Governor Akinwunmi Ambode set the ball rolling from day-one of his administration. Known as the ‘consolidator’ throughout the election campaigns, he quickly showed that he was not in office to bow his predecessor, rather, to carve a niche for himself in Lagos State.
Besides opening his account with the creation of a new Ministry on Wealth Creation/Employment and two special offices, Ambode said his mission was to run a compassionate government to make life simpler and happier for Lagosians.
It was a pronouncement that analysts, though adjudged noble, believed was not well thought-out to aligned with realities of a chaotic mega city like Lagos, warning that the consequences may be catastrophic. Keen observers can tell that quite a number of things have changed in the last four months of Ambode’s administration. The traffic, in particular, has changed for the worse in the Lagos metropolis.
Akin Adesanya, a resident in the state, reckons that there may probably be no Lagos without traffic snarl. What is, however, new is the sudden return of traffic gridlocks to most parts of the state. Adesanya lives in Ojuelegba and works on the island. He said going through Costain and CMS to Victoria Island would normally take about one hour during the peak period. “Last week, I spent an average of three hours in the morning and same on the return journey. At 5:30am, Apongbon, CMS inwards Lekki were already blocked. Most unfortunate is that one can barely identify any cause of the gridlock.”
Jamiu, a transporter, has similar compliant, but he noted that the lawlessness of motorists, especially commercial bus drivers, should be blamed. Jamiu observed that men of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) were no longer as effective as they used to be.
“Unlike before, they now have more tolerance for violation of traffic rules,” he said. “Those yellow buses can afford to do what they like now and go scot-free. It seems they have been promised that no one will disturb them unlike what Fashola was in office”.
Taiwo Olaobe has more concerns beyond the traffic snarls. His words: “Is it only the traffic? What of those hoodlums that freely snatch bags and phones in the traffic? Just yesterday I was robbed in the traffic at 6:45am. Where are the so-called policemen? This is not the Lagos of Fashola’s days.
This government told us that trucks have been prohibited during the day time, but see them on the road. If this is not a sign of weakness on the part of government, I don’t know what it. If LASTMA is no longer working, then fire them and give us a system that will work,” Olaobe said.
LASTMA under Fashola
Indeed, while the Fashola’s administration lasted, the fear of LASTMA was the beginning of traffic wisdom for motorists, be they commercial or private. The enforcement team, numbering about 3,000 personnel state-wide, implemented the State Road Traffic Law 2012 at every nook and cranny even to a fault.
Freely were violators’ vehicles apprehended for barrage of offences, including non-usage of seatbelt and obstruction of traffic flow. Faulty vehicles were towed into LASTMA yards with heavy fines ranging from N50,000 to N250,000 (for trucks).
Not only the money; their victims were made to go through the eye of the needle to retrieve impounded vehicles. With the bail conditions goes tax clearance, Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA) number, mental health examination result among other requirements. With such difficult protocol, most vehicles – danfo, cars, trucks, etc – were impounded for an average of three months.
Although the administration was labeled ‘draconian’ for its strict rules, LASTMA was able to whip everyone into line and the traffic problem was reasonably solved.
New cook in Lagos kitchen
Ambode came on board with the weight of expectations. He started with reforms in the civil service to realign the inherited governance structure with his mission of making life simpler and happier. One of the inherited platforms that jolted his attention was LASTMA, and he quickly summoned them en masse to Alausa State House barely one week in office.
Secretary to the State Government (SSG), who was the Commissioner for the Environment under Fashola, Tunji Bello, opened the floor, and said the laxity on law enforcement experienced during the 2015 election campaigns was over, and that it was time LASTMA and their sister agencies, Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO), Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) brigade, return to duty fully.
Bello, however, warned that the current administration would have zero-tolerance for all forms of sharp practices. Ambode, who spoke next, sang a new song. He said though the feedback from outside was that traffic situation had worsened, he was not unaware of public outcry on ‘harassments’ by the officers. The governor said there were more civil ways of apprehending offenders without harassing them, adding that the State Government would adopt technology to arrest offenders from then on.
