By Mike Ebonugwo, Olasunkanmi Akoni and Bose Adelaja
FOR a long time Jide Atanda, a Lagos commercial vehicle driver, delighted in terrorising other road users through his unbridled reckless driving. A self-styled James Bond, Jide, who plies the Isolo/Mushin route, was particularly notorious for driving against the traffic and negotiating treacherous bends at hair-raising speed.
But Jide is presently ruing the folly of treating traffic laws with disdain after his recent arrest and conviction by a Mobile Court in Oshodi-Isolo which fined him N20,000.00 for reckless driving.
Indeed, before this time, many drivers, especially
commercial vehicle operators, in Lagos had turned the envisaged mega-city into a traffic jungle where only the most daring, nay reckless, could survive. The ever-present danger that this scenario represented was captured by the popular street saying ‘If you don’t hit me, I will hit you’.
But following the growing concerns expressed by residents over the worsening traffic indiscipline, the Lagos State government had on January 7, 2016 announced plans to establish mobile traffic courts. Subsequently the Special Offences (Mobile) Court was inaugurated to summarily deal with growing cases of traffic and environmental abuses in the state with a view to bringing sanity and civility in the conduct of residents on the road.
Since the inauguration and flag-off, teams, made up of men of the Nigeria Police Force, magistrates and public defenders for accused persons who cannot afford to employ the services of lawyers for their defence, have swung into action, covering such zones as Ikeja, Oshodi, Ikorodu and Obalende. According to the the Public Affairs Officer, Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences (Task Force), Mr. Adebayo Taofiq, the mobile courts had since then impounded 113 motorcycles, charged 199 out of 239 arrested miscreants, while 31 were screened out. Also, 25 drivers of both commercial and private vehicles were arrested and issued tickets for various traffic offenses.
Few days ago, a team while operating in Ikeja handled 15 cases under Magistrate Nurudeen Layeni. Of these, 12 people were arraigned for street trading and were fined N3, 000 each or one month imprisonment; two people were arraigned for street fighting and sentenced to four-hour community service, while a tricyclist was discharged and acquitted.
Similarly, in Obalende under Magistrate Patrick Nwaka, five people were convicted and fined N1,000 each for unlawful parking even as each driver presented tickets claimed to have been issued by local governments. Same day, four commercial bus drivers were prosecuted for dropping and picking passengers at unauthorised bus-stops and were fine N20,000.00 each or six months imprisonment, while one person was sentenced to render one hour community service for hanging on the door of a commercial bus.
In the same vein, another Mobile Court that operated at Oshodi-Isolo under Magistrate Olalekan, popularly called Bashorun, tried and convicted 10 persons for obstructing traffic by crossing the highways instead of using the pedestrian bridges. They were, however, later released but not before being warned to desist from such acts. Five persons were also arrested and tried for street trading offences and fined N3,000 each.
Last Tuesday, it was the turn of Ikorodu residents as the team extended its assignment to Mile 12 and Ikorodu axis where people were arraigned for various offences. At Mile 12 inward Ikorodu, for instance, the team arrested 23 traffic and environmental offenders who were all arraigned by the Mobile Court as presided over by Magistrate Nurudeen Layeni at the Ikorodu Local Government.
At Owode-Elede, seven commercial motorcyclists were arraigned and fined N10,000 each or an option of six months imprisonment for plying restricted routes.
Same day, three commercial bus drivers were sentenced to six months imprisonment or a fine of N15,000 each and 48 hours community service for dropping and picking passengers at unauthorised bus-stops. Also, the driver of an unpainted commercial bus was issued a fine of N20,000 with 100 hours community service and the bus confiscated by the government.
At Ikorodu roundabout, nine tricycle operators were sentenced to six months imprisonment each or a fine of N10,000 each for obstructing the traffic.
Arising from this, Vanguard Features went to town to sample public opinion on the operation of the courts so far. It emerged that in spite of the fanfare and media blitz that attended the inauguration of the mobile courts, 70 per cent of Lagosians are not aware of their existence.
From Lagos Mainland to Lagos Island, the story was the same.
But a motorist in Lagos Island who gave his name as Charles Ejike was to say that: ‘’If well handled, the Mobile Court should be able to rid Lagos of the persistent gridlock on our roads”. One Osunjimi Agbeni was to express a pessimistic view as he said: ‘’I hope this is not another way to enrich some people? I know that very soon, the commercial motorists will pull resources together to settle the team and before one knows what is happening, only private vehicles will be impounded while the commercial vehicles are allowed to go scot free”.
Bus conductors welcome court
In a chat with VF, the President, Bus Conductors Association, BCA, Tayo Balogun, commended the initiative by the government, saying it will restore sanity to Lagos roads. ‘’It is a welcome development. Lagosians need this kind of law to wage war against traffic congestion on our roads. It is a good initiative to keep us on our toes and aid quick and faster judgement in the state,” he said.
He also informed that his members have been adequately sensitized about the courts. ‘’We have been embarking on training and seminars for our members so that we don’t fall victim of the Mobile Court,” he stated.
