Since August 2 when it came into force, Lagos Road Traffic Law has been a subject of intense debate with many residents claiming the aim was to raise income for the state. But Chief Executive Officer of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Mr. Babatunde Edu, dismisses such notion in this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi
Does the Lagos State government intend to enforce full compliance with regard to the operation of commercial bike operators?
Indeed, if there are few okadas operating on the restricted routes, it makes it better. What we are advocating now is voluntary compliance. Once we get it, it makes the whole exercise better. It shows that there is an understanding. What we are really particular about is order and safety on the roads. The law is not about revenue generation.
The enforcement of the new traffic law has started in earnest for some time now. What then are the gains of the new law?
If we must have an enabling environment, there must be law and order in place. There is nothing we can compare with law and order. If law and order do not thrive, definitely we cannot have a growing economy. In Lagos, traffic management is a herculean one. Our huge population accounts for the challenge of effective traffic management. As we speak, Lagos population is over 18 million. Also, the state is located on a fixed land mass with about 377,000 hectares. In the same environment, we find that the number of vehicles is quite huge. We also have okadas in their number. We have activities on the roads. In this light, a state like Lagos ought to have a peculiar traffic law that will regulate the movement of vehicle, motorcycle and human beings generally. For safety reason, we should not over-emphasise the enforcement of the new traffic law. The federal government has a traffic law; but the law has been obsolete because it does not serve as a deterrent to any person. What we have now is the review of the sanctions, and that is what the media now refer to as the new traffic law. Agreed, there is no perfect law. It must continue to undergo review. Arising from that with the kind of population we have in Lagos, it requires we have an enabling law that tends to promote law and order as well as make things work the way they should work.
So, safety has really improved under the new traffic regime. That is the major gain of the new traffic law. Safety is so paramount; there is nothing we compare with it. And we cannot compromise it. The law has not prevented accidents from happening. But of course, it has really improved security and largely reduced carnage on our roads. If we have an environment where law and order thrive, the economy will experience boom.
Can you give precise statistics in relation to the level of safety and security recorded since the new law came into effect?
I may not be able to quantify what we have gained in terms of monetary value. But we have recorded a high level of sanity. If there is sanity in our neighbourhood, there will be law and order. Security will improve. People can do business without fear. People will no longer live in fear again. At least, we now have a situation whereby traffic is moving with ease and there is minimum compliance. It makes the metropolis better than it was before. We cannot measure it monetarily now. But based on what has been recorded so far and what is being recorded now, there is improved security. Safety has also improved. Generally, sanity is being restored on Lagos roads.
LASTMA officers have been undergoing some training for the past two months. How has the response been?
We are all human beings. If we do not regulate the activities of our own men, the law becomes useless. That is why it becomes essential to train and re-train our men on how to respect people’s rights and be committed to community service. There are a lot of rumours in the air that the law creates avenue for them to make money and harass people. That is not the purpose of the law. As a matter of fact, the law was enacted to create an environment of sanity. In this view, it becomes also paramount to regulate the activities of LASTMA officers. This is to make them more disciplined and to be firm. It is also to make them understand that human rights of all road users must be respected. It is a way to ensure that we get it right and make our officers more accountable for their activities. So, somebody who is not disciplined cannot instil discipline. What we are doing is to ensure that our men are more disciplined and focused. They need to be firm, but must understand that people have rights and their rights should not be trodden upon.
So what happens if some of your officers do not really comply with the new standard you are now setting?
The major rationale behind the career evaluation programme is to improve their skill, get them empowered and to enable them acquire more knowledge. This will help them to be quite competent in the discharge of their responsibilities in line with the best practice. If that is why the state government is spending so much on the programme, they must comply. If you do not shape in, you shape out. Definitely, it is a way to remould and repackage them to ensure that they do not fall out of the line. If perhaps they are not complying with the new standards, the rules are there. There is no sacred person in this agency. Even the new law states that if any officer takes undue advantage of the road users and it is established, the sanctions are there. This tells our traffic operatives that they cannot go beyond their boundary. This is why we are training them to improve their skills and help them acquire more knowledge on how to do their jobs. If the officers are not conforming in spite of all these efforts, it’s obvious that they will definitely be sanctioned.
How many officers have been sanctioned so far?
At the last count, about 38 officers are already on their way out. In the last two weeks, it has been a marathon exercise. We have to look at the record of every traffic officer, especially those who have erred. If there is need to give a last warning to such officers, we do so. Some officers, who have been found wanting come before a panel. The panel is another mentorship platform. It is a mirror which allows us to look inward and see what is happening within the agency. As a result, more than fifty officers were paraded. Most of them got last warning letters; some got file notes. After the last warning, if any officer does anything contrary to the tenets of the agency, he will be given last card. Of course, it is an on-going thing. We have strengthened the surveillance unit. We have injected more men to have more coverage so that we can effectively operate outside there. Aggressively, we have been asking the public to feed back through our website with photographic evidence. It is a work in progress, and we will continue to review and review until we get it right.
There is still the issue of impersonation; what are you doing to stop this?
We have been some sanity work within the system. Our effort is not all about motoring public alone. If we are able to strip ourselves naked within, whoever is found using the name of the agency or operating in the guise that he is an office of the agency will face the consequence. All we need to do is to round them up. A real LASTMA’s officer always wears uniform with beret with his name boldly written near the breast pocket and barge on the shoulder. They are fully kitted. Any person appears different from this description is not a LASTMA’s officer. LASTMA’s officers do not operate in multi. The motoring public should look for people like that.
We must ensure that we are not always in a hurry. We must ask questions. We must not say because I am in a hurry, let me just part with whatever I can give. No, we should not! When that happens, we are making it a lucrative venture. We must begin to ask questions. Even when you become suspicious, you can raise the alarm. That is the only way we can easily stop them from taking advantage of the road users. Do not forget we are coming from an unregulated environment and moving towards regulated environment. It takes two to tango. If you see a LASTMA officer without a uniform, such an individual is an impostor. The motoring public should give us information on this set of people so that we too can close in on them. If that is done, the environment will not be convenient for them again. So, the reason for a regulatory regime is to sanitise our roads and not to generate revenue. If our roads are fully sanitise, it will be better for all of us.
How has the attempt to make security officers obey the traffic law been especially with regard to the BRT lane?
Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN) has been going round the military formations. He has been talking to the military officers at all levels. He has taken the crusade to their barracks in different parts of the state, seeking their cooperation. The police hierarchy is already in support. The military hierarchy also pledges its support. Every person is buying into the law. If the law is all about sanity, definitely it is for our good. Each time a junior officer misbehaves; what we do is to get his identity and report him to the nearest formation. Of course, it is a journey and we hope to get there. But getting there requires that all hands must be on deck.