Lagos Magistrate Slams Traffic Officers, Orders Release Of Impounded Car, Motorist Demands Compensation

A magistrate has ordered the release of a vehicle impounded by officials of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit, aka task force, over an alleged traffic offence.

The driver of the vehicle, Sunday Emem, was also discharged and acquitted of the charge of driving against traffic.

PUNCH Metro had reported that Emem, while driving his boss, Adeolu Oyinlola, on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway on August 14, 2021, was accosted by one of four policemen around the BOC Gases area, Oshodi, for allegedly passing a uni-directional road (one way).

According to Oyinlola, there was no indication on the road that it was uni-directional and efforts to explain to the policemen that there was no such indication proved abortive.

The motorist’s claim was confirmed by our correspondent who visited the area and spoke to residents.

Oyinlola, who is the Executive Director of a rights group, Advocacy for Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative, said his vehicle was impounded after he refused to part with the money demanded by the officers.

Emem was later charged before a mobile court on one count bordering on driving against traffic before Magistrate L.K.J. Layeni.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge.

During the trial, the prosecution called two witnesses while the defence called three witnesses, including the driver and his boss.

Delivering judgment in the matter on November 25, Layeni noted that the onus was on the prosecution to lead “credible, cogent and compelling evidence” to establish the charge against the defendant.

He noted that during a visit to the scene of the incident, it was discovered that a traffic sign indicating a uni-directional road with a fresh cemented base was erected, which indicated that it was recently placed.

Layeni, in a 10-page judgement obtained by our correspondents, slammed traffic officers who allowed motorists ply the road when they could have stopped them.

He said, “Liability can only be sanctioned on the part of citizens where obligations and responsibilities are fulfilled by the government and its agencies. As it relates to traffic, officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, task force and any other agents of the state saddled with the responsibility to enforce traffic laws also have a duty to direct motorists on the available route or alternative route and provide detailed signage to ease traffic.

“Moreso, that traffic personnel/officers are at the Ewenla Junction where no signage was mounted at the time of arrest, they ought to have refused the motors from plying further the route rather than laying traps and getting them arrested. It is my calm and candid view from the analysis of this case that failure to so hold against the prosecution would amount to using the instrumentality of the state to oppress, suppress and afflict pains on motorists and in fact citizens at large, hence the act of the defendant or his excuse is justified in this circumstances, I so hold.
The defendant is not found guilty of driving in a direction prohibited by law punishable under Part III Item 27 of the Transport Sector Law of Lagos and he is hereby discharged and acquitted.”

The magistrate thereafter ordered the release of the defendant’s Toyota Corrola.

The car owner, Oyinlola, who said he had got his vehicle back, vowed to sue the state for denying him the use of the vehicle for the period it was impounded.

He said, “It has taken all of four months to convince a magistrate that where there’s no traffic sign, there can’t be an offence. What is gratifying, however, is that I proved my case in the end without having to grease anyone’s palm. I am immensely grateful for the support and encouragement I received from my friends and family while the judicial process lasted. The next logical step will be to demand compensation and damages from LASG for unjustifiably denying me the use of my vehicle all this while.”

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