By Olumide Filade
OF all the states in Nigeria, Lagos is typical and unique with the complexities associated with traffic management and control. Little wonder the State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, made traffic management and control first on his six-pillar strategic development agenda when he assumed office in 2019. Governor Sanwo-Olu also raised the hazard allowance of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, officials by a 100 per cent to encourage and spur them to do more.
Not many would have thought that LASTMA would have gone this far when it was established on July 15, 2000. It was rumoured and believed by most Lagosians then that the first set of men and officers of LASTMA recruited were uneducated or rather, street urchins. This notion has been proven wrong as time passed given the calibre of professionals the agency parades now.
The agency might not have surpassed all the expectations of motorists in Lagos given the challenges that come with managing traffic in the State of aquatic splendour, but it definitely has made significant impacts on the traffic situation unarguably. The agency has since then grown in leaps and bounds, making huge impacts in traffic management and control. Many more fresh and brilliant hands have been injected into the workforce as LASTMA to boost the coverage strength of the agency.
No doubt, the agency has gone through moments of ups and downs in its over two decades of existence. The journey so far has not been without the vicissitudes of life: attacks on and killings of its officers, burning of its offices, officers involved in accidents and many other deaths occasioned by deliberate actions from aggrieved traffic offenders. Many officers have suffered vendetta as they are objects of attacks during and after enforcements of traffic laws. Some offices and properties of LASTMA were destroyed and burnt last year during the period of EndSARS protest.
While the agency frowns at attacks on its personnel, it also does not fail to wield the big stick in punishing or appropriating the right disciplinary measure to any erring officer. The other day, some officers were dismissed, and others were de-ranked or relegated to lower grade levels on grounds of various offences. No matter how reputably good an organisation is, there would always be bad eggs. The bad eggs, when caught are being dealt with in accordance with the Civil Service Rules. The good ones are also being commended, encouraged and also rewarded.
The General Manager of LASTMA, Olajide Oduyoye, while reacting to recent attacks on his officers said: “This has also been done to me on numerous occasions. The children of some rich people on the island who have military escorts had on several occasions during my traffic controls threatened to run me off the road for daring to stop them driving against traffic, making the threats not minding I am with my orderly. I have been threatened with death several times and slapped trying to do this job.
If they can do this to me as the general manager, what happens to a junior officer who is just into this work for about two years, having little experience of how to manage that level of intimidation? We are working in a harsh and unfriendly environment that drivers are willing to kill us so as to maintain their ‘big boys’ status or escape from prosecution. Why would you want to kill our officer simply because you begged him after committing an offence and he refused?”
That is the reality of the daily life experience of a LASTMA officer! In a bid to achieve the vision statement of LASTMA, the Lagos State government introduced a modern device to track various traffic offences on the spot where they happen. It will be recalled that the vision statement of LASTMA reads: To reduce deaths, injuries and economic losses through road traffic accidents, conflicts, congestion and delays on the public highways in Lagos State by employing modern traffic management techniques to inject order and control into the road traffic system in the state. In view of this, the state government, few days ago launched a Traffic Management Solution, TMS, handheld device to capture real-time picture evidence of traffic law violations by offenders as means of applying technology in traffic control and management.
LASTMA general manager said: “TMS is just a device deployed to achieve two things mainly; to make sure the rights of motorists are adhered to all of the time. So that officers in uniforms do not oppress or tell lies against motorists for what they have not done and so the evidence provides that notion.
“On the other hand, it protects officers from the attitude of motorists on the road because they now have evidence of what transpired. Therefore, when an offending motorist goes to court, there is clear evidence of what has transpired and magistrate court can decide which way to go with the offence committed. Basically, it is to enhance the work that we do in serving the public, to serve the motorist and to make sure that the branding of LASTMA and the government they represent is not dented as a result of false or right accusations.”
This technology deployment would no doubt sort the integrity issue as the arguments and false accusations and counter accusations concerning arrests on various traffic infractions between the motoring public and LASTMA personnel would be undisputedly laid to rest.
LASTMA would not have come this far, 21 years after its establishment, without the cooperation of the motoring public. The bragging right of the agency lies in the support it has received from the traffic law-abiding road users. From inception till date, and out of the various responsibilities of LASTMA, traffic law enforcement is one major challenging aspect as it most times involves resistance and recalcitrance from violators.
Many more challenging years lie ahead of the agency as Lagos keeps growing in population. LASTMA achieves more when it does not have to deal with issues of traffic violators all the time. LASTMA personnel would not be distracted from their core duty – traffic control and management if every road user adheres strictly to the laws.
Moving Lagos forward is a collective responsibility of every resident in the State, so we urge the Lagos motoring public to be law-abiding as they cooperate with LASTMA personnel to allow unhindered free flow of traffic. The agency isn’t resting on its oars under the leadership of Engr Oduyoye as it promises not to disappoint Lagosians in delivering best traffic control services.
As the agency continues to move Lagos traffic with pride and passion, we say; Anniversary cheers to LASTMA at 21!
*Filade is the Assistant Director, Public Affairs and Enlightenment Dept, LASTMA