Some friends said they didn’t believe it when another friend, who is co-anchor of a TV morning show, said he didn’t know when he ran into a BRT dedicated lane after being (mis)led by some other motorists and his Google street finder.
They were, however, impressed that the fine gentleman apologised in a mature and noble manner to the Nigerian people as well as viewers of the highly successful morning show that he co-anchors.
Incidentally, another friend ran into the same problem—a BRT lane whose markings were already fading—after driving past the Iddo ramp, beside the Iddo railway terminus, right behind the old Electricity Corporation of Nigeria power plant, to join Eko Bridge via “Ijora Olopa.”
The negligence of the Ministry of Works of Lagos State to ensure legibility of the yellow lines of the BRT dedicated lanes by constantly repainting them and also providing appropriate road signs to alert drivers that they were approaching a BRT lane, by the bend, can only be explained as an intention to ambush the drivers.
All explanations by the driver that, even if a driver was aware that he was approaching a BRT lane on the extreme right-hand side of the bridge, it would certainly lead to an accident if he were to insist on driving straight into the middle lanes without caution, fell on deaf ears.
The road was free of traffic and the vehicles were going rather fast. It’s strange that the police and LASTMA officials were not interested in any explanations. They seemed intent only on nailing anyone, at all costs.
One of the officers kept harping on a N70,000 fine to be paid into the coffers of the Lagos State Government if anyone was foolhardy enough to allow his vehicle to be taken in, instead of simply “settling the boys” on the road.
The Yoruba often say it should be enough for a law enforcement officer to arrest an offender and there should be no need for the officer to now add, as if he were the judge, that the offender will rot in jail.
It was an instructive, yet humbling and scary, experience, especially with the theatrics, harassment and attempts by the officers to place a spiked rod right in front of the tyres of the vehicle.
This was a classic example of what some cynics refer to as rule by law, whereby state actors wilfully and arrogantly use the law to oppress, even suppress, the people that they were elected or appointed to protect.
Traffic officers will look for something else, to extort money from a driver, after finding out that the documentation of a vehicle is complete, correct and updated. The other day, a traffic warden was telling his friend how lucrative it is to be a traffic warden, especially in Lagos State.
The traffic warden was selling the job to his friend, who was likely unemployed and was looking for a job. He told him that if he became a traffic warden he would always go home with a reasonable amount of (bribe) money at the end of every day. This is a classic example of someone eating the bread of sorrow.
Even America, which is almost regarded as a utopia when compared to a place like Nigeria, has its own share of this official high-handedness. Zachary Wester, a county police deputy, is reported to have put a number of his countrymen and women in jail by surreptitiously planting narcotics in their cars. He did this several times so that he could earn rapid promotion and recognition as a good cop.
Maybe you’ve seen the footage of officers of Nigeria’s correctional facility and the police as they rough up Uduak Akpan, who was sentenced to death by hanging for raping, killing and burying Iniubong Umoren, a young lady that he lured with the promise of a job.
Though an attempt by Akpan to make a run for it after the judge pronounced the death sentence may have caused the police and correctional facility officers to rough him up, it’s a little difficult to overlook the fact, as alleged by the TV co-anchor, that the traffic officers drew a gun at him.
A senior officer of the Lagos State Government, who is of Igbo extraction, but shall remain nameless for this purpose, is reported to have claimed that LASTMA officials once manhandled and killed his nephew who was driving a commuter vehicle.
The report added that it took the benevolent intervention of a former Governor of Lagos State before the matter could be settled. There is no doubt that many police traffic officers are power-drunk and have neither restraints nor limits to how far they could go to make the lives of fellow citizens miserable.
Rule of law is when law officers try to educate you on the provisions and purposes of the law and are civil and cordial in applying the rules if and when you fall foul of it. In addition, it is expected that after you have been educated about the law, you too will avoid going against it.
If you do, you will be prepared to accept the consequences, especially because you recognise that the law is not arbitrary and will not vary in gravity and extent regardless of whoever has to answer to its provisions.
That must have led to the TV co-anchor’s decision to appear in court the day after, enter a plea, pay the N70,000 fine and publicly acknowledge his fault and tender a public apology on the live TV show.
His understanding of the concept of the rule of law may have convinced him that it would have amounted to a breach of due processes if he had made good his promise to the officers, who intercepted him, that he would report them to the Governor, which, presumably, is Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.
No individual, in his personal capacity, can or should have veto power to upturn the letter, the spirit and the will of the law. Certainly, no individual, except he has justification to use such discretionary powers, should overrule the law or the decision of a legally constituted law court or government agency.
That is to say that the law should always be enforced. If there is a necessity to throw the law books at an offender, as the Americans would say, by all means, it should be done without hesitation or unnecessary forgiveness.
But then, the dignity and humanity of the offender should be upheld while the law is allowed to take its course. American and British policemen would kill a suspect with respect and courtesy—”sorry sir”, “this way sir”— as they escort him or her into the patrol vehicle and ultimately into the cell.
Nigerians must not return to the days of military Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), and his frowning deputy, the late Major General Tunde Idiagbon, who used the War Against Indiscipline to encourage the whipping of terrified civilians to maintain order.
In addition, the government should erect highway furniture, that bears directional signs and instructions, so that drivers, bikers and pedestrians will have adequate guidance as they commute about in the city.
The highway code should not be used as a tool for oppressing Nigerians.