Taking Over From Government

A few nights ago, I got into a twitter exchange with someone who took umbrage with something I’d tweeted. I was responding to someone randomly pondering why God made her African in spite of the fact that her internal constitution was clearly European or something like that. My response was a very hyperbolic (at least that was my honest intention) “Africans kill people not from their own tribes…and rob their people blind when they get to office” (earlier that day, about 140 people had reportedly been killed in inter-tribal violence, somewhere in East Africa).

 

I was accused of over-generalising by two people, one of whom who also implied I’d insulted him and the rest of his ilk who make personal sacrifices in their respective communities and places of work. We discussed norms (my suggestion that a norm didn’t stop being one simply because it was rejected by a very small minority was disputed) and the theme of not waiting for government to make the changes we want to see in our country.

 

That position is becoming increasingly popular and, for sure, corporate and individual social responsibility are good things. However, where our government is not one that lacks the funding to do what it should (after all, its budgetary allocation for insurgents is now reportedly higher than that for education), should we really be letting them off the hook? For example, the road leading to my parents’ house in Ibadan has never been tarred and is well-corrugated by erosion. In the books of the state ministry of works, the contract for fixing the road was awarded AND COMPLETED over 10 years ago. What should the role of the activist be there?

 

What should (or can) the activist-patriot do about primary healthcare delivery or basic education? Yes, individuals can make donations of cash or equipment, which really should be no more than palliatives, but how does that solve the problem of the corrupt officials who conspire to prevent allocated money from reaching its proper destination? I even personally know of a local government that refused to allow a private citizen tar a major road in the locality because the chairman would not have control of the funds. And what can individuals do about the perilous inter-state highways or civil servants and pensioners not receiving payment as and when due?

 

I would suggest that the next step for real activism in Nigeria, rather than absolving the government of its responsibility, is to give government no quarter in demanding accountability and budget performance (one of the reasons why Budgit -@budgITng – are one of my very favourite people to follow on Twitter). Yes, fill the potholes in with rubble when available but don’t let the fraudulent contractor and the complicit supervising civil servants escape. Hold training workshops for rural farmers but don’t let the minister or commissioner get away with not empirically demonstrating what they did with the money with which they were entrusted. Organise the neighbourhood watch don’t let the police hide behind “security is everybody’s business” – their bosses must do more about patrolling and the general business of law enforcement.

 

I think it sounds nice and motivational to encourage people to assume the functions of government but, at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I completely disagree. The tweet/saying goes that the activist is not the person who notices that the river is dirty but the one who cleans it up. That is altruism. I say the real activist is the person who makes sure that government fulfils its own part of its social contract with the governed.

What Can I do About An Unreasonable Increase in Rent?

Someone asked me this question yesterday and, as with most questions on the application of law in Nigeria, the legally accurate answer frequently varies from the practical answer. In this instance, I had no clue what the legal answer was and promised to respond to the asker today (after looking it up in the office).

Under the Lagos State Tenancy Law of 2011, it turns out you can make a complaint to the Rent Tribunal about an unreasonable increase in rent (“…apply to the Court for an Order declaring that the increase in rent payable under a tenancy agreement is unreasonable.”).

Image

What will the court look at in determining whether or not the increase is unreasonable? The general level of rents in the locality or a similar locality for comparative analysis, mostly. The court may also take evidence of witnesses and consider any special circumstances relating to the rented property.

Image

If the court agrees that the increase in rent is unreasonable, it may order the increase in rent to be changed to a specific amount. Finally, to the benefit of the tenant, it is unlawful for the landlord to eject a tenant from the premises while the proceedings to determine the reasonableness of the rent increase are pending.

The practical answer? Litigation should only be resorted to where negotiations have failed.

Is “draconian” not necessary?

The reception to the recently passed road traffic regulations in Lagos State has been mixed. Most people are happy that the hours during which heavy duty vehicles other than petrol tankers and passenger-carrying lorries have been restricted, for instance. Not so popular are the fines and possible imprisonment for traffic violations. The word “draconian” has almost become cliché when the law is discussed.

