The new traffic laws in Lagos has generated a lot of news footprint over the past few weeks and I also wrote about it in a previous article on the need for effective implementation to avoid chaos on Lagos roads. I am a fan of Governor Fashola and I believe he is well intentioned. But I also feel he is either misinformed or disinterested as to the level of atrocities committed daily by his henchmen and officials under the various agencies he has set up over the years. For instance; LASTMA is an agency many Lagosians will agree is needed but majority will also disapprove of the way it is currently managed and the manner in which they constitute themselves as terror to many law abiding Lagosians.
So to be more constructive and to help Lagos motorists; I decided to put on my Legal hat and read in full the new traffic law of Lagos; and here are the seven main areas and issues people need to be aware of about the new traffic law in practice.
1. The new Law allows you to make and receive calls while driving; despite the erroneous information to the contrary printed in the media and misinformation by some government officials. Item 39 of Schedule 1 of the new law makes it an offence the “Making or receiving phone calls when driving without Hands Free”. So as long as you are using a hands-free kit and you use voice activated calling system; you are within the law and have not committed any offence.
2. There is Danger of Double Jeopardy prosecution; this is contrary to natural justice in this jurisdiction. Section 20, sub section 1 and 2 creates the danger of prosecuting motorist more than once for the same offence. This is either bad legal drafting or an intentional invasion of citizens rights. Section 20 implies that if a person is charged with Careless or Inconsiderate driving; and the court is of the opinion that the offence is Not Proven; then the court can entertain the same charge again immediately after the first case. Although the law gives a small get out clause for the courts by stating: “…the Court shall, if it considers that he is prejudiced in his defence by reason of the new charge being so preferred, adjourn the hearing”. This section needs to be redrafted for clarity; but motorists need to be aware of this provision.
3. The Law criminalizes driving while drunk; but there is no objective measurement of what being “Drunk” is. Section 21, (1) and (2) of the new law, refers to driving while under the influence of Alcohol or Drugs as being criminally liable. The problem is there is no reference to how to objectively determine these things. The law simply stated that: “Any person who when driving or attempting to drive, or when in charge of a motor vehicle on a highway is under the influence of alcoholic drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of such vehicle, shall be liable on conviction…”. This is a highly subjective provision. How do you determine the level of impairment necessary to be liable. There is no mention of a drink drive limit or the use of any breathalyzer. So as a motorist you will have to go by the judgment of LASTMA and other officials; many of whom are drunk and drugged up themselves while on duty. This is a license for official abuse; hence the Lagos State government should be more precise on its provisions here to avoid uneven application of the law and subjective harassment of Lagosians.
4. LASTMA or State Officials can now arrest a motorist if you do not produce your Drivers Licence on Demand. Section 28 of the new law gives state officials power to arrest without warrant anyone who is suspected of having committed an offence, who fails to produce a drivers licence on demand. So it is now illegal to drive in Lagos without having your drivers licence physically with you. This is the hallmark of a police state. I am sure the state government will refer to section 22 of the law, which refers to proof of identity when arrested. That section refers to “any other evidence of identity acceptable to the officer”. So what exactly is that? What is acceptable to one officer may not be to another. This is quite alarming. So be aware; you are better advised to hold your drivers licence in your wallet anytime you drive in Lagos to avoid undue harassment; unless this provision is amended.
5. Owners will be liable for un-roadworthy Commercial vehicles even if it was taken without the owner’s permission or knowledge. This is the most unfair provision of the entire law in my opinion. So if your wayward Cousin takes your taxi car on a joyride without your consent or knowledge; you will still be criminally liable if your car is found to be unroadworthy; if you were aware it was in that state before it was taken without your consent; according to Sections 31 to 34 of the new law. So if you park your unroadworthy commercial vehicle in your private garage; there is no law broken. But if someone takes the car unto the public highway without your knowledge or consent; you are criminally liable for your car being unroadworthy on a public road. This is madness. It is looking like Fashola has invented a strict liability crime here. Owners should have been indemnified if they can proof they were not aware or nor give consent to their vehicle to be taken; regardless of the state of the vehicle. There is potential for unfair convictions on this ground and the state should look at amending these sections of the law. It seems the only way out of liability is to make sure your commercial vehicles are always in roadworthy conditions even if it is not in use and on your private land.
6. The Commissioner for Transport has too many secondary powers of enforcement and can single-handedly change many traffic enforcement provisions. In addition to the noted provisions of the new law; the commissioner is empowered by section 38, to make vast changes and introduce new crime and enforcement instrument without recourse to the House of Assembly. This is called secondary legislation powers. For instance, section 38 (1) (q) gives the commissioner the power to change the speed limit in any area of Lagos state and criminalise those that exceed it. So the worry here is that these powers should be closely monitored to avoid abuse. You could be committing a crime driving at 40km per hour on a Lagos road because the commissioner changed the speed limit yesterday from 30km per hour. Any exercise of the secondary powers MUST be fully publicized to inform the public of developments and time must be given before changes take effect. The saving grace on this provision is that its use can be subject to Judicial Review as it is an executive order rather than the primary Act of the Legislature. So jobs for the lawyers there.
7. State government officials can be dismissed if they are proven to Demand or Receive any personal gratification in cash or kind according to Section 37 (1) and (2). This is a provision I want all Lagosians to exploit to the maximum by making sure all encounters with LASTMA or any state officials on the road is secretly recorded by video or audio. You must get your evidence and let us get the bad eggs out of uniform on our roads. So an official is liable to dismissal if he demands for bribe or accepts it when offered by the motorist. This is a good provision of the law that motorists can use to help sanitise the LASTMA bandits terrorizing honest Lagosians on a daily basis. As LASTMA management are known for backing their staff regardless of public accusations; watertight evidence will be needed to put pressure of them to act according to the provisions of the law by dismissing all officers that are found to be taking or demanding bride.
As you can see from the foregoing; there are areas to worry about in the new law and there are areas to commend the government for. So I will seriously admonish the government to review the entire law in practice in six months time to amend sections that are not working or too vague (of which there are a few) and make the law more precise and clearer to all concerned. I trust you have found this article useful.
Accordingly the mantra in Lagos state governmental institutions at the moment should be people friendly implementation. In 90s when Tony Blair became the Prime minister of the United Kingdom; he was asked what would be the focus of his new administration. His response was; Education, Education, Education. Thus emphasising the focus on Educational transformation in England schools. Governor Fashola should learn from that and make his own focus now to be; Implementation, Implementation, Implementation. Let us get right the laws that are already on the books, implement fully, study their effects and consequences; make adjustments as necessary, before more legislation is pilled on an already recalcitrant, over reaching and perhaps overworked government machinery.
We all support the drive for a new Lagos and ultimately a new Nigeria; but we should take care that we do not try to get there at a cost to the health, wellbeing and morale of the people. Nigerians already have enough to cope with, please don’t add any more aggravation Mr Governor.