For all the positives the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration may have left as legacies, it was a four-year tenure that returned the state to a familiar path of chaos and flagrant disregard for law and order.
Indeed, never has the state been most tolerant of reckless conducts of motorists, since 2012 when the Lagos State Traffic Law made forceful inroad into the Lagos traffic narrative.
Specifically, it was a new normal for motorists to drive against traffic unhindered, okada-riders ply highways without helmets, or have more than two adults perched behind on restricted routes.
Danfo drivers, the worst culprits, freely pick and discharge passengers at undesignated bus stops, traders display wares on walkways and roads, even as trailers and tankers freely cordon off express lanes for weeks. A trip between Ilasamaja and Five-Star vein forces this experience, same as several areas in the state.
It, therefore, stands to reason that the new administration hit the ground running by declaring a zero tolerance for abuse.
The governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, quickly put the money where their mouth is by empowering and emboldening the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) – a familiar “foe” that apparently fell out of favour with the last administration.
Their mission was to hound “offenders” without preferential or prejudicial treatment. But the devil is in the details.
The Lagos State Traffic Law 2012, as amended in 2018, empowered LASTMA officials to make scapegoats of private motorists – their soft target. But yet unattended is the fundamental cause of traffic gridlock itself – bad roads, excesses of heavy duty vehicles, and sheer irresponsibility of some commercial operators like Danfo, tricycles and motorcycles, often called Okada.
Three weeks on overdrive
From the new fervour displayed by LASTMA lately, almost all Lagos motorists could tell that there is a new sheriff in town, and a more determined one.
To embolden the officers, Sanwo-Olu, had restored security backups and towing vans for traffic law enforcement operations. He also signed the traffic-related Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Agency amended bill into law, and psyched up the officers with 100 per cent increase of monthly hazard allowance.
In return, the governor demanded an improvement in the free-flow of traffic statewide, with full enforcement of the Lagos State Traffic Laws 2012 and arrest of all traffic offenders without preference for civil servants, party members, security agencies, friends and family members.
And true to type, LASTMA has begun a clampdown on “offenders” with more than 30 vehicles towed away into two out of the 10 Area Commands monitored. The Guardian found that majority were private cars and their offence was driving against traffic – the most grievous offence in the traffic rule book.
The practice in some parts of the state was to see officers actually more eager to enforce the one-way rule and arrest “offenders” in areas that were not known or not conspicuously displayed as one-way route. However, some officers, sometimes with the connivance of Policemen, would rather lie in wait for unsuspecting motorists just to apprehend than guide them aright.
A resident of Surulere, Chinagorum, said: “There is a road inwards Eagle Club at Surulere that is not known as one-way. Even a police directed me to pass it, only for LASTMA guys to be waiting mid-way to make arrests. So unfair.”
Similarly, some residents around Oke-Afa/Ajao Estate were arrested for plying against the traffic on Hollandia Way. On the day of the arrests, The Guardian learnt that there was no sign to suggest the restriction “only for the one-way sign to be mounted two days later”.
Money spinning traffic regulations
The sanctions provided for by the Lagos State Traffic Laws 2012 range from N5000 fine to N50, 000, jail terms and forfeiture of vehicles. But the new regime has introduced a heavier ransom of N200, 000 for one-way offence, such as is not known to the subsisting Traffic Laws. Also, all the violations that erstwhile had no monetary penalties now attract fines of between N20, 000 to N90, 000.
For instance, offences like failure to use seat-belt, unclosed doors or standing on the doorway while in motion, all attract N20, 000 each. Parking on the highway, obstruction of traffic, picking or dropping passengers on illegal bus stop attract N50, 000 fine.
Also, making a reverse on the highway, driving on kerbs and parking on walkway earn N50, 000 penalty. Driving on BRT designated lanes is N70, 000, while dropping passengers on laybys is slammed N90, 000 fine. And for every night a seized vehicle spends in the custody of LASTMA, a N1000 fine is paid.
The Guardian learnt that the severe penalty regime was the initiative of the LASTMA hierarchy, “to ensure that apprehended violators do not easily get out of the offence, unlike before.”
