Police and new Lagos traffic laws

Governor Ambode has in a little over a year  justified the confidence reposed on him by Lagosians who during the last election, chose him over  JimiAgbaje, currently engaged in a public brawl with Bode George, his ‘father’ over PDP chairmanship. I believe he has also so far proved he is a worthy successor to his trail-blazing predecessors. Ambode remains a silent operator allowing his creativity and resourcefulness to shine through the quality of governance. Determined to outstrip the giant strides of his predecessors, his Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)projected target for 2017 is N30billion, a great leap from the paltry N600m Bola Tinubu inherited in 1999 and even the humongous N17b he inherited from Fashola, his immediate predecessor. The Nation’s Sam Omatseye describes him as ‘Nigeria’s alpha governor’ whose Lagos ‘is the only vibrant state in the federation’.

Ambode understands insecurity is the greatest threat to a mega city. His administration therefore went ahead in February to inaugurate a new traffic laws and relevant punishments in an effort to build on the security architecture he inherited.  Speaking on behalf of the governor during its inauguration, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Atilade, the Chief Judge of Lagos State was specific on the targets of the government new crusade. “Those who choose to make life difficult for other people, especially on our roads; those who engage in flagrant disregard or violation of traffic rules with impunity; break traffic rules at will and cause needless traffic snag, drive against traffic and beat the traffic lights, destroy traffic furniture and infrastructure, drive across the road median and through their lawlessness and irresponsible actions, daily inflict pains, grieve and sorrow on fellow citizens.” These “few recalcitrant and obstinate drivers and road users who impede businesses, maim innocent people or send people to their early graves”, the administration swore to battle on behalf of Lagosians.

Some of the new 11 laws and their attendant punishment include ‘One-Way’ driving which attract a penalty of three years; abandoning vehicle on highway which attracts a fine of N50,000 or three years imprisonment, or both; Motorcycle riding against traffic, smoking while driving, disobeying traffic control, riding motor cycle without crash helmet etc. each of which attracts a fine of N20,000. Many believe the fines are harsh and the intended objectives – whether deterrence or to raise revenues for the state – are nebulous and unattainable. But most Lagosians trust Ambode and therefore have no quarrel with government over the new crusadeto free the people from the menace of ill-bred motorists. It was in this spirit I had sarcastically advised a neighbour who complained two weeks back that his daughter was fleeced of N6,000 for driving with expired vehicle licence by some policemen in Ikeja, an offence outside the new traffic laws, that he and his daughter must learn to be good citizens by having their vehicle papers renewed as at when due.

Little did I realize the joke was on me until I became a victim last Friday. I was flagged down by one Inspector who by her name tag is probably from Edo North at about 2.30 p.m, a few metres from Ikeja LGA secretariat. I enthusiastically handed over all my vehicle particulars even though she had demanded only for my drivers’ license believing everything was up to date. Moments later she said she was impounding my vehicle because my vehicle license expired few days earlier. Before I realized she was not joking, a police sergeant who by his name tag is of Benin extraction was inside my car ordering me to drive to their station next to Ikeja LGA office.

At the station, I met about a dozen others engaged in an on-going negotiation anchored by a fair complexioned police woman. My offence, which is driving with expired vehicle licence, I was told, attracts a fine of N20,000 at the Alausa mobile court. Being a Friday, if I failed to come back by 4pm, my car would be impounded until Monday with a possibility of it attracting a demurrage fine of N10,000. I could save myself all the trouble with an option of paying a police fine of N5.000. I craved their indulgence to collect the amount from a nearby ATM machine. They obliged.

With the illegal police fine collected in the presence of everyone by the sergeant, my impounded car was released. In less than 10 minutes and armed with my renewed vehicle licence obtained from the LGA office next to the police station, I returned and insisted on reporting the extortion to the DPO. As expected, I was told I could only seethe officer incharge of traffic offences.  After patiently listening to my tales, he said neither he nor the DPO sent anyone to collect money on their behalf. He admitted however that there are rotten eggs in the lower cadre of the police but quickly added they were laid by the matured chickens currently in charge of affairs of the police. He then wanted to know if my mission was to retrieve my N5,000.But remembering the great Zik’s admonition that it is only a mad man who argues with an armed Nigerian police, I told him my mission was to find out from the DPO what is being done to stop the extortion of Nigerians which was going on with impunity under his nose.

Aswe stood talking beside one of the new vehicles procured by Lagos State with public fund to wage the new crusade, harmless members of the public were streaming in and out of the office where bargaining and haggling take place before extortion. In the little over 30 minutes I spent in Ikeja Police station, I did not see a single “danfo” bus driver, the notorious traffic offender among those arrested for traffic offences. Of course none of the accosted traffic offenders needed to go to Alausa to pay fine. Not even a woman who was tongue-lashed and dismissed as ‘ the archetypal troublesome Benin woman who always wants to prove she knows the law more than the police’, for insisting that the FRSC and VIOare the two bodies empowered by law to arrest those who drive with expired vehicle licences and not the police, was sent to Alausa. The woman later confessed she parted with N6,000 for her own double-barreled offence- driving with expired drivers’ licence and expired motor vehicle licence.

The Ikeja encounter I have since learnt is what goes on in police stations across Lagos. To prevent the Nigeria Police, which as structured can be loyal to neither the nation-state nor its constituent units, drawing a wedge between him and the Lagos citizens, Ambode must excuse the police from the handling of traffic offences while he embarks on massive investment in LASTMA.  First, traffic is a local affair all over the world except in Nigeria where the federal government, blinded by a desire to control all aspects of our life forgets that the answer to some of our current challenges such as gathering intelligence about members of avengers, checking the menace of the so-called Fulani herdsmen or cattle rustlers and consolidating the gains we have made in the liberated north-east is local policing.

By the time the federal government wakes up from its slumber and realizes that restructuring the bungling and ineffective Nigerian police is inevitable, Ambode’s investments on LASTMA would have started to yield dividends for Lagos State.

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