Sometime in the early 90s, I represented my mum at the Parents/Teachers Association (PTA) meeting at one of my brothers’ school. One of the parents at the meeting in talking about getting the school back on track said it was important that the standards of education not be allowed to decline. He said that if there is a serious problem with the infrastructure in the school, that could be built within a short time once the funds were available but if pupils/students are not given the right foundation or education, it may take much more than just funds to get things right. I have never forgotten that statement and I will come back to the statement later in the course of this write-up.
In 2004, the then governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu, who really achieved more for Lagos State than most people remember or are willing to give him credit for, established the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to ease the traffic bottlenecks in the State.
In spite of the fact that the Second Schedule to the Law under which LASTMA was established created some offences and listed the penalties therefor, I doubt that very many people would dispute the fact that LASTMA under Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu stuck to its mandate and indeed achieved the main objective of easing traffic bottlenecks in the State.
LASTMA continued in the direction under former governor Bola Tinubu in the first few years under the immediate past governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola. And indeed, it should be said that the procurement for LASTMA under the administration of former governor Fashola of several towing vehicles, helped in no small measure to quickly clear the road either after a breakdown or an accident.
Trouble started in my opinion however when the State under the immediate past governor decided that slamming heavy fines on errant drivers was the ultimate solution to traffic lawlessness. It is no secret that most LASTMA officials make a lot of money daily by entering into negotiations with apprehended drivers and diverting fractions of the official fines to their own pockets. The heavy fines set by the State government turned most LASTMA officials into the monsters they later became. I don’t know if the State government was making a lot of money from the fines imposed on errant drivers, but I know that a lot of LASTMA officials made a lot of money because the fines set were so high.
LASTMA went from being a genuine traffic management outfit to a body which had as its priority, revenue generation; both for the State and (as it appeared), more importantly for individual officials. The lust for money became so great that quite a number of LASTMA officials would in fact deliberately mislead drivers into entering one-way roads in the absence of conspicuous signs which should have done the job, and have their colleagues waiting ahead to make arrests. Where LASTMA officials should have been proactive in preventing the commission of traffic offences, they wait (and perhaps even pray) for you to make sometimes, honest mistakes and then swoop on you because it puts money in their pockets.
It can then be imagined, how majority of these extremely dirty LASTMA officials would feel when the new governor told them to stop harassing motorists. Perhaps there was a meeting, perhaps there was a directive. But what followed after the governor’s directive was an open defiance or rebellion by LASTMA officials who then decided to report at their duty posts, but to lift no finger (or leg) in traffic management.
LASTMA officials, at least a good number of them, stopped working. In Lagos State where commercial bus drivers have an infinite capacity for lawlessness, LASTMA officials stopped working. In Lagos State where the average private vehicle driver has a near infinite capacity for lawlessness, LASTMA officials stopped working. The result is what most Lagosians have been experiencing in the past several weeks. Traffic gridlocks for no discernible reason. And of course, with these gridlocks come robberies in traffic.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode should respond by sanctioning a number of LASTMA top officials. The last I checked, the governor retains the power under the 2004 law which established LASTMA. He can remove any official however high-ranking who openly defies his directive. Under Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, LASTMA did not need to harass motorists to be effective. And majority of people in Lagos and other States acknowledged LASTMA’s effectiveness.
Back to my earlier story about the fixing of decayed infrastructure versus the fixing of damaged humans. It is my belief, rightly or wrongly, that over-emphasis on too heavy fines and criminalization of every little infraction under the Fashola government did substantial damage to the psyche of LASTMA officials and turned them into monsters. The heaviness of the fines and the fact that it took average of a whole day to get it paid, was an effective bargaining chip for LASTMA officials who thus enriched themselves immensely and illegally at the expense of both the State and the people.
Governor Ambode should insist on LASTMA, VIO & KAI not harassing people. And this insistence should in no way stop them from performing their duties. If this open defiance continues, the governor should make examples of a few top officials to keep the underlings in line. The State cannot long afford to waste such long debilitating hours in traffic.