Human rights activist and lawyer, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, has hailed a court judgment stopping towing of vehicles and imposition of fines by Lagos State Traffic Management Authority without a valid court order.
He remarked that the idea of creating LASTMA was good, but attitude of some of its officers in the discharge of their duties was bad.
“The Traffic Law of Lagos State, 2012 seeks to be apprehending violators of traffic laws and taking them to court, and upon conviction, they shall either forfeit or pay fine as the case may be.
“However, what they do these days is to lurk at obscure corners of streets of Lagos, waiting for people to violate the law even when there are no adequate signs, and pounce on the vehicle with a view to generating funds.
“LASTMA is not a revenue generating agency of Lagos State.
It is supposed to regulate traffic activities and help to reduce traffic congestion,” Ugwummadu said.
The lawyer said that hiding of LASTMA officers at odd places with a view of harassing motorists was bad.
He added that LASTMA’s apprehension of alleged traffic offenders, towing of their cars and extortion of money from them were abusive.
“In most cases, they force their ways into your car in a way that suggests they are not just ruffians but are determined to extort, and in their desperation to extort money, they leave out what is supposed to be done which is respecting even alleged violators.
“Section 36 (1) of the 1999 constitution states that in the determination of the rights and privileges of every Nigerian, such a person shall be given fair hearing by a court of law or a tribunal, in this case, a mobile tribunal, in a way that will guarantee independence and impartiality.
“It is a breach of fundamental human rights.
“In other words, LASTMA is the accuser, the arresting officer, the prosecutor and also the judge, because they conclude to punish motorists without giving them any opportunity to say what has happened,” he said.
Ugwummadu praised the judge for the judgment and commended the applicant for his courage.
The lawyer urged the media to do more in sensitising the public appropriately to enable them to be alive to their fundamental rights.
“The media should not relent in sensitising the public to know their rights to fair hearing, freedom of movement, right against torture and inhuman treatment.
“Even the Administration of Criminal Justice Act prohibits expressly harassment of suspected offenders and makes copious provisions with a view to restoring dignity,” he said.
Ugwummadu urged Lagos State to take advantage of the judgment to embark on training of its officers in order to prevent more damages.
NAN reports that an Ikeja High Court, on Sept. 22, awarded N750,000 damages against Lagos State Government for violating a fundamental right of a lawyer, Mr Lawal Aliyu, who LASTMA officers towed his vehicle and imposed fines on, without a valid court order.
LASTMA, Lagos State Government and the state’s attorney-general were respondents in the suit.
Justice Olalekan Oresanya held that it was unconstitutional for LASTMA to impose fines and tow vehicles of suspected traffic offenders without a valid court order.
Aliyu had challenged imposition of N20,000 fine on him by LASTMA for an alleged traffic offence, and imposition of N10,000 towage fine, which he was forced to pay by the traffic management agency.
Oresanya held that public authorities and bodies could not act in a manner inconsistent and incompatible with the fundamental rights of citizens as guaranteed by Nigeria’s Constitution.
“Even in the jurisdiction, where parliamentary are supreme, such as the United Kingdom, public bodies must not act in a manner that is incompatible with the convention and rights of citizens as embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights which has now been incorporated into the Human Rights Act of 1998. www.