June 24, 2009

Jailing Traffic Offenders

IN September 2007, Lagos State judiciary delivered a remarkable judgment when it sentenced seven people accused of driving against the traffic, on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway to 20 days imprisonment. The prosecution and sentence were finished within a month of the offence.

Badejo Okusanya, presiding at an Ikeja Magistrate Court sentenced Chukwudi Ikeazoba, Obinna Odugboemu, Abdulfatai Yinusa, Tajudeen Ibrahim, Taiwo Adewale, David Otacheonyilo and Samuel Ashari. They were to serve their term at the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons. The court also ordered them to submit their passport photographs and driver’s licences to it.

Supo Shasore, State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice and Efunbowale Gbadebo, Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, were in court to argue the matter. They were passing the message that the government was serious about wiping out traffic misconduct.

The accused earned lighter sentences as first offenders because their offence, inconsiderate driving, was tried under the Lagos State Road Traffic Law.  Had they been tried under the criminal code, they would have gone to jail for six months.

Road accidents arise from impatience, over speeding, reckless and inconsiderate driving. All these are common practices in Lagos.  At peak periods, some motorists delight in driving against the traffic and creating more traffic havoc for law-abiding drivers. Sometimes these dangerous drivers knock down commuters and pedestrians at bus stops.

The emergence of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, the imposition of stiff fines and the introduction of psychiatric tests failed to stem this misconduct.

Nor has the conviction of seven men, whose impatience drove them to jail, changed anything in the conduct of Lagos drivers.

We had hoped that the prosecution of the offenders was a sign of seriousness on the part of government. Almost two years after the first move, reckless drivers are again allowed to operate as they like.

Many motorists believe that they can bribe their way of traffic troubles when they are arrested. The effort at bringing sanity to Lagos State roads by enforcing compliance with traffic rules should continue. The Lagos State Government must not relent in the zeal to restore sanity to Lagos roads.

The same traffic laws should apply to the police and bullion van drivers. On many occasions, these categories of drivers go against the traffic, setting bad examples that other drivers copy. Even uniformed men in commercial and private vehicles encourage their drivers to flout traffic laws, as if the law is not for them.

Provision of road signs would ensure fairness in this exercise and deny suspects of any excuses for their conduct.

Many Lagos roads are without vital signs to direct drivers and save lives. Massive enlightenment campaigns are required to make motor cycle riders, okada, realise that they too are subject to traffic rules. They operate mostly above the law.

Another way to activate the campaign against traffic violation is to publicise the sentencing of the seven and tell the public about the implications of a jail sentence on one’s personal record.