Emotions were high and there was shedding of tears in Lagos last week as the government conducted a public auction of 134 abandoned and confiscated vehicles seized at different times by a task force and the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).
Several videos trended on the social media of motorists weeping as their vehicles were auctioned at giveaway prices.
Among the owners is a widow, Dorothy Dike, 49, and her son, Osinachi Ndukwe, who wept profusely begging for price reduction while their only vehicle bought for N1.8.million on hire purchase was being auctioned for N450,000.
Ndukwe said: “I bought the bus at N1.8 million on hire purchase in 2021 and was plying Ijegun en route Cele Expressway.
“The bus was three months old and I had remitted N300,000 when I drove against traffic in the Cele area and the bus was impounded.
“Not only that, I was sentenced to three months imprisonment which I completed recently but before the completion, information reached me that my three-year-old daughter was ill due to lack of funds and before I completed the jail term, I got information that she had died.
“I am here with my mother with the expectation that we will buy the bus at the rate of N50,000. Surprisingly, the price was closed at N450,000.”
Another victim, Abdullateef Kolapo whose vehicle was auctioned, insisted that he was arrested wrongly because there was no alternative way to pass.
“We did not deliberately take the wrong way. There was no other place we could have passed at that time and shockingly I was arrested and my vehicle, my only means of livelihood, was auctioned,” he said.
Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, has been known to be strict in terms of traffic enforcement and regulations.
For many, the fear of LASTMA is the beginning and end of wisdom and many motorists in Lagos have had nasty experiences in the hands of not only LASTMA officers but other traffic managers and enforcers like the Police Traffic Department, the Central Business District (CBD) Officers, among others.
The officials conducting the auction
In line with the Traffic Law of the state, several traffic offences have been specified, which attract penalties ranging from fines to confiscation of vehicles and jail terms on conviction by the court.
Some of the stiffest offences are driving without a driver’s licence, which attracts impounding of the vehicle; driving on one-way; picking/dropping passengers at illegal bus stops; driving on BRT lanes, among others.
However, the implementation of the traffic laws and regulations has been a subject of disputes and this has pitched members of the public against the traffic offenders amidst allegations of high-handedness, partiality and the absence of human face in the enforcement of the law. Some motorists even accused the traffic officers and the police of conniving to misdirect them.
Hence, the public auction of 134 vehicles is attracting mixed feelings among members of the public.
“I have been a victim of a LASTMA official directing me down a road in Bariga that was one way then fined N25, 000 by them. LASTMA officials routinely lie that people jumped traffic lights,” said a motorist who spoke with our correspondent.
Others also lamented the failure to mark some one-way streets while traffic officers routinely arrest motorists for allegedly driving on the road.
Government justifies action
Chairman of the Lagos State Taskforce Agency, CSP Shola Jejeloye, in justifying the public auction said driving against the traffic was tantamount to attempted murder, disclosing that many had lost their lives on account of being hit by motorists driving against traffic.
Jejeloye said most of the vehicles auctioned were confiscated for driving against traffic and endangering their lives and that of other Lagosians.
“Some of the individuals who have come here to bid did not know that if we had not confiscated some of these vehicles while committing those offences, they would have killed pedestrians, bidders or other road users who are unaware that there is a vehicle approaching through the wrong side of the road. “From our records, 80 per cent of victims hit and run on the roads that were knocked down, especially early in the morning were caused by motorists who drove against traffic,” he said.
PDP’s Jandor wades in
The controversy has taken a political dimension following the intervention of the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 election, Dr. Abdulazeez Olajide Adejare popularly known as Jandor, who at the weekend paid visits to some of the victims whose vehicles were auctioned.
The PDP candidate was particularly miffed that a law could deny people of their sources of livelihood, referring to the case of those whose commercial buses were impounded and subsequently auctioned.
He said while he was not encouraging people to disobey traffic laws and regulations, people’s livelihood should not be taken away on account of implementation of the laws while promising to repeal some of the laws if elected.
Adediran said, “Our visit here today is not that we are against the law on traffic, not that we are against it. If the government makes a law, it should not be that that would take away one’s means of livelihood. That is why we are here.
“We came here to tell you that you should not lose hope, that a government is coming in Lagos, a government that would not just lock markets just because one individual or two committed a sin. Our government if voted into office next year would look into some of the laws that are punitive and review them.
“Why should one’s livelihood be taken away from him just because he drove against traffic and not that he killed or committed a heinous crime? If they take your means of livelihood, how do they want you to survive?
In response, the ruling party said Jandor and his running mate, Funke Akindele-Bello, “have graduated from playing politics with human lives to blatantly encouraging the breakdown of law and order in our dear state.
“The visit to citizens who paid the price for violating state traffic laws, compensating, inducing and encouraging them is an act that’s totally unacceptable in any decent society,” APC spokesman, Seye Oladejo said.
A road safety expert, Mr. Patrick Adenusi said the government should be firmer in the implementation of the law, saying in addition to auctioning a confiscated vehicle, the offender must also go to jail for having the intention to kill.
Adenusi told our correspondent that people driving against traffic and passing on a one-way road in Lagos had caused incalculable damage to the people and taken many lives.
Adenusi said the government should be crushing the seized vehicles because their owners could use the backdoor to buy them back during any auction exercise.
“The United Nations global status report on road safety had it on record that 39,803 people are killed annually on Nigerian roads and somebody in his right frame of mind is still driving against the traffic.
“There is no justification for driving against the traffic. As we speak, someone is still driving against the traffic on Lagos roads, you don’t do it in the West. You will not find anybody driving against the traffic in America, you can’t find it in Europe.
“Anyone who does that and is arrested, they put him in handcuff at the point of arrest. So the person is seen as a criminal. As far as common sense is concerned, that person is mad. They’ve lost their sanity. Everyone is going in one direction and you are driving in the opposite direction.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It is sentiment for people to be saying, ‘No they shouldn’t have auctioned the vehicles’, somebody was crying. The person that is crying now, who has been perpetually driving against the traffic, the day law caught up with him, he’s crying.”