Expectedly, the new Lagos Traffic Law has generated a lot of comments, some good, others not so good. The articles that have been written on the Law that came to my notice are Abimbola Adelakun’s column of Thursday 19th July 2012 which focused on the draconian nature of the Law vis-à-vis
the mostly bad state of the roads in the state and the double standards of our public officials to obeying Laws; Mr John Awe’s very informative ROADS THAT LEAD TO JAIL IN LAGOS published in the Punch Newspaper on Friday 3rd of August 2012 and finally, the Punch Newspaper’s editorial of the 8th of August 2012.
John Awe’s article and the editorial particularly reflect my concerns about the new law. While I agree that something needs to be done about the traffic situation on Lagos roads and the particular lawlessness of commercial bus drivers and even some drivers of private vehicles, my worry, as also expressed by the editorial aforementioned, is the in the implementation of the law.
As would have been noticed by all those who read John Awe’s article, its central theme is the absence of signs warning drivers that a particular road is a “one-way” road. Where there are signs however, the signs are either hidden from view, faded, or confusing. An example of a sign that is at best confusing is that placed on the university road that leads to the University of Lagos, the road that John Awe aptly describes as 95% dual and 5% one-way. The sign, apart from not being very visible is placed in such a way that a first time visitor to the area, who happens to see it, will be confused as to which of the roads he should not enter.
And of course, everybody knows by now that as bad as the reputation of the police is, you are much better off asking them (again in the absence of signs) whether a particular road is “one-way” than asking LASTMA officials. I am aware of quite a number of people who have made enquiries from LASTMA officials who deliberately mislead them only to arrest them all because of their desires to be “settled”.
Most drivers in Lagos are only aware that certain roads are “one-way” roads because of their familiarity with those roads. I dare say it will be criminal to criminalise a driver for driving on a one-way road or a road with changing status from one period to another when there are no signs to warn him of the status of the road.
Just last week, I was told about someone who was arrested by LASTMA officials for making a U-turn in a place with a sign that indicated that it was allowed only to be told by the arresting LASTMA officials that U-turn was no longer allowed there and yet the sign there carried the “U” without the red arrow over the U that would indicate that U-turn was not allowed there! Of course, the driver wasn’t allowed to go till some money changed hands. Now, while some people are blessed with the gift of seeing signs that are not visible or in existence, the Lagos State government should please realise that not everyone has this gift and while some of us prefer to remain on the right side of the Law, we wouldn’t want to be criminalised for disobeying when there are either no signs to warn us or the signs are hidden or at best confusing.
The Punch editorial has rightly pointed out the absurdity of making minor traffic offences punishable by jail terms especially at a time when there are talks and worry on how to decongest the prisons. I have not seen the text of the Law itself and so I am not sure what the Law’s definition of eating while driving is. Does eating mean eating eba and ogbono or does it mean eating gala? And what about those that chew gum, does the movement of their jaws while chewing constitute eating as well?
With the drastic change (for the worse) in the attitude of LASTMA officials in the past year or two that seem to have shifted the emphasis from traffic management to revenue generation (for both the officials and government), the penalty for violation or perceived violation may only serve to enrich the LASTMA officials at the expense of otherwise law-abiding citizens. I do hope however that the State government will take steps to put up clear and visible signs at every possible entrance to one-way roads if really as claimed by Mr Ade Ipaye, the intent is not to allow people fall victim due to ignorance only so the State can continue to be in the lead as the State with the highest IGR.