He said: “Don’t victimise Lagosians. There are more civil ways to control and arrest offenders. From now no harassment; you are enforcement officers and not harassment officers. Arrest people in a civil manner. I appeal strongly for your cooperation and support. The primary duty of all of us is to make life easier for every Lagosian”.
News went to town almost immediately that the new governor had prohibited LASTMA from arresting vehicles, a claim which the state government denied the following day. Wild excitement erupted in places like Oshodi, Ojota, Ikorodu motor parks. Motorists celebrated what they described as the end of Fashola’s administration and his State Traffic Law 2012. In Badagry the following day, three LASTMA officers were beaten to stupor for attempting to apprehended a traffic offender.
The state government denial that arrests had been prohibited in Lagos metropolis, but there was no condemnation of attack on the officers. “That never happened under Fashola,” a top hierarchy of LASTMA told The Guardian, adding, “it also sent a bad signal to officers that they are now on their own.”
A member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Segun Olulade, said the State Traffic Law 2012 was still in place and binding on all to obey its provisions. Olulade, representing Epe II Constituency, noted that some motorists were becoming lawless and taking advantage of the governor’s directive. But the governor’s statement was not made to make drivers become disobedient to traffic law which is still in place, he said.
According to him, “The governor, in his wisdom, has urged men of LASTMA to stop impounding vehicles because he believes so much in doing things in a civilised manner. The fact that the governor made that pronouncement that no vehicle should be impounded doesn’t mean we should start breaking the laws.”
More cracks in LASTMA
Government’s directive early September further ordered the release of all vehicles impounded during the last administration yet to be collected. Besides ordering the release of over 400 impounded vehicles in LASTMA’s custody without bail condition, Ambode also fired LASTMA boss, Babatunde Edu, and appointed Bashir Braimah (of the Ministry of Sports) to implement the new regime. But since then, traffic gridlock had returned to Lagos metropolis because the enforcement morale had gone low, a top officer told The Guardian.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the current administration should take the blame for the traffic situation.
He said: “Can the Inspector General of Police tell his officers to stop arresting offenders? Or tell them to be issuing tickets to offenders so as to reduce crime rate? What the governor did not realise is that this is not New York or London where those things are practicable. Here, people obey the rules when they know that they can be sanctioned. Motorists obey traffic rules because they know that LASTMA can collect the vehicle from them”.
The officer added that since the new directive by the state government, the public had become more hostile and lawless, claiming that the governor has prohibited their arrest no matter the offence.
The new GM, Braimah, upon assumption of office, tried to implement the ticketing style, where booked offenders were directed to pay penalty within seven days. In a pilot exercise conducted in Ojota, a few private motorists complied, while the commercial bus drivers, in defiance, collected and shred the tickets on the spot, it was learnt.
“I can tell you that some notorious motorists that LASTMA forced out of Lagos are now returning in droves just because their colleagues are telling them that LASTMA cannot arrest them anymore. What it means is that our security is no longer guaranteed. Enforcing the law is at your own risk. So, why won’t LASTMA go on holiday?” a junior officer said.
The state government, at a recent briefing, agreed that the increasing traffic gridlock being experienced across the state was not unconnected with the misinterpretation of the instruction of Ambode when he said enforcement of the state traffic laws be done with human face and courtesy.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Folarin Adeyemi, explained that the governor’s instruction should not be misinterpreted, as relaxation of enforcement, saying anyone caught violating the traffic law would be prosecuted. Adeyemi noted that over 500 traffic offenders had been booked and fined so far, just as he said the state government through LASTMA would continue to ensure sanity and free flow of traffic on Lagos roads.
He said: “LASTMA are on the road enforcing the state traffic laws diligently. They are not disgruntled in anyway.”
Notwithstanding the denial, Anne Nwankwo said it was quite embarrassing to have rumours of conflict between the state government and law enforcement agencies just about four months into the new administration.
“From the look of things,” she said, “the state is on a free-fall and government of the day must sit-up and come up with clear ideas of what needs to be done. Let no one be disillusioned that Lagos is just like any normal city. Its government has to be firm, have proper structure in place and bother less on being nice.”
Source: The Guardian Nigeria