Nigeria is largely a lawless society where many people feel that resistance to positive change is a way of life. While some states are making laws and executing policies and programmes to stem varying degrees of lawlessness, many others are indifferent and lack the political will to act, particularly those who use thugs to rig elections. To anybody who has lived in the chaotic city of Lagos for a long time, the Lagos State Government could not have been wrong in the idea behind the new traffic law, which came into effect on August 2, 2012. It is long overdue for a city that is making a difference and showing the way to go in Nigeria. No matter how slow the process might be, if Lagos State must transform into a megacity and remain the centre of excellence and flag ship state in Nigeria, the government and people of Lagos State must take certain harsh decisions even though they may not sound sweet in the ears of those who don’t want change for the benefit and progress of the state and Nigeria at large.

The Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012 replaced the Road Traffic Law of 2004 and it is intended to address seeming gaps which were not covered in the old law. According to Fashola, the new law, among other things, seeks to “eradicate the diverse, anti-social, abnormal and dangerous practices associated with traffic operations in the state; and envisages a condition of free flow of traffic and orderly transportation as part of its mega city blue print project”

Road transportation must concern Nigerians because it is in truth, the only existing means of intra transportation except for a little percentage of marine and rail transportation. It is for this reason that everything good, bad and ugly happen in the roads and for a crowded city like Lagos, effective traffic control measures cannot be over emphasized.
All over the world, traffic laws are made to primarily ensure order and free flow of traffic for the safety of all road users including the erring drivers. So therefore, penal provisions in such laws merely serve to ensure compliance with the traffic laws. We dare say that they should not be generally intended to harass, intimidate and extort money from motorists.
However, there are some realities that the new law and its implementation must address. This is so because the Lagos State Government cannot afford to be seen first as barking without biting and secondly as a wicked and insensitive government. Therefore a balance must be struck.
An analysis of some of the reasons why motorists break traffic rules in Lagos or other parts of the country will show that in some cases, the government has not done all that is required of it to do in terms of provision of infrastructures like pedestrian bridges or road repairs, posting effective and bold road signs in appropriate places, enlightenment etc. This will help to streamline compliance and help traffic flow rather than waiting for defaulters and collecting fines.
Where a road is under construction, the contractor and the LASTMA should be duty bound to place bold road signs showing new directions of traffic flow, diversions and distortions or creation of ad-hoc routes etc. This is because, although ignorance of the law is not an excuse, ignorance of the facts can be in some cases. The government must be satisfied that the erring motorist that she is contravening has every reason to know the facts constituting his offence. If, therefore, he chooses otherwise, then he has himself to blame.
The traffic control measures have generated employment for a good number of people and we must commend the Lagos State Government for the bold step in removing idle hands off the street. However, this does not obviate the fact that these are Nigerians and they possess all the good and the bad about us. It includes get rich quick syndrome, inability to handle tasks efficiently without close monitoring and horsewhipping, corruption and impoliteness in their relationship with others. The average Nigerian is angry, bitter and hostile in many respects. These operators must be watched closely and sanctioned in appropriate cases.
Therefore the first reality LASG must face is the training and orientating of all traffic operatives to be people friendly. Sometimes, on the spot enlightenment can help a lot than just setting traps for innocent motorists. There are situations where certain road junctions, roundabouts and spots are not properly marked by road signs to guide innocent motorists and this leaves the driver confused especially if he is not used to those routes. And in such difficult times and notorious places, decency demands that there should be a traffic control operative to just point at the right direction and the driver will simply follow. On the contrary, what you see in some places where such difficulties exist is that the traffic officers, rather than help out, hide somewhere nearby and wait for anybody to make the expected mistakes and they jump out to extort money or arrest the driver.
There are cases where a driver may be confused or missing his way and would need the assistance of a LASTMA official to help him point at a direction but they will not be there. The LASG needs to work on this because the essence of the new traffic laws is not to ensnare or enslave the people but to make them use the road infrastructure conveniently and live happily in Lagos State.
Severity of punishment under the new law is a source of great concern. It is difficult to change people overnight but in order to achieve some level of sustainability through people participation in the new traffic regime; the law must take into account the prevailing economic circumstances of our people. Majority of Nigerians are living generally below poverty line and cannot afford additional burden.
The provision of the law relating to forfeiture of vehicle for a mere traffic offence is rather draconian and should be revisited. This sanction is strange and extreme. It cannot be justified that for simply driving against the traffic especially if there is nothing more than that, the driver or owner who may not be the driver should forfeit the vehicle to the state. What will happen if the vehicle in issue belongs to Lagos state Government? In our view, this is unjust before man and offensive before God and should be amended to wear a human face.
In the same vein, the imposition of fines as much as N20,000 or more for simple traffic offences will also need review. Many motorists who pay half of that money as fine for traffic offence at this time of economic hardship go home pained and may not likely commit such offences with their two eyes open. The fines for traffic offences should at least be humane while strict implementation is guaranteed.
Prohibiting counting of money, eating or drinking while driving without further qualification is also unrealistic and difficult to enforce. No driver will eat amala and ewedu or akamu and beans while driving but to expect that drivers cannot even eat gala or drink water while in traffic jams is clearly off the point. Sometimes Lagos traffic could be chaotic especially when it rains and keeping people on the road for hours without biscuit, sweet, snack or water to refresh looks unrealistic.
While we support sanity in our roads especially in Lagos, some of these provisions and many more in the new law may be difficult to enforce. All kinds of offences have been listed under the law and some are as trivial and elementary as for example, if you listen to your radio in the car or wave your hand to a fellow driver. The way the law stands today, LASG will require one traffic official to every three vehicles in order to fully implement this law. When provisions of a traffic law designed to address a serious situation like we have in Lagos State are seen as watery, trivial and difficult to enforce, they will become laughable and no longer serve the intended purpose.
Although the implementation of this new law also has its revenue potential and economic advantage, road users and the Lagos State government are expected to co-operate so that sanity is restored in our roads. There is need for arresting officers to exercise moral discretions in the discharge of their duties to achieve this. Driving an unregistered vehicle for instance would attract a penalty of N20,000 for a first offender, and N30,000 if repeated. What happens if the arrested vehicle is on transit from Cotonou or has just been bought from a car shop and would need to be driven home before registration? Will the law also punish such a driver? While we commend the new law, there is need for a review of some of its provisions for the good and happiness of the people of Lagos State.

Emma Okah (emmaokah@yahoo.com; 08033211999)
Published in Sunday Sun newspaper of 16/9/12

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