ON Friday, December 18, 2015, the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Court sitting in Ogba, Lagos, ordered that the vehicles of four people convicted of driving against traffic be forfeited to Lagos State government.
The court which was headed by Magistrate Mobolaji Tanimola, also ordered that the tricycle and motorcycle of two others who committed this same offence of driving against traffic should be forfeited to the state government.
The six traffic offenders were arrested by the convoy of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on Wednesday, December 16, 2015, at Ijora Olopa area of the state.
There has, however, been mixed public reactions from the public on the court judgment.
Some people believe the magistrate was too harsh while some believed the drastic traffic situation in Lagos metropolis deserves a drastic action.
ENCOMIUM Weekly interviewed some lawyers on this issue. Hear what the lawyers are saying.
‘No fair hearing’ – FRED AGBAJE
I am happy that ENCOMIUM is taking up this judicial murder of a trial. I was worried when the governor handed over these arrested suspects to the court.
I have no problem with the governor arresting offenders. Two, I have no problem with bringing offenders to justice. But in that particular incident, I want to ask where is the context of fair hearing?
Because, one, if there was fair hearing, who are the witnesses against them? Did the governor who arrested them testify at the magistrate court as to the culpability of these people?
Did the governor give evidence before the magistrate court as to their culpability? Just because the magistrate wants to impress the governor, she was intimidated to stand justice on its head.
For instance, if one or two of those suspects have pleaded not guilty, would the court not have adjourned and asked the prosecution to bring their witnesses.
That trial is the height of judicial intimidation of innocent citizens. I am not saying the citizens are innocent of the offence, but you must give them fair hearing.
I am not saying it is right to pass through one way. It is wrong, but Lagos State government and the magistrate court embarrassed us with that trial.
Does the magistrate have the power to ask the suspects to forfeit their vehicles to Lagos State government?
That is what I am saying, if the trial did not meet any standard of fair hearing, any judgement made by it is a nullity. It is a constitutional nullity.
It is not just a question of whether she has jurisdiction or not. What I am saying is that the trial was a perversion. Therefore, if it is a perversion, the orders it makes, which includes fines and forfeiture of their vehicles is a daylight robbery. It is shocking. What it means is that once the governor arrests anybody, you will just rail road them to the magistrate court.
This is magistrate court that has many cases pending o. You left these ones and concentrated on the one that the governor brought.
Let the governor see that we are working. That is what happened. If you want to show the governor that you are working, you must act in tandem with concept of fair hearing.
Like I said, if any of those suspects had pleaded not guilty and had asked for time to call for his witnesses, then the magistrate will be forced to ask the governor to come and testify. After all, he was the one who arrested them.
Those suspects were intimidated to plead guilty, quote me. To me, the human right society will take up the case to high court and get those vehicles released to their owners.
You just cannot arrest people and rail road them to magistrate court. No fair hearing, nothing. You force them to plead guilty verdict. Those who are stealing government money at Alausa, how many of them has the governor arrested? How many of them have they brought to justice?
‘The trial was intimidating’ – EBUN-OLU ADEGBORUWA
I was thoroughly shocked and surprised when I read about that judgment. Being that it was the governor himself that arrested the culprits, they were not given opportunity to arrange for their lawyers. So, to that extent, that trial is unconstitutional.
Because under Section 36 of Nigeria constitution, every citizens should be accorded the opportunity of a proper and adequate defence.
That trial was filled with intimidation. They were rail-roaded from the point of arrest to the court directly. They were not well guided by counsel. The trial did not meet the minimum requirements of a proper trial.
Two, since coming into power of this particular governor, Lagos State has been at a standstill. Even if I did not endorse people driving against traffic, before you enforce a law, you have to ensure that people are able to comply with it.
Since the governor has not done his own part by ensuring free flow of traffic, he is not in a good position to be enforcing traffic law right now in Lagos State.
Everywhere there is a gridlock. From Apapa to Lekki, to Agege to Ikeja to Ikorodu. Everywhere is in a standstill. It is when the traffic is flowing that you have the moral rectitude to apprehend traffic offenders. The way he is going now, virtually every vehicle in Lagos will end up being forfeited to the state government.
I believe those people should be allowed to consult their lawyers and they should appeal against that judgement and get their vehicles back from Lagos State. The state that is not able to pay minimum wage to its workers is the one that is seizing the vehicles of its citizens. It is wickedness.
‘Forfeiture of vehicles is not new in Lagos’ – HON. TUNDE BRAIMOH
From the legal perspective, the magistrate has very wide powers to seize or detain any instrument of crime.
The truth of the matter is that there is an existing provision in the traffic laws that empowers the magistrate or the court to detain a vehicle, tricycle or motorcycle or any vehicular object that is used in committing the traffic offence.
Forfeiture of vehicular objects is not a new thing in Lagos State. For sometime now, many motorcycles and tricycles have been forfeited to the state governments in the past. All of those motorcycles and tricycles were destroyed and people did not complain. Now that the forfeiture involves motor vehicles that are owned mostly by middle class people there is public outcry. It is simply an application of the law. It is something that has been happening. It is a continuous of what has happening.
From the social perspective, I think there is need for strict application of the law now for sanity to prevail on our roads in the state. It’s just like the same law that is applicable to building collapse in the state. The law allows the government to take over the land of a collapsed building. That the government has not been doing that does not mean the law does not exist.
The laws are there. It is just that they are not applied because they don’t want to be seen as being too extreme.
But with the situation on our roads now, there is need for the courts to be courageous in the application of the law. I think the magistrate should be commended for being courageous. She courageously applied the law and she should be encouraged.
‘It must be backed by law’ – YUSUF ALLI (SAN)
If there is a provision in the law for such forfeiture that will be okay. But I can’t claim to know what is in that law.
If there is such an order, it must be backed by law. I am sure the magistrate will not make an order that is not within the law.
PROVISION OF THE LAW
Section 27 of the Traffic Offences and Penalties of Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012 says that for driving in a direction prohibited by the Road Traffic Law/Neglect of Traffic Directions the fine is forfeiture of vehicle to the state.
In addition, for first offender, one (1) year imprisonment and forfeiture of the vehicle to the state.
For second and subsequent offender, three (3) years imprisonment and forfeiture of the vehicle to the state and shall have their data and biometric captured.