7th August, 2012
BY MAC DURUGBO
Order, as the old adage says, is the first law in heaven. The truth is that without orderliness, everything will be in chaos; driving on roads, flying in the air, navigating on the high seas, all involve orderliness. Law is the blood without which order is bound to collapse. Order comes alive and becomes entrenched when there is law to back it up. For example, in Nigeria every driver keeps to the right hand side of the road. But government did not assume that every driver would conform to this orderliness so it places a sanction on defaulters. Without the sanction, you can be sure compliance will be difficult. It runs through the gamut of all human activities. As a matter of fact, law and order constitute the life blood of good governance.
When law is mentioned, of course the mind runs to enforcement without which a law becomes a toothless bull dog. Take for instance the traffic regulation not to drive or ride against traffic. The law in Lagos is that anyone caught flouting this regulation will not only be fined; he or she will be required to get a certification from a psychiatrist that he/she is not mentally unfit. However, the defaulter must be arrested first before being charged and fined accordingly. This brings us to the law enforcement agents; the Police, the Armed Forces and other paramilitary organisations charged with maintaining law and order in the country. In Lagos, aside from the police, there are members of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), the Lagos State Task Force on the Environment and others who constitute the first responders to any breach of law and order.
These agencies are expected, for example, to enforce the law banning driving against traffic for all vehicles including motorcycles (Okada). They are expected to arrest and prosecute commuter bus drivers who stop in places other than the bus stops to pick passengers on the roads. They are expected to arrest persons at bus stops or on the roads stopping and extorting money from vehicle owners including Okada riders during which traffic flow is often impeded. They are expected to arrest commercial motorcyclists plying the major highways, like Ikorodu Road, Oshodi-Apapa expressway, Third Mainland Bridge and restricted areas.
Unfortunately, these agencies seem to have failed in these functions. In fact, the way some of these offences are being committed right before these agencies give the impression that the perpetrators have their express backing. At major bus stops like Ojota, Mile 2, Mile 12, Palmgrove, Ojuelegba, Oshodi, Iyana-Ipaja, Agege, etc., commuter buses stop and discharge passengers in the middle of the road. They drive against traffic and make U-turns sometimes at the most unusual places. They practically break all the traffic rules in the book while the police and these other agencies just watch.
At the Ojota bus top, commuter bus drivers drive across the median to change direction from Ojota-Yaba to Ojota-Ketu, the police look on. Okada riders execute all kinds of gymnastics right there on the roads. Aside from husling for passengers while taking up part of the expressway, they also jump the median to change direction. This they do by stopping suddenly at the side of the road and lifting the front of the bike to place the front tyre on the median and then accelerating to force the back tyre up the concrete pavement. Most times they do not succeed the first time and that means the bike rolls back onto the road before the rider makes the second attempt. This, to say the least, puts a motorist at a very dangerous spot because he is forced to swerve to avoid the bike and God help him if there is another car, lorry or trailer by his other side. This is what happens at most bus stops on a daily basis.
There is also the case of touts erecting checkpoints at street corners to extort money from both commuter buses and motorcycles apparently with the connivance of the traffic officers who often stand some distance away from the scene. Then, there is the issue of the flagrant disobedience of the law that bans Okada riders from plying the major highways such as Ikorodu Road, Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. The rule also restricted Okada and commuter buses to the service lanes on Ikorodu road. Today, Okada not only compete with cars and lorries on the expressways, they take more than one passenger and they go without helmet either for themselves or their passengers. They meander through traffic at top speed and with their horns blaring threateningly. They do not respect traffic signs. Sometimes, when a motorist indicates with his pointer the intention to change lane, the okada man suddenly appears and in the process of trying to avoid him, accident often results, sometimes fatal. Sometimes, they appear at the front of a car in such a manner as to force the driver to apply brake suddenly, exposing himself to the danger of being hit from behind. As for the commuter buses, they not only ply the major roads with impunity these days, they even discharge their passengers there on the roads. The old days are here again if you ask me.
Recently, also, the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Umar Abubakar Manko, said cart pushers would no longer be allowed to ply the major roads with loads of yams and other items. But again, this is not enforced just as the law banning cart pushers evacuating refuse is not enforced. One needs to ply the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway between the Old Toll Gate and Ibafor in Ogun State or Ikorodu Road right up to Ikorodu to see scores of these cart pushers claiming part of the major road as vehicles speed past.
Now, the State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), has consistently shown that he abhors flagrant non-compliance with law and order and if there is any traffic offence that he seems to hate most, it is driving or riding against traffic. Aside from causing the law to be passed against it at the House of Assembly, the governor has included a taskforce team in his convoy to arrest offenders and this happens each time he goes on any assignment around the metropolis because he does not use siren.
And talking about siren, the governor recently arrested two top rank Army officers flouting the law against driving on the BRT lane. News of the incident was in every newspaper the following day and Lagosians really were entertained seeing the picture of that miserable army colonel shamelessly saluting the governor as he pleaded for forgiveness. Poor colonel, poor staff-sergeant; they may, most probably, face disciplinary measures in the hands of the Army High Command or fire from their wives (or both) over the public disgrace. But this is an incident that has become almost routine especially on Ikorodu Road; and it is not just top rank Army and other Military officers. Motorists of all categories – commuter bus drivers, taxi drivers, company vehicle drivers, private people and okada riders are all guilty of this offence. Let there be a little traffic jam on that road and you will see commuter buses divert into the lane, most probably followed by private cars. Commercial motorcyclists do not even wait for traffic jam before they use the lane. Sometimes, they cause real obstruction to the BRT buses.
Yet, there are traffic officers posted to enforce compliance with that regulation. Watching from, probably, a traffic hold jam, it is easy to understand the situation. The average Nigerian is thrilled to try out the efficacy of any new law. When the Ministry of Transportation placed restrictions on certain roads, including the expressways, for okada riders, that law did not last more than three months before, gradually but steadily the okada riders flouted it. Today, they not only ride with impunity on those restricted areas, they take more than one passenger with them, including pregnant women and school children and without helmet. So also the illegal use of the BRT lane began gradually; but today, it has become almost routine. Now that His Excellency has arrested and reprimanded a colonel, probably the impunity may stop for some few days in Central Lagos. The Governor, of course, cannot be there all the time. So, the non-compliance will continue; unless, of course, the law enforcement agencies do their duty.
Admittedly, it could be quite frustrating to see people taking pleasure in flouting rules and regulations. For, instance, watching people force traffic to slow down for them to cross the expressway right under a pedestrian bridge; or vehicle drivers disobeying traffic lights and other such things. But the traffic officers have a duty to insist on compliance with those rules. It all has to do with urbanization. There is still a thin line between rural and urban life. People who have lived in the villages all their teenage and adolescent life, practically transfer such rural behaviours to the urban area. Such people may not even know how to live in a modern flat. They may, most probably, be more comfortable defecating in the open than using the closet. But while we use advocacy to bring them to standard, the traffic must move and law and order must be maintained.
Last line: Perhaps, now that the State’s Road Traffic Law has been signed, one hopes that the law enforcement agencies will be more up and doing in checking the nuisance caused by traffic offenders.
•Durogbo is Personal Assistant on Print Media to the Governor of Lagos State.