The New Traffic Offences and Fines in Lagos State: addressing Official Misbehaviour and Diplomacy

Babajide Sanwo-Olu

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Two weeks ago, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, signed an executive bill on traffic, waste management and environment. The objective cannot be far-fetched: clean the state of bad behaviour, especially in terms of attitudinal disposition to traffic code and need for environmental cleanliness. Besides, the claim by the people of Lagos as residents of the State of Excellence is generally contradicted by societal indiscipline, as particularly manifested in the areas of traffic lawlessness, dumping of refuse on public gutters during rainfalls, and little or no regard for a clean environment. Nothing can be excellent with this type of attitudinal disposition of our people, and especially the elite. It is against this background that the adoption of or re-emphasis on the new traffic offences and fines should be explicated and understood.

Many of the rules have been there for long but the little or no respect for them has also been conscious. They were acquiesced to, but Governor Sanwo-Olu appears to have decided to take the bull by the horn with his re-emphasis on the need to respect traffic rules in Lagos State. Let us first espy the very case of societal indiscipline through the prism of the law enforcement agents and traffic lawlessness. This will be followed by the explication of the diplomatic challenges within the context of the traffic offences and the attached fines. The ultimate objective is to underscore the challenges and limitations of the traffic rules and their sanctions.

Speaking grosso modo, the first line of offenders are the law makers, law enforcement agents and public officials in Lagos State, as well as in Nigeria as a whole. Let me give the example that I recently witnessed. On Saturday, June 22, 2019. I took a commercial danfo bus going to Yaba from Maryland. The fare was N150 only. The bus plying the service lane as it should be. When it got to Jibowu bus stop, at the service lane were some Lagos State Transportation Monitoring Authority (LASTMA) officials who had flagged down another commercial bus in front of which there was a deep pot hole. The bus in which I was, moved to the lane to the right on the basis of a signal from another LASTMA official.

Most surprisingly, another official, but this time, not in uniform, came from nowhere and gave the danfo driver a dirty slap in the wrong belief that he should have waited for the commercial vehicle under check. I was very annoyed with this type of abuse and opted to challenge the officials. The leader of the team, who tried to hide his identity, had a name-tag Akinfemiwa, with an ‘S’ initial, perceived from an angular position. I told him what his un-uniformed colleague did was uncalled for. He said that should not be my business. I objected to this and said I would report the matter to the appropriate authorities. I made it clear that the worst scenario was to arrest him and explain what he might have done wrong to him. I felt more offended when Mr. Akinfemiwa said no one should teach him how to do his job.

By the evaluation of other passengers in the bus, the driver did nothing wrong. In fact, they wanted to attack the official who dirtily slapped the danfo driver, but he was smart enough to have quickly driven away the bus when I was trying to get the particulars of the bus and all other people involved. The problem was that one official was dealing with the bus in front, another official waved to the brutalised driver to go, another official came from another direction to attack the driver. This is where the behavioural attitude of the LASTMA officials is a major threat to the achievement of the ultimate goals of a State completely free from driving chicanery. I told the officials to apologise to the driver. They claim to know him more than I do. If this was true, if there was an existing issue between them, should slapping be the approach? Other passengers simply said Governor Sanwo-Olu, with the new rules, paved way for more bribe giving and receiving in which the giver and receiver enjoy their hide and seek game to the detriment of societal discipline. One of the officials even pleaded with me to report them. And perhaps most disturbingly too, the affected driver said he was not interested in any report or in the matter because the LASTMA officials would still be in that location thereafter and would still arrest him even without committing any offence.

Many questions can be asked at this juncture: what really is the purpose of the presence of LASTMA officials on the roads? Is it to assist free flow of traffic or to extort and brutalise motorists who refuse or delayed payments of bribes? In the event of any traffic offence, what should be the attitudinal disposition of the government officials? Why is there a published code of conduct for motorists and there is not for their monitors? When will the mobile courts to which offenders can be quickly taken for prosecution be put in place? Will misbehaving LASTMA officials be taken there?

