Lagos and its growing list of unenforceable laws

Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode

By Lakinbofa Goodluck

Ever since humans devised governing systems, the human race has been defined by laws and regulations. Every sovereign nation has laws and regulations that reflect their respective peculiarities. As a sovereign nation, Nigeria is governed by laws and regulations that may sometimes appear numerous. The extant laws are so abundant that the former Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia Hon. Nkoyo Toyo once declared that Nigeria has too many laws already. Ours is a nation of laws yet we seem to thrive on lawlessness. Lawlessness is physical in every stratum of our society from the top of the stepladder, to the unattended bottom. The lawlessness at the top is further convoluted by a palpable assumption that leadership also confers “above the law” status on the occupier of a revered office. Hence our nation is governed with so much impunity; yet we are hemmed in a deluge of laws. In all fairness, some laws are truly developmental in their perceptible intent, while others are best confined to obnoxity.

As a federal republic that claims to respect the principles of federalism, the existing tiers of government are empowered to enact laws on defined areas. The federal government is empowered by the constitution to make laws on matters that are covered under the Exclusive list, which comprises military, police, immigration and many more. The state governments are permitted to make laws on matters covered in the Residual list, which comprises primary education, development of agriculture, and others. Both the federal and state governments possess the right to make laws on matters captured under the Concurrent list, which include electoral matters, university education, road and housing. Many state governments in the country have taken advantage of this constitutional provision to enact laws that are strictly operational within the state. Hence, while certain actions are illegal in some states, they are permissible in other states.

One of the states in Nigeria that has extensively explored this constitutional provision is Lagos state. The state is famous for enacting laws that are sometimes commendable and at other times questionable. Some of these laws break the fundamental principle of law making that says that ensures that laws enacted by the people’s representatives must be seen to be fair, enforceable, and consistent with the sacred principles of human rights. Any law that falls short of these basic principles is at best draconian and inhuman.

In 2016, the Lagos State government resuscitated the prohibition of street vending law which was enacted in 2003, but never fully enforced. The law bans street trading in the metropolis and places a fine of N90,000 on both the buyer and seller caught in the act. As much as the intent of the law may appear commendable owing to the prevailing security situation and the nuisance promoted by these activities, the enforceability of the law has remained a burden. How implementable is it since the same street traders are taxed by the respective local governments where these activities take place? To that extent the street traders are not inconsequential to the economy of the state; in fact they contribute immensely. What are the ripple effects of enforcing the law? Will the attempt to arrest crime and promote sanity in the state not inadvertently push some people into crime when their means of livelihood is destroyed? Are there alternatives for the street traders and traffic businessmen and businesswomen? Besides, would hawking in traffic thrive if there was free flow of traffic? These are questions that the promoters of the law failed to answer. Two years down the line, street trading is still prevalent in Lagos and despite that the occasional arrest of culprits by the officials of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), the practice has continued to thrive. Yet the law prohibiting street trading still exist and has not been repealed by the lawmakers. This is just one of the many laws that are obtainable in Lagos state but with no capacity for implementation.

In a similar manner the state legislature recently passed the Lagos Transport Sector Reform Bill, 2017. It is a bill for a law to consolidate all laws relating to the transport sector in the state, provide for the development and management of a sustainable transport system in Lagos state and for other connected purposes. The bill harmonises Vehicle Inspection Office (offences and penalties), Traffic Offences and Penalties and Lagos Bus Services Limited. In the proposed law, traffic offenders will either be made to pay fines or risk jail terms if found guilty. Disobeying traffic light, smoking or drinking while driving and driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs would now attract serious penalties. On paper the proposed law, which really does not introduce anything new, appears admirable; but a further scrutiny will reveal that the law also has questions of implementation. What remain unattended are the enforceability of the laws and the character of those responsible for the enforcement. One of the contentious issues at the public hearing on the bill was the outright ban of motorcycle in the state. Section 35 of the bill states that: “A person shall not ride, drive or propel a cart, wheelbarrow, motorcycle or tricycle on any road within the state. A person who fails to comply with any of the provision of this section commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to: Imprisonment of a term of three years or to any non-custodial sentence; and have his vehicle forfeited to the state.”

Submissions from various individuals conclude that a ban is necessary but should be restricted to selected roads. Is it not amazing that the government intends to outrightly ban motorcycle when many inner roads in the state are in deplorable condition? How would this law aid the movement of people? How would resident navigate the deplorable roads in their respective areas? It is perfect for the government to ban motorcycle and tricycle from major highways and in actual fact no motorcycle should be seen on the highway, because of the associated risk. However, it is detrimental to completely ban tricycles and motorcycles from all roads in the state. There are many factors competing for consideration in this regard. There is economic, security, social and political concerns. What happens to those whose means of livelihood will be affected if all motorcycles and tricycles are banned from the state? How would this impact their immediate family and their social outlook? Will the army of jobless able bodies not constitute a security risk? This reality again calls to question the enforceability of the law. Our lawmakers must understand that when the entrusted makes unenforceable laws for the people, the resultant effect is a gradual weakening in shared trust. And a society with unenforceable laws is as good as one without any law. They both revel in anarchy.

Transportation is an essential aspect of human existence. Regulating it through the promulgation of laws requires a clear understanding of the prevailing socio-economic situation of the people. For the laws to be potent, government at all levels must aggressively make investment in infrastructure for the people. Motorcycles and tricycles will be unneeded if all the roads in the state are motorable. The risk associated with patronising commercial motorcycles and the attendant recklessness of some riders is enough to discourage citizens from patronising. However, what would an individual do if this were the available options? Many people also prefer the option of motorcycle on the highway due to the excruciating traffic situation and the need to get to their respective destination fast. This further reinforces the need for an integrated transport system that maximises the apparent natural endowments of the state. Lagos is blessed with sufficient waterways that could be maximised for water transportation. For instance the traffic situation in Apapa has forced some companies to acquire boats for their employees who only have to park their personal vehicles in designated locations on the Island and join the company’s boat to Apapa. This saves time and protects the people from the mental stress of driving in prolonged traffic jam. The state government needs to do more to encourage intra state water transportation in order to ease the pressure and regulations on the roads.

The foregoing shows that the more we invest in infrastructure and good governance, the less we will need to promulgate laws to regulate behaviour. Our laws will remain impotent if the socio-economic realities of the people encourage the disregard for the laws. As an aside, the government has done little or nothing to arrest the menace of “Agberos” that has ominously added to the awful experience of motorists in Lagos. If lawmakers can be highly concerned about the proliferation of motorcycles and tricycles in the state, it is only logical to pay the same attention to the Agberos in the state. Besides, the cyclists have economic contribution, what value do the Agberos add to the socio-economy of the state?


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