The Need to Review National Road Traffic Act

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The existing National Road Traffic laws and regulations in Nigeria are an inheritance from the colonial administration. CHIKA OKEKE writes that there is an urgent need to review the act due to incessant cases of accidents and reckless driving on our roads coupled with the contemporary challenges of traffic management.

Sitting inside his bus and waiting anxiously for commuters to board for his next trip to Wuse is Mr. Chris Agbaje, a commercial driver plying the Gwagwalada – Wuse route.

The father of four resides in Gwagwalada and shuttles the Airport road down to Wuse every day except on Sundays since he is a Christian who believes that Sundays are meant for rest.

Fate however, dealt a heavy blow on him when he was arrested by the road traffic officers for reckless driving and dangerous overtaking. He narrates his ordeal to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY. “Eight months ago, I was arrested by road traffic officials for dangerously overtaking a private car and the officers on duty threatened to take me to their headquarters for graver sanction.

I pleaded with them to pardon me since I neither collided nor hit any vehicle, but they refused and insisted that I followed them to the headquarter. I waited and after few minutes, I went back to the officer but instead of taking me to the office as promised, he asked me to bring N5,000.

He continued, “Since I could not afford N5,000, I offered him N2,000 which he reluctantly collected despite pleas from the passengers that he should pardon me, so I drove off.

When the reporter demanded to know why he recklessly drove on the highway irrespective of the passengers inside his bus, he answered, “Is there anything like traffic law in Nigeria? Even the politicians disobey the law and engage in reckless driving and nothing is done to them. So why attack the innocent commercial driver that went to hussle so as to feed his family.”

Agbaje’s predicament is tantamount to those of over 15 million commercial and private vehicles operators plying the Nigeria roads on daily basis who believe that the road traffic law is weak and there is also the need for stringent enforcement if reckless driving must be minimised.

It is worthy to note that the first National traffic law was the 1920 Road Traffic Ordinance of Lagos Colony and Southern Protectorate of Nigeria that was applied for the operations of all motor vehicles until the country was demarcated into regions (Northern, Western and Eastern). Each of the three regions was empowered to promulgate its traffic regulations.

The National Road Traffic Act was enacted on 1st January, 1949 during the colonial era and which was available to Road Traffic Act chapter 548, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and some sections were later reviewed in 1990 for the Federal Capital Territory operations alone.

Road Traffic Laws Meant For Poor People

“I am not saying that reckless driving or dangerous overtaking is good because it can lead to death, but I am worried about the law because it’s just there for the poor people alone not the rich in the society”, Madam Susan Ekeocha, a car owner explained.

On whether there is need to review the law, she said: “Whether the law is obsolete or not, I still believe that many people in Nigeria are above the law. If not, how will you explain a situation where a poor man is punished but rather spare the high ranking official who commits the same offence as the poor man?

She added, “Even if they want to amend the road traffic law, it should be made to cover both the poor and rich Nigeria and not segregate.

Another commercial vehicle driver, Mr. Jimoh Adejumo frowned at what he described as the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards the law governing the country and even the road traffic laws.

Adejumo who plies the Wuse-Nyanya-Mararaba axis added: “All of us are paying the same fees, so why would they allow some to pass while keeping others for longer period in the traffic just because they are high ranking government officials. If such officials do not obey road traffic, how do they expect us to obey?

“Reckless driving is increasing because there are no good traffic laws to sanction the offenders and even when there is a law, the officers do not apply it but rather prefer to collect bribe and discharge the offender”, he concluded.

The New Lagos Traffic Law

Moved by the incessant cases of roads accidents resulting to injuries and death as well as rampant traffic congestion, the Lagos state Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), recently signed the Lagos Road Traffic Bill into law.

According to the new law, “trailers, apart from fuel tankers and long buses are now prohibited from plying the roads between 6:00am and 9:00pm, while commercial motorcycle operators were not expected to ply major trunks, such as Ikorodu Road, Funsho Williams Avenue, Apapa-Oshodi Express, Lagos-Badagry and Lekki-Epe Expressways.

“Motorists are also forbidden to make phone calls, eat, count money or engage in other dangerous activities while on the wheel. Pedestrians are forbidden to cross the expressways and are mandated to use the pedestrian bridges as violation for these laws attracts between N30,000 to N50,000 fines or three years imprisonmentin the alternative.

Effective Road Traffic Education, Bane Of Road Traffic Control

The Deputy Director Operation of Directorate of Road Traffic Services otherwise known as VIO, Dr. Yusuf Jack insisted that the laws were adequate as the problem lies on ineffective Road traffic education and inadequate enforcement.

“The laws are adequate but the problem we are having in Nigeria is lack of effective Road traffic education for the road users and lack of adequate enforcement. The other part that might need some form of review is the justice system because the fines are probably low and these fines were put in place as far back as the 1960’s.

“In terms of effective control, the laws can help any state to effectively handle matters. The key things that we expect states to do, is to insist on proper training of drivers and testing before they are licensed. If the training is good, the attitude of the average driver will be tailored towards safety and the road abuse will not exist”, he explained.

On the enforcement, he said: “Many states do not have adequate enforcement officers and they cannot boast of having between 60 to 100 road traffic officers who are supposed to maintain law and order on the streets within the states. You will find that a state will have barely 10, some even 8 officers, so how can they handle the roads traffic?

“But unlike in Abuja where we have about 600 personnel, not all are into enforcement. We deployed about 450 out of the total staff strength to enforcement which makes it stronger and we can see the presence of road traffic officers on virtually all the roads in the city.

… Wants Review Of National Road Traffic Act

Dr. Jack however, wants the National Assembly to come up with an Act that could be called ‘Road Traffic Act’, that will cover all the states in Nigeria. “We have the Road Traffic Act of 1949 and that is what the road traffic services are operating. Although it was virtually reviewed in 1990 for the FCT operations, the Principal Act is still the one of 1949”.

On new traffic law for FCT, “the national road traffic regulation encompasses everything that needs to be done. The only thing that we may need to add is to make a review of the charges to make it punitive for people who perpetually default through their own way of thinking just to break the law.

FRSC Insists Deviants Break Law Despite Fines

The Corps Public Education Officer in Federal Road Safety commission, Commander Jonas Agwu adds; “the problem is not whether the laws are adequate or inadequate, whether the fines payable for traffic offences are high or low, but that people break these laws because there is a mindset already.

According to him, “few years ago, fines payable by traffic offenders was as low as N200 to N500 but with the review, anybody that commits any traffic offense will be paying between N2,000, N10,000 and there is an offence that carries N50,000 -that is dangerous and reckless driving. The question is that, have people really changed their attitude because they were asked to pay N10,000 for violating traffic rules or for assaulting the marshal? No, because people that are deviant in the society will break the law irrespective of the fines applicable”.

“Over time, you must look at the law and check for grey areas where you need to review whether in terms of the amount payable.

There is a need to review the law and as the need comes in, we will review because traffic and traffic matters are dynamic and there is nothing that is static”.

On widespread believe that bigwigs are shielded from penalties for traffic offences, he added, “it’s a wrong perception because accidents don’t respect status”.

 

In : Nigeria