15th November, 2012
By Mamudu Taiwo Hassan
Implementing law to curb human excesses will always meet challenges and resistance, especially in a society that thrives on recklessness, indiscipline and impunity. The protest and untenable destruction of public property that followed recent implementation of the Lagos Traffic law by commercial motorcycle operators is by no means a sore point in our democratic experience.
Dictionary.com defines law as “the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision”. Therefore, the function of law is to regulate human conduct in the society and award sanction for disobedience. The introduction of the state traffic law and its enforcement are to curb excesses and return sanity to our roads.
Every sane nation has its own version of the traffic law. And its purpose is to govern traffic, regulate vehicles, motorcycles and pedestrian’s movements for the purpose of road safety. Legislating, instituting and implementing traffic law is a universal thing as it is the case in the United Kingdom where the rules are set out in the Road Traffic Act and Highway Code which includes obligations and advice on how to drive sensibly and safely on the roads. Similarly, in the United States, which operates a similar federal system like Nigeria, traffic laws are regulated by the states and municipalities through their respective traffic codes.
In Nigeria, there is a Federal Road Traffic Act implemented by law enforcement agencies such as Police and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). However, despite the existence of this law, road accidents have remained unabated. According to the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) in the four months of (December 2009-March 2010) 7,737 road accidents were recorded in the country. Between 2008-2011, 5157 lives were lost and a total of 13,251 persons sustained various forms of injuries through road accidents in Nigeria within three years.
In Lagos State, the State Traffic Law was signed into law on 2 August, 2012. The composition of the law is a reflection of executive rigorous debate, hearing at the various stages in the House of Assembly, public hearing and stakeholders` contributions. The Lagos State Traffic Law is to Provide for Traffic Administration and Make Provisions for Road Traffic and Vehicle Inspection in Lagos State and other Connected Purposes became operational on 22 October, 2012. The law consists of many aspects on road traffic and administration such as control of traffic, traffic signs, closure of highways, control of vehicular traffic on the bridges, removal of abandoned vehicles from highway and side of private premises, careless and inconsiderate driving, reckless or dangerous driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or drug and general penalty for each of the offences among others. In this law, the aspect that has generated much debate and controversies is the section 3(1) that prohibits riding, driving or propelling of a cart, wheelbarrow, motorcycle or tricycle on some major highways in Lagos State. It further bans the use of commercial motorcycles on 475 designated roads in the state. The objective of this is to curb the menace of commercial motorcycle accident, improve general security and restore sanity on the roads.
A recent statistics from LASTMA reveals that over 600 people were killed or seriously injured in commercial motorcycle accidents in the state in the last two years. Similarly, a recent police report reveals that a total of 513 fatal accidents that occurred in the state in the last two years were caused by commercial motorcyclists. And out of this number, 305 happened between January and June this year. Equally, out of the 30 armed robbery cases recorded in Lagos State between the months of July and September this year, 22 of them involved the use of commercial motorcycles.
In the society where people treat law with disdain and commit crime with impunity, government’s commitment to safety and security will always be resisted by the few that benefit from the chaotic situation. The wanton destruction of public property by commercial motorcycle owners and its leadership, in the wake of implementation of the new law, further reinforces the need to properly regulate activities of okada operators.
Traffic management in a state like Lagos is complex and challenging. For one, Lagos is the nation`s economic nerve centre, with a population of 17 million people on 377,000 hectares of land. With over 75,000 commercial buses, over 4 million cars, about a million motorcycles, Lagos has the highest volume of vehicles than any other state in the country. This frightening statistics, coupled with the lackadaisical attitude of road users, activities of fake law enforcement agents, road cutting and other unfriendly attitude to the road, there is, indeed, a genuine justification for the provision of a legal framework to control activities on the road.
To successfully implement the new traffic law, the state government led by the Governor himself, put in place a vigorous public enlightenment and sensitization campaign. He was at the military formations in Lagos seeking for the support and cooperation of officers and rank file in the implementation of the law. The Governor was also at the Lagos Metropolitan Club and Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry to interact with members in respect of the new law. This is aside the various stakeholders’ meetings chaired by the state Deputy Governor with commercial motorcycle and vehicle owners on the law.
In furtherance of its determination to ensure traffic law compliance and road safety, the state government has begun the re-training exercise of over 7,960 enforcement officers. This involves LASTMA, KAI and Neighbourhood watch. The purpose of the training is to improve the knowledge and skill of officials in order to meet global standards in terms of service delivery.
The establishment of the Lagos Drivers’ Institute across the five divisions in the state represents another strategy of the state government to bring about safety on the roads.
On the economics of okada, while it is true that commercial motorcycle offers temporary succour from umemployment, it is yet to be seen how the restriction on strategic 475 out 9000 roads in the state can lead to unemployment. The government is not unmindful of the challenge of human factor with regards to the implementation of the state traffic law. It is to this end that some LASTMA officials have been punished while others are presently waiting to appear before the Personnel Management Board (PMB). Also section 37 (1) of the traffic law stipulates from the onset that no officer shall demand, willfully condone, connive, abet or receive gratification in cash or kind from any person to circumvent the provision of this law. And 37 (2) further says, that any officer who contravenes the provision of subsection (1) above shall be liable to summary dismissal and prosecution under the Criminal Justice Administration Law. The members of the public should take advantage of the existing criminal and enforcement law to report activities of any officer that is capable of undermining the efforts of the state government to restore safety and sanity on the roads to the appropriate authority.
On the issue of job creation, the state government is training and engaging willing hands, to become entrepreneurs who would employ others. The dignity to human life and returns from all the aforementioned, are far more valuable and higher than whatever okada riders claim to earn.
The vision of Lagos State becoming a megacity will be in the doldrums if the menace of Okada riders is not dealt with head on. Lagos State is fast becoming the destination of businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, so it’s imperative that the good people continue to think in the direction that other great cities across the globe are being positioned.
Looking at available facts and figures, there should be no controversy about the fact that the activities of commercial motorcyclists in Lagos state must be re-examined to tackle the social challenges posed by them. This is what the state government is doing. This is what every reasonable government should do. This is the right thing to do. Those who are criticising the restriction are parochial in their thinking and utterly miss the point.
•Mamudu is Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, Oshodi, Lagos.