.

Mrs. Ruka Momodu, a resident of Ikeja puts it like this: “When they do what they do, they forget that it does not take long before they come begging for our votes again. You can’t tell me I will be guilty of an offence committed by a driver and then send me to jail.

“Government is a case of ‘soldier go, soldier come, but barrack remains. They should be conscious of this.”