Also speaking, the state Chairman National Union of Road Transport Workers NURTW, Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede, commended the initiative, saying members are being sensitised to comply. ‘’We have spent a lot of money on newspaper publications and jingles instructing members to comply with all directives relating to the Mobile Courts in the interest of all. Not only this, we have set up a task force across the state to ensure compliance and this is our own contribution to wage war against gridlock on Lagos roads,” he said.
Task Force spokesman, Adebayo Taofik, said the Mobile Court is designed to achieve quick dispensation of justice. According to him: ‘’It is designed to bring justice to the door steps of members of the public, bring transparency to justice dispensation, awareness to environmental sanitation and traffic laws in the state. As at now, there are three teams going round the state to bring justice to the door steps of Lagosians”.
Some residents hail initiative
Foremost human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Mr. Femi Falana in his comment, lauded Governor Akinwumi Ambode for taking the bold initiative to inaugurate the Mobile Court. Falana who describes the action of the Governor as progressive said it would enforce discipline and sanity on Lagos roads as well as the environment.
According to him: “It is a progressive development. I have just advised the Attorney General that we would not allow the police and the traffic officials to detain people illegally but I have been assured that the penalty for most of the traffic offences shall be community service which I think is a very progressive development. That is going to enforce discipline on our roads and sanity to the system.”
Chairman of Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Public Petition, Adefunmilayo Tejuosho, also commended Ambode over the move, saying such would go a long way in decongesting the prisons.
She said: “This is a welcome development. It is good that at the point of the incidence when somebody commits traffic offence, it can be handled immediately. You know there are many awaiting trials in the prisons and we are trying to decongest those areas and this is a good way of doing that and getting justice at the same time,” Tejuosho said.
The Mobile Court, according to state government officials, was introduced to complement the 2012 Lagos Traffic Laws as well as frontally tackle the problems confronting the transportation sector in the state. It is particularly expected to halt endless trucks carnage and traffic gridlock in the state. Governor Ambode had earlier organised a transport summit with the theme: “Tackling Current, Evolving And Future Traffic Management Needs Of Lagos State.” Speaking at the summit, the Governor assured residents of his strong political will to take tough decisions in unlocking traffic problems in the state, stressing that his administration was keenly committed to make Lagos work for all, “and effective traffic management is a good place to start.”
The Governor observed that with the realities on ground, there was the need for practical and innovative solutions to address the traffic challenges confronting the state to deliver immediate dividends and future aspirations. According to him: “Lagos, in many ways, is a victim of its own success as many people leave other states and travel to Lagos seeking better opportunities; more Nigerians want to reside in Lagos and this obviously comes with some challenges.
“As one of the leading commercial centres and an emerging City-State, we need to go back to the drawing board and agree on how our transportation sector can be effectively and efficiently operated to support the kind of trade and investment we want to continually attract.
“We need to collectively examine how the transportation sector can improve public sector delivery through better institutional framework, quality transport infrastructure and then tackle wasteful and socially harmful transport patterns. You will agree with me that the ease of travelling, mobility and communication are critical fuels for our state economic engine.”
The state Commissioner for Transportation, Dr. Dayo Mobereola, said the summit was put together in furtherance of Ambode’s determination and commitment to genuinely address the traffic challenges confronting the state.
He added that the summit was also aimed at jointly developing a workable system and solution with all stakeholders with the view to articulate and share knowledge and explore innovative approaches to free the roads and help in developing a robust traffic management.
What to know to avoid arrest, prosecution
- Driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law (that is driving against traffic, popularly known as “One Way”) now attracts a three-year jail term, while a first offender gets one-year term and the vehicle forfeited to the state government.
- Bullion vans are not exempted from the law as any bullion van driven in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law will be forfeited, while owner of an abandoned vehicle on the highway will be fined N50,000.00 or three years imprisonment, or both fine and imprisonment.
Riding a motorcycle against traffic and riding on the kerb, median or road setbacks will attract N20,000.00 fine for first time offenders, while subsequent offenders will get N30,000.00 fine or the rider’s motorcycle will be impounded.
- Smoking while driving attracts N20,000.00. fine
- Failure to give way to traffic on the left at a roundabout attracts N20,000.00 fine
- Disobeying traffic control attracts N20,000.00 fine
- Motorcycles and tricycles are prohibited from riding on major highways in the state. The highways are Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Oworonshoki – Ikorodu, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and Babangida Boulevard Way. Others are Lekki-Epe Expressway, Funsho Williams Avenue, Agege Motor Road and Eti-Osa-Lekki coastal road.
- Violation of route by commercial vehicles will attract N20,000.00 fine
- Riding motorcycle without crash helmet for rider and passenger will attract N20, 000.00 fine or three years imprisonment or both.
- Under-aged persons(under 18 years old) are prohibited from riding a motorcycle and the fine for this is N20,000.00
- Operating a motorcycle in a restricted area or prohibited route will attract a fine of N20,000.00.
- Any person driving without a valid Driving License will have his/her vehicle impounded. Learner drivers without permit will attract a fine of N20,000.00, while driving with fake number plate will attract N20,000.00 fine for first offenders and six months imprisonment or both for subsequent infractions.
- Medical Emergency Vehicles can drive through traffic as contained in Lagos Traffic Law, 2012.