Managing the traffic menace in the city of Lagos has remained an intractable problem. Government after government keeps attacking the malaise with different methods and strategies, ranging from restricting the driving of cars with odd and even registration numbers, to the introduction of traffic management personnel, etc.
But none of the solutions has been foolproof, as to give lasting relief to Lagos motorists. Sometimes, it even seems to get worse as the years go by, causing many to believe that other than the bad roads and broken down vehicles, indiscipline among road users is equally responsible for the hazards and torture motorists experience on the city's streets and highways.
Perhaps it is in response to this that the Babatunde Fashola-led administration, last Thursday, signed into law the much-awaited Lagos State Road Traffic Law, 2012. Its enactment automatically repealed the Road Traffic Law Cap. R10 Vol. 17 Law of Lagos State, as amended, thereby heralding an entirely new regime of traffic administration in the state.
While many have lauded the government for taking the initiative to institute a new set of rules meant to boldly tackle the issue, many fear that the greater challenge will be the enforcement of the new law. The latter group points out that at the inception of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) hopes were high that the body will whip errant motorists into line. But the agency was soon overwhelmed by the traffic problem in the city-state and compromised, and there is a near return to point origin on the traffic issue.
But the greater concern among Lagosians is whether or not the new law really has the capacity to save Lagos motorists from the harrowing experience they encounter as they commute on the state's roads every day.
However, once the law becomes effective after its gazetting, concern has mounted in the public space. Fear has also gripped some, like the over 800,000 commercial motorcycle operators, whose businesses may be adversely affected, if not completely terminated.
The Chairman of Motorcycle Operators' Association of Lagos State (MOALS), Mr. Tijani Perkins, observed that the new traffic law might create more social problems than it intends to solve. But Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeola Ipaye, said the law was enacted to enhance public safety and order by regulating motorists' activities and conduct on the state road networks.
The attorney-general cited instances where human heads were smashed due to the reckless operations of commercial motorcycle riders; traffic gridlocks created as a result of lawless driving of many motorists; and diverse cases of armed attacks on unsuspected residents, all of which he said, necessitated the enactment of the law. Many Okada riders and even commercial bus drivers, he said, are not licensed to ride or drive on the highways, and many know nothing about the highway codes.
An examination of the law gives some insight into the various challenges it intends to address. Under Section 1, for instance, the law prohibits the use of any specified road by vehicles of a specified class; regulates the conduct of persons driving, propelling, being in charge of, or riding any vehicle or animal on a highway, and restricts the use of sirens as well as the blaring of horns or other similar appliances either in general or during specified periods.
Subsection 2 and 4 gives outright power to LASTMA officers "to arrest, where appropriate, and allow alleged offenders pay the fine stipulated for the offence committed and prosecute any persons reasonably suspected of having committed any of the offences under the provisions of the law."
But LASTMA's power to prosecute any suspect is subject to the provisions of the Section 211 of the 1999 Constitution.
Section 3 also prohibits any person from riding, driving or manually propelling a cart, wheel barrow, motorcycle and tricycle from no fewer than 11 highways, 41 bridges and 496 routes, which are all stated under Second Schedule of the new traffic law.
As contained in the schedule, these categories of vehicles are restricted from plying any route in Eti-Osa Local Government Area, which covers the elite districts of Ikoyi, South-west Ikoyi, Obalande, Victoria Island as well as Lekki Phases I and II. That simply means commercial motorcyclists are banned from Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki.
Under Subsection 4, commercial motorcyclists are expected to carry not more than one passenger at a time. Similarly, a pregnant woman, a child below the age of 12, and an adult with a baby or heavy load placed on her head or which obstructs normal sitting shall not be carried as a passenger, an act, which the law states could cause untold suffering and multiple losses.
In Subsection 5, any operator who fails to comply with these provisions, will face stiff penalties ranging from serving a three-year imprisonment term or rendering community service in accordance with Section 347 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State or the offender might have his vehicle forfeited to the state government, but an award of such penalties will be at the discretion of a presiding magistrate.
The First Schedule of the Act further x-rays a wide range of traffic offences, which include smoking while driving, making or receiving calls while driving and counting money or otherwise engaged in other activities while driving are now prohibited. As interpreted, other activities relate to any form of action that prevents the driver from operating with two hands.
Ipaye cited examples of such activities to include eating and drinking while driving. The law indeed covers a wide range of issues aimed at ensuring public safety in the state, but has equally elicited varied reactions from different quarters. Some worry about the poor public enlightenment that preceded the enactment of the law. Most motorists are still unaware of what the law is all about.
Perkins also described the law as anti-people. He said the law breached an agreement, which MOALS had with the state government on August 24, 2010. The agreement spells out the routes on which commercial motorcyclists can operate in the state, saying "It is unfair to restrict our operations to Trunk C and D roads only. This is unacceptable to us.
On the 2010 agreement, we stand." Another commercial motorcycle operator, Mr. Musiliu Saka, was also unhappy with the new law. He said it "will apparently threaten our sources of livelihood and will have a rippling effect on the social sector at large, since it has become a source of succour for the operators".
But Fashola assured Lagosians that the law aims to make all residents in the state live better as it will make the roads safer for them, improve life expectancy and solve environmental, public health, safety issues and many of the insecurity challenges now affecting them, stressing that "if we succeed with this law, our state will change for the better."
But Lagosians await with bated breath the enforcement of the law, which may further exacerbate the already choked justice system in the state.