Friday, January 14, 2022

Lagos residents expressed grievances on the unlawful arrest of Motorists by Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, (LASTMA) officials. Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-olu on Saturday April 25, announced the compulsory use of face mask in public places with the threat to penalize and sanction any resident who violates the directive. Since then, LASTMA officials have seen it as an opportunity to apprehend drivers who did not use face mask, or carry more than two passengers in the back seat of their car. John Babayinka, one of the drivers who was arrested for not using face mask explained is ordeal with some LASTMA officials.

“I was on my way to Apapa when LASTMA officials intercepted me at Anthony Bus-Stop, I stopped and asked for my offence. He told me that I have committed two crimes, first, I did not use face mask, and secondly, I carried three passengers on my back seat. He jumped inside my car and ordered me to drive to their office in Oshodi. On getting to their office, I was given a ticket of ₦20,000.00. I begged for leniency but he ignored me and latter returned after about 2hours. When he came back, he said if I can not pay the sum of ₦20,000.00 into LASTMA account, then I should pay ₦10,000.00 to their cashier, ₦1,000.00 for vulcanizer and ₦200.00 gate fee. That was how I paid ₦11,200.00 all because I did not use face mask and I carried 3 persons who are my colleague in the office at the back seat as against 2 persons.”

John added that the ₦11,200.00 fine he paid was not as painful as the insolence of the LASTMA official and his time that was wasted. He said the Nigeria Police Force is more cultured than LASTMA officials.

‘If you see the infuriating and humiliating way they all relate with offenders, you would find it difficult to differentiate them from touts.”

The simple truth is that John breached an executive order and he had to pay for it with his time and money. But one wonders if the use of face mask and social distancing is under the traffic rules of Lagos state.

Another driver, who was also apprehended by LASTMA officials, said he paid the sum of N6,300.00 when he was arrested for not using face mask.

Awelewa Joseph said “I was arrested around Anthony Bus Stop when I was on my way to the office, though I was with my face mask but I hanged it under my chin. When I got to their Office, I was delayed for some hours and eventually asked to pay the sum of 6,300.00.”

The two drivers had indeed violated at least one of the precautionary measures for the gradual easing of COVID-19 lockdown, but what law empowered LASTMA to arrest and fine offenders for non-compliance. Governor Sanwo-Olu few days after he resumed office published the 64 offences and penalties of LASTMA, among which none usage of facemask was not included as there were no reported coronavirus cases in Nigeria.

A legal practitioner argues that it is illegal for LASTMA officials to arrest motorist for not using face mask, because the compulsory use of face mask is not a traffic law, consequently it is out of their jurisdiction to arrest any violator.

“LASTMA officials know that it is out of their jurisdiction to arrest motorists for not using face mask. It is the duty of the Nigeria Police Force to enforce an emergency order that has not been passed into law. The act that established the Nigeria Police Force gives them the enabling power to enforce any executive order at any point in time. The general duties of the Nigeria Police Force as stated in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria is that “The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of this or any other Act.” While the state act that established the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority in August 2012 by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola states that “a law to provide for road traffic administration and make provisions for road traffic and vehicle inspection in Lagos State and other connected purposes”. It is crystal clear that this act does not in any way relate to any form of disease control as it is purely out of their control to apprehend any motorist for not using face mask. If the law empowers them, then, they should be arresting pedestrians also for not using face mask. Why are they harassing motorists while they allow pedestrians to walk about without hindrance.”

Overzealousness in the part of LASTMA Officials can be said to be the reason for arresting motorist for violating the use of face mask while driving, as it is out of their jurisdiction to do such. If Lagos state government wants to embed the enforcement of face mask as part of the duties of LASTMA, then members of the House of Representatives should push a bill that will empower them. The penalty for not using face mask should also be made public. However, the use of face mask is for the prevention of the spread of coronavirus which is a health issue, therefore it is the responsibility of the health minister to see to the health of Lagosian. If there must be enforcement, a team of taskforce under the Minister of Health would be in the right position to set it up. Also, if there would not be a need for Task Force, the Nigeria Police Force is constitutionally empowered to immediately enforce any executive order.

By Ife Adewole

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