Without doubt, the new traffic rules and the fines deal essentially with the traffic offenders, but are virtually silent on the attitude of the LASTMA officials. Can the unwarranted slapping of the driver be lawful? What is the rule and fine for LASTMA officials who take bribe, aid and abet open corruption? In other words, if LASTMA is to police traffic offenders, who are to police or monitor the LASTMA officials? These questions have to be seriously addressed if the very objective of sanitising Lagos State, making it a truly State of Excellence, and throwing societal indiscipline into the garbage of history, as desired by Governor Sanwo-Olu. With the traffic measures taken, the governor, with all sincerity of purpose, can be said to have started his administration very well. But the application of the measures must not neglect the international dimensions.

Traffic Offence and Diplomatic Inviolability
The traffic offences and fines which Governor Sanwo-Olu came up with a fortnight ago are meant to be applied in the State of Excellence, Lagos. However, as noted above, they all have implications that go beyond the territorial limitation of Lagos State. In fact, traffic code is a major issue in international diplomacy, especially when considered from the perspective of parking slots for diplomatic missions. There was the time tickets were issued to Nigeria’s High Commission at number 9 Northumberland street in London for not paying for parking and Nigeria responded that the British High Commission was not paying for parking in Eleke Crescent in Lagos by then. The same was true at the level of Embassy of Nigeria on Avenue Victor Hugo in Paris 16. This was more of application of the rule of sovereign equality.

In order to understand the strong linkages between the traffic offences and fines in Lagos State and the rule of diplomatic inviolability in international relations, it is useful to first have a clear idea of people to whom the rule applies. Stricto sensu, the rule applies only to people with diplomatic status and diplomatic residences, as well as diplomatic vehicles. In any given embassy, there are always the Foreign Service Officers, the consular officers, administrative and technical staff, as well as the locally-recruited staff.

In order to distinguish between and among those who are subjects of diplomatic inviolability, the Heads of Diplomatic Mission are generally given CMD plates for their vehicles. CMD is the French acronym for Chef de Mission Diplomatique. Heads of a diplomatic mission are of three types on the basis of seniority provided for in Article 14 (1) of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Convention: ambassadors or nuncios who are accredited to Heads of States and other Heads of Mission of equivalent rank. The implication at the level of the traffic offences in Lagos State is that any mistreatment of an ambassador cannot but be very serious, simply because they represent their Heads of State, regardless of whatever traffic offences they might have committed.
Envoys, ministers and inter-nuncios constitute the second category of Heads of Mission who are also accredited to Heads of State. The fundamental difference between envoys and ambassadors exists at the level of the type or grade of a diplomatic mission. A third category of Heads of Mission is that of Chargés d’Affaires who are accredited to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the receiving State.

What is important to note here is that, according to paragraph 2 of Article 14 of the same Vienna Convention, ‘except as concerns precedence and etiquette, there shall be no differentiation between heads of mission by reason of their class.’ Article 15 adds that ‘the class to which the Heads of Missions are to be assigned shall be agreed between States.’ This means that when Heads of Diplomatic Mission are in their official vehicles, especially if the emblem or national flag is attached to the bonnet of the cars and flown, which is normally flown when the ambassador is inside the vehicle, LASTMA officials must open their eyes to see clearly and know how not to generate a diplomatic crisis between Nigeria and foreign countries. All ambassadors of whatever category and names (ambassadors, nuncios, high commissioners, high representatives, etc) are inviolable.

As regards Consulates General, the 1963 Vienna Convention provides for immunities and privileges like it is the case with the diplomatic agents, but they do not have a diplomatic status. The ‘CC’ plate numbers, that is, ‘Corps Consulaire,’ are given. Again, this does not mean that their vehicle can be carelessly violated. The main difficulty in this case is that a diplomat who is inviolable can ride in a car with a CC plate number. The CT plate numbers also exist for the administrative and technical staff.
The point being made here is that, all accredited diplomats in any given receiving State are required to behave decently but, more often than not, they behave in manners not compatible with the status of a diplomat. This is a general practice and it is only controlled by the application of the principle of reciprocity. In this regard, what does the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations say precisely on inviolability of diplomatic agents in international relations?