 

It has also been suggested, with justification, that the greatest beneficiaries of these tighter, harsher controls will be LASTMA and the VIO. Seemingly devoid of the capacity to process rational thought, like most uniform-wearing government employees, it is more than likely that many will unjustly fall victim to their extortion and their typically extreme interpretations of the law of the road.

 

Now, even on the best days, driving in Lagos is hectic. Yes, congestion plays its part, Lagos being a megacity and all, but the real problem has to be the attitude of the folks behind the steering wheels. Everyone’s in too much of a hurry to stay in lane and a road with three marked lanes will typically have six or seven during rush hour; there is an absolute disregard for road markings (where they are even understood); people are honking wildly the very second the lights turn green; people block intersections even when their route isn’t free, as if it’s taboo for there to be any space between the front end of their car and the rear end of the car in front. Tanker drivers convert active road lanes to motor parks, without any compunction whatsoever. In fact, the only traffic regulation that people seem to (erroneously) hold on to is that in a collision, the car at the rear is always at fault. Clearly the roads needed to be sanitised. The question is whether or not this new law goes too far.

 

A more long-term question, in my view, is if it is possible to engineer social change through legislation without being “draconian”. When people of the older generation refer to present-day indiscipline, their marker for “when it was good” is invariably the Buhari-Idiagbon era, with its so-called War Against Indiscipline. My personal memories from that time are limited to the WAI jingles on the radio. However, many recall being frog-marched for not using pedestrian bridges or horse-whipped for not standing in line at bus-stops. The legend goes that the streets were extremely clean because people were too frightened to throw litter out of their car windows. Given the chaos that is driving in Lagos, is draconian not the way to go?

 

One of the only places where the average Lagosian will not attempt to “do you know who I am” a queue is at the American Embassy, for fear of a summary visa application denial. If I had my way, I would have the American Embassy run the toll gates at Lekki so that people don’t form multiple lines for each toll barrier opening. This attitude permeates the fabric of life in Lagos – no one obeys laws unless there is a clear and present danger of immediate punishment being exacted on them. And I would like to be able to say that it’s mostly commercial transport workers and hired drivers who are guilty of this but that would not be true. After all, if we move the discussion away from driving and look at general living in Lagos, we will find the “big man” who decides to build gates and turn his street into a close without consulting his neighbours or the town planning authority; and the other who thinks it’s okay to dump sand and gravel onto half of the road and into the gutters because he’s building his house.

 

If our driving attitudes in Lagos need to change is draconian legislation or, in the alternative, draconian enforcement not necessary?

Mirrors, Signal, Manoeuvre – The Traffic Dilemma

One of the extras I acquired in my time as an expatriate post-grad was a UK driver’s licence. I had to get a learner’s permit and go (back) to driving school. For the first two lessons, I was extremely indignant. I’d been a “licensed” driver for roughly 10 years and considered myself extremely competent. I didn’t understand why the Brits treated passing one’s driving test like we celebrate JAMB or SSCE scores. I quickly realised however that, even with my slightly-above-average knowledge of the Highway Code (my dad insisted at the time), I had picked up bad habits that I needed to un-learn, otherwise I was sure to fail the test (which only has a 45% pass rate anyway – with men testing better than women, in case anyone’s interested). Luckily, I passed on the very first attempt.

 

Bringing those “good” driving habits back made motoring in Lagos very frustrating initially but Lagos is really one of those if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them places. People blaring their horns at the slightest excuse (many commercial drivers for absolutely no reason whatsoever), flagrant disregard for road markings (especially zebra crossings), random/indiscriminate stopping on the road, no idea of lane discipline (you’re exiting left but you stay on the extreme right lane and wait until the last possible second to veer dangerously left), etc. I was therefore reasonably happy when it was announced that a “new” traffic law was about to be enacted in Lagos, particularly as it mentioned enforcing the roundabout rule (giving way to traffic on the left).

