FOR Lagos motorists, especially early risers, who miss their breakfast in their rush to workplaces but find solace in snacks or other quick-fix food while behind the wheels, it is the end of an era.
In simple terms, it is motorists beware! Just a bite on that snack or a sip from a sachet or bottle of water from that harmless hawker while on motion is now a traffic offence in the state.
It is also a crime for Lagos motorists to make or receive phone calls while they are on motion.
And the punishment is a three-year jail term or a fine of N20,000 for first offenders and N30,000 for subsequent offences or both for any other breaches subject to the discretion of the presiding magistrate.
These sanctions are contained in the Lagos Traffic Bill, which Governor Babatunde Fashola signed into law yesterday.
The law also banned commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as Okada, cart, wheel barrow and tricycle operators from carrying out their activities on the state’s section of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Ikorodu Road, Agege Motor Road, Funsho Williams Avenue, Eko Bridge, Third Mainland Bridge, Carter Bridge, Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Victoria Island-Lekki-Epe Expressway and all bridges in the state.
For routes, which the law allows them to operate, commercial cyclists must limit their activities to between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. One minute outside this time-frame is an offence.
However, motorcycles of courier companies are exempted except that they must have engine capacity of 200cc, bear the prescribed number plates and identification, fitted with proper mail cabin and without any passenger.
The law also prohibits articulated trucks (trailers and others) from entering or moving within the Lagos metropolis from 6.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. This, however, does not affect fuel tankers and long passengers’ vehicles.
Any defaulting trailer operator will have his vehicle impounded and to pay a N50,000 fine or a six-month imprisonment upon conviction.
Fashola, who signed the bill at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Alausa, Ikeja, said the law was in response to the growing challenge of road and traffic management and the need to ensure that those who chose the state as their home are not short-changed by regular traffic offenders.
He said his government was committed to addressing transportation challenges in the state, adding that the law, which took 18 months to prepare, would complement his administration’s efforts at bringing sanity to the roads through the provision of adequate highway signs, traffic lights as well as a traffic radio.
The governor urged motorists to see the law as a means to changing the state for the better, adding that the success of the law would be defined by the voluntary compliance of motorists and road users and not the number of arrests traffic management officers would make.
He said: “There are rules that operate in many cities that compare with this state, Nigerians have been to many of these cities and they comply with them. Why then is it difficult to comply with such rules at home? Our lives will be better if we comply with this law.
“Some of us have some parts of the law that we like and some parts that we don’t like. The deputy governor and I are the only ones that have immunity from arrest, but we would subject ourselves to the law because no one will be above this law.
“Those who are ready to live with the realities and the complexities of our state are welcome and those who can’t should stay away. Those that drive against traffic when we queue are cheating us and we will not allow such to happen again. If we cannot reclaim back our sane society for the coming generation, I think we have failed,” he said.
On the restriction on commercial cyclists, Fashola lamented the increase in road accidents, saying that 722 cases of accidents from the operators were recorded at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja from January to July 2012.
Of this number, 568 were males and 154 were females. At the accident and emergency centre at Toll Gate, 252 accidents involving the operators were recorded from January to July this year with 35 persons dead, Fashola said.
According to him, 50 per cent of the victims were the motorcycle riders, 27 per cent represented their passengers 23 per cent stood for passers-by.
The governor charged the traffic management agencies to ensure that motorists comply with the law and warned public officials to comply with the law because there would be no sacred cows.
“Can we then pretend that we do not know about this and then we do not act? This is our response and we will hope it would bring success. We are all joined at the hip to reclaim our society back. We expect cooperation and we are recruiting lawyers from the private sector to prosecute cases and the state’s Attorney-General will lead the prosecution counsel,” he said.
Earlier, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, said the state government would undertake an intensive public enlightenment campaign to ensure that motorists do not fall victim of the law on the excuse of ignorance.
He, however, said enforcement of the law would only take effect after it had been gazetted and circulated to all stakeholders.
“It is only then that real enforcement will begin. As at now, the police and even Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) do not have a copy, even if we make photocopies, we still need to ensure we carry out enough sensitisation.
“The law is there dormant, you do not have to fear it. If you obey the law nobody is going to arrest you or convict you, the issue of going to jail will not arise and what we are looking for in all honesty is voluntary compliance,” Ipaye said
Before Fashola signed the bill into law, the Lagos League of Political Parties (LLPP) had described it as revenue-motivated.
The coalition urged its suspension, arguing that its punitive nature would lead to the exploitation of the motoring public by the enforcing agents.
In a statement, LLPP Chairman, Chief Udoka Udeogaranya, argued that the bill, if signed into law in its present form, would not make any difference because it was more of a revenue-generating policy than a traffic control blueprint.
He said from the content and intent of the bill, it was clear that it would not address anything that had not been taken care of by the federal laws on traffic control.
The only difference in the bill, Udeogaranya noted, was that it had more punitive measures and how to rake more money into the state coffers.
“Punitive and high taxation measures,” the coalition declared, “have never seem to work when the execution organs have traces of weakness, unprofessional and corrupt conducts as have been expressed with impunity by some members of LASTMA.
“We strongly hold the view that punitive measures are secondary after government has looked into fundamental issues like over-population as against insufficient infrastructure that give rise to abuse of traffic regulations and find ways of addressing it, rather than crowding the laws of the state with a law that can lead more to deepening corrupt practices of some LASTMA officials than addressing issues it was promulgated for.”