Articles 27, 29 and 30 are directly relevant. Article 27 says the official correspondence, that is, all correspondence relating to the mission and its functions of representation in a receiving State ‘shall be inviolable.’ According to Article 29, ‘the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest and detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity. Again, as provided in Article 30, ‘the private residence of a diplomatic agent shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the mission. His papers, correspondence and except as provided in paragraph 3 of Article 31, his property, shall likewise enjoy inviolability.’ Paragraph 3 deals with immunity of private immovable property owned by a diplomatic agent in a receiving State.

Why a diplomatic vehicle cannot be impounded is simply because of the emphasis on the protection of diplomatic correspondence. A diplomatic vehicle is considered an extension of the main building housing an accredited diplomatic delegation. The house in which a diplomatic agent resides is also an extension of a diplomatic mission. And true enough, an embassy is necessarily an extension of the territory of the sending State and to which the municipal laws of the receiving State do not apply. It is against this background that the new traffic rules and fines, as introduced by Governor Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State should be understood. This means there are limitations to the application of the new traffic rules and fines. We are not unaware of the fact that the diplomatic missions have their offices in both Abuja and Lagos and that traffic regulations have always been there. True, there is the need to draw attention to the vigour and determination with which the new governor of Lagos State wants to sanitise the State is most welcome, for as long as the limitations at the level of the diplomatic community are well understood and catered to. Let us now take a panoramic view of the rules and fines as presented to the general public.

The Offences and Fines
The offences and fines are of a general nature and are aimed at correcting the driving habits of motorists in Lagos State. The government wants to put a stop to driving carelessness and neglect of traffic rules, prevent smoking and taking of drugs or alcohol while driving, ensure roadworthiness of vehicles at all times, as well as take advantage of the infractions by motorists to generate revenues for economic development of the State.

For example, the common driving offences include over-speeding, disregard for traffic light, especially by motorcyclists and commercial vehicle drivers, the use of lay-by or bus stops to overtake from the right, driving in a direction prohibited by law, illegal U-turns, picking passengers by commercial motorists in non-approved bus-stops, overloading of vehicles, driving vehicles with defective reflective number plate, driving without a driver’s licence, parking on yellow line on a public highway, vehicles crossing double yellow or centre lines, failure to give way to traffic on the left at a roundabout and failure to yield to the right of way of a pedestrian at a zebra crossing.

As bad as these offences are, there is no disputing the fact that many of them are prompted by lack of adequate road infrastructure, very poor road user education and good road signs. In other words, as much as the motorists are to be blamed, the government also has the greater share of the blame because political governance can never be one-sided, the governing authority and the governed must be linked up in one relationship or the other. This brings us to the issue of some infractions and the sanctionary fines attached to them.

First, it is important to underscore the many good aspects of the rules and sanctions. There is now a sanction of N50,000 (fifty thousand naira) for riding against traffic for a first offender and N100,000 (One hundred thousand naira) for repeated offences. The same punitive measures are provided for riding motorcycles on the kerb, median or road setbacks. For exceeding prescribed speed, a sanction of N100,000 (one hundred thousand naira) or a prison term of two years or both is provided for.

The choice of these examples is taken for analysis simply because there are several motorcyclists riding motorcycles with diplomatic matriculation plates. The riders may not have a diplomatic status but their motorcycles do have. Their riders, more often than not, are not only Nigerians and ECOWAS community citizens, but are also the very people riding on kerbs and the road setbacks. There must be caution in impounding diplomatic assets (vide infra for details). The need for distinction between the offender and the motorcycle he is riding is necessary.