 

In spite of its draconian elements (banning any eating or drinking while driving), I have chosen to be optimistic about the new law because it will increase sanity and order on our roads. In Lagos, that can only be a good thing. I realise, of course, that over-zealous LASTMA officials and some policemen will give asinine interpretations to what actions constitute traffic offences but I think, like it happened when seatbelts and those idiotic reflective stickers were required, things will gradually rationalise. So, yes, optimism for now.

 

On the flipside however, a good law should answer more questions than it poses (CAVEAT: the law itself has not been published and all comments made by the public so far are on the sections that the government chose to highlight) and the public response shows that more needs to be done with having consultations before bills are drafted. If a government white paper (or policy document) had been drawn up and properly circulated prior to the bill itself receiving so much prominence, the thinking behind banning any sort of ingestion while driving would be clear. Now, everyone just thinks it’s silly and as a result the public isn’t fully endorsing the law.

 

Many have said the punishments for driving in a prohibited direction (“one way”) are too severe, given the potential prison term of 3 years. My first response to this was simply, don’t do it then. But my mind did a Nollywood-style flashback to the first time I drove to Lagos from Ibadan and got “arrested” by the “council task force” for a “one-way” violation. The road had no signage but, as “heegnoranz hees not heckscuze”, I still had to part with a bribe to be able to continue my journey. To convince us that this isn’t another poverty alleviation programme (for LASTMA) LASG/LASAA must therefore ensure that all roads are properly marked (they mostly are on the Island, though). We too as citizens must force the hand of government. Take and circulate pictures of the entry-points to unmarked “one-way” roads. It would also be a great idea for LASG to make it compulsory for every vehicle to have a copy of the Highway Code (which would make an excellent supplement to Complete Sports for danfo drivers’ downtime).

 

Finally, I’ve been trying to point out for some time that many of the traffic offences this new law covers are not actually new. Sometime in 2009, I saw 2 LASTMA officials shoving a driver out of his vehicle and driving it off. I knew they had the power to impound but, curious to know the extent to which they could exercise this power, I dug out the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority Law of 2004. Unsurprisingly, as it seems to appear for its successor, the law is vague on how LASTMA should “impound” a vehicle. What did surprise me was a variety of offences of which I was unaware, as well as the fact that points can be put on your license (well, theoretically, anyway). I’m reproducing a few of the offences and penalties below. Please remember that this is the old (2004) law.

 

 

VIOLATION

PENALTY

POINT

FINE

N

ADDITIONAL

Driving without a Driver’s Licence

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

Learning to drive on a major highway

3

2,000

Dislodge Driver

Driving with fake number plates

4

4,000

Impound Vehicle

Driving a vehicle with unauthorised or defective reflective number plate

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

 

 

 

 

Violation of route by commercial vehicle

2

2,000

 

 

 

 

Disobeying traffic control personnel or traffic signs

1

2,000

Disobeying traffic lights

4

5,000

 

Failure to yield to right of way of pedestrians at a zebra crossing

4

5,000

 

Failure to give way to traffic on the left at a roundabout

2

2,500

 

 

 

 

 

Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs

2

2,000

Impound Vehicle

Smoking while driving

1

2,000

 

 

 

 

 

Tailgating an emergency vehicle

4

5,000

 

Failure of slow-moving vehicle to keep to the right lane

2

2,500

 

 

 

 

 

Assault on a Traffic Officer

4

5,000

Prosecute in court

Driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law [i.e. “one-way”]

4

25,000

Impound

Bullion vehicle driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law

4

50,000

Impound

Illegal U-Turns

2

2,000

Driver Training

Making or receiving phone calls when driving

2

2,500

 

Failure to display reflective warning triangle sign [i.e. “C-Caution”] at point of breakdown

4

10,000