“The law says we should impound a vehicle that drives against traffic, which is the most common traffic offence these days. But giving them a fine of N50, 000 is like a slap on the wrist. But with N200, 000 fine or risk of impounding and been shown on camera during mobile court trial, they will think twice. The essence is deterrence,” a top official had said. But there should be more to enforcing the rules for revenue.
Let charity begin with motorable roads, not LASTMA
Outside of party politics and politicking, one of those things that apparently endeared Sanwo-Olu to Lagos electorates was his antecedents. He is a man that should know the Lagos government terrain, having served in the last three administrations.
A transport consultant, Idowu Opeibi, said the major problems in Lagos are road and environment related. “Give Lagos a motorable road and good environment; you would have solved Lagos problems by 80 per cent. So, the choice of Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat killed it (at the last guber elections) for me.”
Such sentiments underscores the immediate expectations of Lagos residents from the current administration.
Perhaps the Lagos State Public Works Corporation (LSPWC) was starved of funds to fix potholes during the last administration. Now, Sanwo-Olu has all allocations within his reach, to cater for LSPWC and other state agencies.
Adamson, a respondent at Ikotun area of the state, expects the government to first attend to the roads as local government authorities have “become completely useless”.
“I live in Ejigbo and I can tell you that the only semblance of sanity in the area is Ejigbo LCDA facade. Look at the NNPC junction right in from of the LCDA, or just before the Oke-Afa Bridge, Iyana-Ejigbo, down to Cele/Ile-Iwe, they are all impassable and we have local government.
“Yes, the rains are here, but there should be palliative measures to at least ease the traffic a little. This area is on lock down day and night. It makes no sense to me, leaving the roads unattended while enforcing the laws.
“The laws are good and no one should follow one-way, but the government should also do the needful by making the roads better. Lagos road network is shameful. Let them do the real work and forget showmanship,” Adamson said.
Another Lagos resident, Moses Ibekwe, said he had no business plying a one-way, but “what should I do when trailers have taken over the entire service lanes?”
Ibekwe’s car is among those recently impounded for the offence of driving against traffic at the Isolo axis of the Oshodi-Apapa expressway.
“Trailers are all parked on two lanes, leaving a very narrow aisle for us. One of them, in the process of going out, broke down. What should we do? The last time, I was stuck in it, I was there for two hours and at the end of the day, it was this same LASTMA people that led us to ply the one-way.
“Today, they are the same people making arrest of law-abiding motorists. Why can’t they begin with the trailers – the problem, instead of making scapegoats of the victims? We are the victims here not the offenders.”
What is good for the goose is sauce for the gander
The fact is that in most of these corridors mentioned, it is still a common practice for commercial operators, among other motorists, to drive head-on traffic.
As at yesterday, danfo, tri-cycle and Okada riders were still driving against traffic from Toyota end of Oshodi down to Mile 2 and Apapa, Apongbon inwards Marina, Lagos Island down to Iddo, even on Eko bridge as well as Third Mainland Bridge, especially for the motorcyclists.
Others are Agege Motor road inwards Lagos Abeokuta Expressway, Akowonjo to Egbeda. The common tale is that the inner roads – traffic escape routes – are now also as bad as some of the highways.
A motorist, Afeez Akinleye, said what the new administration has done is to make “one-way offence the most lucrative and the joy of LASTMA officers”.
“At every instance now, they are looking out for one-way related offences, including on roads that are not known or clearly marked for such. I agree that no sane person should drive against traffic, but the most guilty are the law enforcement officers themselves and commercial transporters and motorcyclists, whom they will not arrest.
“Go to places like Mushin, Isolo, Jakande, and Ikotun, one-way traffic is the norm for commercial operators day and night. Yet, LASTMA will leave them and come into residential communities and be making arrests in commando style, claiming one-way offences. Before you know it, they have towed your vehicle away and charged you to court.
The governor must look into this exploitation and grand extortion before it is too late,” Akinleye said.
The first one-month of Sanwo-Olu’s administration already leaves no
one in doubt of the zeal to turn the tide of Lagos chaotic environment.
He must, however, roll-up the sleeves, not against traffic offenders
alone, but also to ease the pains of the law abiding residents.