Lagos State government is known for its many laws. One of the most controversial is its traffic laws, which have over the years seen scores of vehicles towed and impounded, some confiscated outright from their owners. But in the last few days, motorists have faced the risk of having their number plates yanked off by officials of the government, even when their vehicles are perceived to be well parked. Lagosians see this as strange and have reacted. Bola Badmus, Akin Adewakun and Olalekan Olabulo report.
Over the last few years, there has been widespread condemnation of the practice of removing vehicle parts such as wipers, side mirrors, chrome, among other vehicular parts by transport union members in order to compel commercial vehicle operators to pay their levies.
Some of the people who have condemned this practice are known to have always appealed to the Lagos State government to compel the leadership of the unions in question to warn their members to desist from the act.
It is, however, surprising that the state government, which hitherto concerned residents had cried to over the controversial act, seems to have also resorted to removing people’s vehicular parts, as a way of implementing the state’s traffic laws.
Recent developments, as observed by Saturday Tribune, show that officers of the state’s Task Force on the Environment and other Related Offences as well as officials of the state’s mobile court now remove number plates of vehicles whose drivers are deemed to have flouted the state’s traffic laws.
Many Lagosians were taken by surprise when the practice kicked off a fewweeks ago. What makes the whole issue intriguing and worrisome is the fact that on many occasions, perceived offenders had
insisted that they had parked their vehicles at appropriate car parks provided by banks, shopping malls and other places of visit, yet the number plates of such vehicles were removed.
The style of operation of the task force officials and the swiftness with which they carry out the job of removing vehicles’ registration numbers have thus heightened belief by beleaguered motorists that the removal of number plates has been deliberately designed to extort money from law abiding residents of the state.
However, the state government has come out to defend the act, saying that it will not only save the government space where towed vehicles are be parked, but also ensure a cleaner environment and save cost.
Narrating how she lost her number plate to Saturday Tribune, Madam Mosun, a retired civil servant, said she parked her vehicle in front of a popular commercial bank on the Island with the full backing of the bank’s security personnel. She said though the car in question was not exactly parked within the bank’s car park, she and a few other customers, who like her, had also come to transact business in the bank, she (and others) had been given the nod by the security man on duty, to park her vehicles at spill-over very close to the bank’s frontage, especially since the spill-over was duly paid for by the bank with receipts collected.
She said seeing the presence of the bank’s security officials close by, she was very sure that her vehicle was in safe hands, and therefore, she could safely and assuredly make a quick dash into the bank to make some transactions.
According to her, there was no way she could even afford to waste time in the bank which was on the Island area of Lagos, and any attempt to spend more time than necessary would mean she would pay the price by being trapped in traffic for hours when eventually heading back to her home which was on the Mainland.
After spending about 30minutes in the hall, Madam Mosun stated that she headed back to her car, which she thought was still securely parked within the bank’s premises, only to be told that some task force officers from the Ministry of Transportation had, moments earlier, arrived, removed her car number plates alongside those of other vehicles, and vanished without a trace. They were all accused of “illegal parking.”
“I was shocked at the spectacle that confronted me,” the retired civil servant said.
Bewildered at the development, she promptly sought for explanation from one of the bank’s security personnel at the bank’s gate, only to be faced with an even more confused bank official, who could not offer a reason for the action of the unknown task force officials from Alausa who carried out the act.
“’We paid for that space and the transaction was receipted,’ was the response she got from the bank official” Mosun said.
The matter was later resolved on getting to Alausa, with a strict warning for her not to park on that spot again. That was after she had been asked to go and produce her tax receipt and pay the sum of N30,000 as fine; others were not that lucky.
For instance, Mrs Odusanya, another affected resident, was even in her vehicle when her number plate was removed. She had been accosted by the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) and an argument had ensued. Unknown to her, while this was going on, very close to Iyana Ipaja roundabout, en route Egbeda, one of the officers had started removing her car number plate from the back, until she was alerted.
“Though I was able to collect my number plate back, that was not without some damage to my vehicle. I wanted to take it up with these officers, because what they had just done was synonymous with outright thuggery and irresponsibility, but I was prevailed upon and asked to let go,” she recounted.
Another resident simply identified as Innocent, who is a shop owner at the Computer Village, in Ikeja, told Saturday Tribune that those scenarios had become a common spectacle at the village.
“We have some boys who would even call the task force if you park your vehicle there without paying the parking fee to them. It’s that bad,” Innocent said.
While Innocent and others would still not know why the government would resort to ‘vandalising’ citizens’ properties, in the name of enforcing the law, the Ministry of Transportation had argued that it was adopting the new method as a cost-saving mechanism.
Another victim, who pleaded for anonymity , while speaking with the Saturday Tribune, said that he had gone to a branch of a new generation bank in Ogba area of the state, when the new reality dawned on her.
The victim narrated: “I went for an emergency banking operation and I parked my vehicle, where I had been directed by one of the security men at the bank. I was in the bank, when another security man came to announce that some government officials were towing away some of the vehicles outside.
“Curiously I dashed out to see if my vehicle was among those being towed away but to my surprise, they were not towing vehicles away, they were only removing the number plates.
