LASTMA at 24: The Commitment Goes On, – By Bili Apena

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*Photo: Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State (left) with some LASTMA officers *

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In a bold attempt to tackle the perennial problem of road traffic snarls and congestions motorists encountered in Lagos, the administration of the former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (Now the sitting President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria), announced to the Press Men in July 2000, that an Agency was to be created as part of the panacea to arrest the unsavoury traffic situations in Lagos State.

I recall the former Governor did not mention the name of the Agency. As events unfolded, we gradually noticed a new name was added to our traffic management lexicon. How the christening came about? LASTMA was established vide Head of Service Circular HOS/12/2000 of July 13th of July,2000 with responsibilities for:

• Control and management of traffic operations state-wide.

•    Control, management and regular of traffic related matters within Lagos metropolis.

Undoubtedly, LASTMA has experienced a splendid metamorphosis akin to an acorn bearing oak to an ‘iroko’ tree. Any dispassionate observer will agree that the Agency is doing a yeoman’s job in tackling the traffic challenges in Lagos State.

Those of us who know how good ideas die with the initiator are still trying to fathom how LASTMA suddenly took control of traffic miasma in Lagos as an unknown entity only to become an institutionalized and permanent feature of our transportation and traffic management system in Lagos.

There have been several attempts to obliterate the Agency from the roadway. Former Works Minister, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, did all within his power to kill LASTMA as a concept and dislodge its operatives from his so-called Federal Roads in 2004. In spite of this, we can safely assert that it is an incontrovertible truth that LASTMA has attracted an avalanche of local and international accolades; for others it is barrage of criticisms.

Some have rained opprobrium on the Agency. Motorists who find themselves at the receiving end of the enforcement stick of its operatives have vilified and traduced the Agency to no end. To disparage the efforts of LASTMA as an Agency of government because of certain human foibles exhibited by some bad eggs in its fold will be tantamount to throwing away the baby with the bath water. The fact remains that today, LASTMA as the body legally empowered and constitutionally recognised to tackle traffic problems in Lagos, has weathered the storm and has come to stay.

LASTMA as at the time of its creation was, to all intent and purpose, a child of necessity. Since necessity, as we were told, is the mother of invention, then motoring public in Lagos must praise the initiative of the administration of Asiwaju Bola Aahmed Tinubu that created it and the subsequent administration that have seen good reason to sustain its operation in the state. It is heart-warming that the Administration of the Governor, Mr. Babajide Olubola Sanwoolu in his THEMES plus Agenda made Traffic Management and Transportation the first item. This is an indication of the critical roles of traffic management in the economy.  

It is still germane to cast our minds back to the situation in Lagos that underscored the LASTMA presence intervention. The problems of traffic congestion and related snarls have bedevilled Lagos, even before the creation of the state in 1967, and in its present geographical and political form. The Federal Government then merely lamented and bemoaned the traffic congestion in the state. Due to the impact of urbanisation and industrialization, Lagos became a traffic cripple.

The brigandage of the military era, coupled with the ineptitude and mismanagement of the Shagari administration did not help matters. Commuting from Lagos Island to the Mainland that ordinarily should not take more than ten minutes was taking more than two hours travel time. It got to its crescendo when motorists were trapped in traffic from evening when returning from work till the following morning. Some people converted their offices to temporarily living homes to escape traffic hurdles.

That was the asphyxiating scenario that necessitated the birth of LASTMA in year 2000. In 1980, a similar strategy to tackle traffic problems in Lagos was adopted by the administration of civilian governor of area the state, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. With nostalgia we recall the creation and operations of Road Marshals, popularly called Sango, during that era. Reckless and notorious commuter bus drivers dreaded be Sango in their red and green uniforms. But their efforts and operations were inadequate, limited and unprofessional the outfit became moribund with the coming of the military on December, 1983.

Successive military regimes either ignore people lamentations and sufferings in the road traffic or   resorted to the adoption of intermittent task force approach. The military style of horsewhip and gun-totting never worked. Even the police entrenched tradition of ineffectual, visionless and drab traffic control did not avail.

The dissatisfaction of Lagosians with the situation was palpable. The relevance of LASTMA in our traffic management system in Lagos has been evident on the state’s economy. It is obvious that traffic congestion that characteristically slowed down all vehicles which results in higher levels of pollution and accident has reduced in Lagos. The diversion of economic activities, divestment of capital flight that Lagos experienced prior to the creation of LASTMA, has reduced drastically, It was reported that estimated N42 billion worth of investment moved out of Lagos annually because of traffic congestion before year 2000, when LASTMA was created. Lagos, being Nigeria’s industrial hub and the commercial nerve centre of the nation cannot but need efficient traffic management, which LASTMA represents. Only few uninformed and lawless motorists would disagree that LASTMA is an inevitable solution.

Happily, LASTMA has continued to face headlong the challenges posed by the burgeoning vehicular fleet and Lagos population that is increasing at a geometric progression. While government has found it expedient to construct more roads and bridges, ones rehabilitated and upgraded to reduce man hour loss and boost industrial activities, there is however, a snag if an effective and efficient traffic management is missing.

Certainly, good road network is a sine qua non for movement of goods and commuters, Experience in Lagos traffic reveals that traffic monitoring, patrolling and policing are inevitable imperatives to checkmate the activities of lawless and reckless drivers. Since we are yet to develop the level of using CCTV cameras to track road traffic offenders or violators of road traffic laws, the low-cost, labour intensive intervention must be sustained.

People have not asked questions on reasons why we don’t see corpses on the roadways and road shoulders, at bus stops and bridges like it used to be in the past. In the past, corpses will remain on the road for days or weeks due to inefficient communication.

But now the synergy that exists between LASTMA and other agencies of government ensures that such incidents are reported immediately they are sighted while on patrol duties. SEHMU, which is the Health Ministry’s Unit responsible for removal of corpses, wastes no time in removing the corpses because LASTMA operating do their early morning patrols and monitoring state wide and communicate to approprate  Besides, LASTMA has been doing yeoman’s job in incident management. That is, the recovery of broken-down articulated vehicles and accidents.

The major criticism of LASTMA activities revolves around the enforcement aspect of its operations. There have been complaints, bordering on the issue of corruption. Other motorists complain about their excesses and over zealousness. The problems of corruption reverberate across all facets of our socio-economic and political affairs. Maybe that is what some have come to describe as the Nigerian factor. The bribery allegation is an endemic Nigerian problem. The givers tempt the receivers with inducement to compromise and pervert the full wrath of the law. By so doing, they should see themselves as part of the problem. If the giver is as guilty as the receiver in the face of the law, then the Nigerian mentality about “settlement” needs some sociological study and psychological therapy. The corruption flaws will reduce, even change with proper orientation and institutional encouragements in the form of better salary package/welfare. We found it gratifying that the Agency has improved its approach to processing enforcement with the adoption of technology and cashless system. In spite, of all these, LASTMA has fared well. Having painstakingly come this far in discharging its statutory responsibility, those managing the affairs of LASTMA should use this period of the Agency’s two scores and four years of landmark performance to do a trajectory of next level they want to position the Agency. There is still a large room for improvement. Efforts should be geared towards consolidating on the strength and improving on the weak areas.

Repositioning of LASTMA should be a far-reaching and holistic trajectory. The agenda should be to make LASTMA a first-rate and first-class Traffic Management Agency.

*Bili Apena writes from
3, Ijaola Street, Onigbongbo, Maryland, Lagos.

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