Second, what makes a bus stop legal or illegal? Is it simply by the notice board and building a structure to that effect or both? Let us look at Ikorodu road, especially at Onipanu, Fadeyi bus stops, as well as Sabo bus stop in Yaba. In all these cases, there are service lanes in addition to the main 2-lane dual carriage expressway. The truth of the matter is that the expressway is precisely where passengers disembark and not bus stops approved on the service lanes, and most unfortunately and bitterly too, this is the done in the glare of the traffic wardens, road safety officers and policemen.

Why are such motorists not arrested and their vehicles impounded? Mostly, the vehicles belong to the policemen and the road traffic officials. Again, this is an area that Governor Sanwo-Olu will need to look at more seriously, because those who are supposed to monitor and arrest the commercial bus offenders also have vested interests. The attention, without any jot of doubt, cannot but be to focus on private vehicles and commercial vehicles coming into Lagos State.

Road Traffic Management by Other Means

One major dynamic of road bottlenecks is avoidable accident. Many vehicles do not have insurance cover, and even when they do, they are generally Third Insurance Covers and hardly comprehensive. Consequently, when there are road accidents, the injured party would want to have the careless motorist to repair his or her vehicle. But in many instances, the motorist who is visibly at fault wants to claim to be right until it gets to the level of exchange of fisticuff, which is most unnecessary.

In many countries of Western Europe, France, for example, such minor road accidents are frequently resolved through the filling and exchange of insurance papers. In the insurance document, each motorist is required to mark the area of the vehicle that is damaged and both parties are required to sign the two insurance papers to attest to the accident. The two insurance companies are then left to sort out who is guilty. This means that greater emphasis should be placed on possession of valid insurance documents, in which case there will not be any need for motorists to leave damaged vehicles at the spot of the accident. People want traffic police to witness the lieu of accident before their vehicles are removed.

Secondly, traffic rules and sanctions should not be essentially to punish, but to evolve a culture of traffic discipline that will minimise loss of life on roads. Even though the rules and offences are designed for Lagos State, many motorists coming from outside of Lagos are first targets. Therefore, there has to be a national road user education for all motorists en route to Lagos State. There cannot but also be a conflict of interest in the people of Lagos respecting the traffic code, on the one hand, and those coming into Lagos with their own different driving ethics and not respecting it as a result of ignorance, on the other. It may be argued that ignorance of the law is not tenable in the law court. The truth, however, is that the conflict between two different driving cultures can engender road accidents and loss of life, and which can simply be prevented through preliminary general public enlightenment.

Thirdly, from the experience of many States in the United States, the culture of allowing the first motorist to arrive in a junction or cross road to go first can be encouraged as a matter of new policy. It is true that priority should be given to the right, as it is in Nigeria. However, in the context of Nigeria, where traffic lights hardly function well, vehicles can be passed by traffic light but affected motorists may not be able to go, because of vehicles in front of them. The logic of allowing the motorist who arrived first to go first should therefore apply. The culture of every motorist wanting to go first, or jumping the queue to create a new line should be severely punished. This is because patience and orderliness are important attributes of excellence and integrity, required in any State of Excellence that Lagos should be.

Again in Fadeyi and Sabo bus stops, fly-over bridges meant for the use of pedestrians in order to secure their safety, are hardly used by the people for whom they are constructed. In lieu, the fence built to compel them to make use of the pedestrian bridges have been destroyed. At the tail end of the Third Mainland Bridge in Adekunle Bus Stop, the fence has also been completely bastardised. Whereas, the same type of fence is what is used in Beijing, China, especially right from the airport to the city, to demarcate the expressways.

In China, no destruction! No bastardisation! In Lagos, the story is different. The attitude of non-compliance by Lagosians with traffic rules and the attitude to destroy public property requires a more drastic approach. The Government should therefore quickly station mobile courts in as many places as possible to prosecute offenders, especially those who pass through the damaged fence. If one thousand people can be prosecuted in one day, the message would have been rightly sent as a deterrent to other would-be offenders. Such compliance also has the potential to make the generality of the people in Lagos to give active support to the development agenda of government.