“When I confronted them, I was told that I had contravened the traffic law and that I should count myself lucky not to be arraigned at the mobile court. A top official of the state’s Ministry of Justice was in one of the vehicles that they brought. I was told to come to Alausa.”
She expressed her displeasure at the new method, saying “the government should not encourage its officials to behave like touts Some of these people will abuse this process. We often condemn ‘agberos’ for acts like this. Anybody can just go anywhere and remove someone else’ vehicle number plate in the name of implementing the Traffic Law.”
It would be recalled that the state government had defended the enforcement method of its Special Offences Task Force which favours the removal of number plates of erring vehicles over clamping down and towing of vehicles.
According to the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem and the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, in a recent statement, it was within the purview of the traffic law enforcement officers to identify violators of traffic laws and have them booked and tried in line with the peculiarities of their offences without having to clamp their tyres or tow the vehicles.
This was just as the government denied allegations of high-handedness against officials of the Task Force and those of the Special Offences Tribunal (Mobile Court), describing the coterie of complainants on social media as hypocritical and manipulative.
In the statement, the duo said the new method being adopted by the Task Force, particularly for illegal parking of vehicles or obstruction of traffic, simply involves capturing the offence on video, removing the number-plates of the erring vehicles and putting a branded sticker on the windshield of the car to inform the owner/driver of such cars about their offence and invitation for trial at the Special Offences Mobile Court which may be sitting at any proximate Local Government office or at the Special Task office at Alausa in Ikeja.
“The technique that has been adopted by the Task Force is in line with international best practices which prefer issuance of tickets to erring offenders over clampdowns or towing of vehicles that do not only cost both the government and erring drivers money, but also clogs public spaces where such vehicles would have been kept,” the statement said.
It added that once the offender honours the invitation for trial, where a magistrate presides over the proceedings, the offender is usually presented with a video evidence of the offence before he or she is charged. A fine or a community service is then imposed if the offender pleads guilty. But if the offender chooses to put up a defence and is without a defence counsel, he or she will be entitled to the services of a lawyer from the Office of the Public Defender at no cost.
The statement stressed that the essence of this exercise was not to engage in unwholesome revenue drive as being erroneously peddled in certain quarters but to deter violations of the traffic laws.
“This is why community service is often preferred for the offenders so that they can become advocates of the laws which seek to bring sanity to Lagos State roads and instill a sense of responsibility in drivers and car owners, particularly the elites who think they are above the law,” the statement said.
The statement added that while the state government would not relent in its vaunted method of adequately sensitising the public before embarking on enforcement, it added that ignorance was not an excuse in law and perceived inadequacies in car park provisions by frequently used establishments like banks, malls and eateries does not give car owners an excuse to park on the kerb or main roads thereby obstructing traffic.
For the avoidance of doubt, the statement said, parking on the kerb or walkways or outside the premises where the driver had come to transact business in a manner that either obstructs traffic or constitutes illegal use of public space was a violation of the law and could attract a fine of twenty thousand naira (N20,000) or a community service after a documentary evidence has been presented to the offender.
“Section One of the Special Offences Court Law Cap S8 Laws of Lagos State 2015 stipulates that the Court could sit at any convenient place close to the scene of the commission of any offence triable by the court. Section Two of the same law allows the Court to sit on Mondays to Saturday, whilst Section 3(1) same law states that the Court has jurisdiction over offences listed in Schedule 1 to this Law.
“A cursory look at the offences listed in the said Schedule 1, reveals that Road Traffic Offences as contained in the Lagos State Road Traffic Law Cap R5, Laws of Lagos State 2015 and Environmental Offences as provided for in the Schedule to the Environmental Sanitation Enforcement Agency Law, Cap E5, Laws of Lagos State 2015 are under the jurisdiction of the Mobile Courts,” the statement stated.
Speaking further on parking spaces, the state government explained that, “It should be noted that most banks make provision for parking within their premises or designated car parks outside their premises where customers are expected to make use of same and not to cause obstruction to human or vehicular movement.
“There is no way a responsible and responsive government would sit idly by and watch citizens groan under the hardship of road congestion caused by infractions of a few recalcitrant drivers or those who simply think that they can blackmail the government into submission while being economical with the truth whenever government wields the big stick against such infractions.
“Parking on the road while using the ATM is a clear traffic transgression that is similar to parking on the yellow lines abroad. We wish to implore our law-abiding citizens to desist from such conducts that run foul of the law and which invariably attracts consequences and discomfort once the law is enforced.”
Speaking on the latest development where people have their number plates removed, without prior notice, a lawyer, Mrs. Olateju Bosun pointed out that the action would be right if it is enshrined within the tenets of the law.
“The moment the House of Assembly sanctions it, it has become legal. it also should be noted that it is part of the Lagos State traffic law. What could be questionable about the whole thing is how the law enforcement agencies like LASTMA go about their duties,” the lawyer said.
Truth be told, there have been numerous complaints about people parking within premises that have parking lots and they having their cars towed or their number plates removed. I so believe that this action is what is out of order,” he said.