The Foundation for Investigative Journalism and Social Justice (FIJ) has refunded Chidi Nwaiwu, the Lagos resident who was over-billed by the Lagos State Management Agency (LASTMA) after his car ran out of fuel while on the road.
On Tuesday October 12, FIJ had reported how LASTMA officials seized a Toyota Sienna belonging to Chidiebere Nwaiwu and asked him to pay a fine of N60,000 because his car ran out of fuel.
Nwaiwu had told FIJ his mechanic was driving around Airport Road in Oshodi to ascertain what was wrong with the car when the fuel in it got exhausted. He then parked by the roadside to avoid causing gridlock and rushed to get fuel from the nearest filling station. The people who had helped push the car stayed by it.
However, in less than 10 minutes after the mechanic left, LASTMA officials got to the location of the car and towed it away. The officials did not listen to what the mechanic had to say. Next, they changed the narrative, claiming the mechanic had parked the car in the middle of the road.
He also said he knew the officers wanted to extort some money from him the moment he spoke to them over the phone.
“When I got to their office at Oshodi, they delayed me for hours,” Nwaiwu said.
“They claimed their boss who would handle my case was not around. After waiting for hours, I spoke to her on the phone and she said I should pay to get my car. She claimed that my mechanic parked in the centre of the road.
“The men at the office said I would pay N50,000 for my offence and N10,000 for towing the vehicle. Although I have talked to them tirelessly since yesterday, they still insist that if I want to get my car, I must pay.”
Responding to the story, LASTMA said “allowing fuel to be exhausted in one’s vehicle on the highway does not show responsibility”, hence it could not be said to have committed any illegality by impounding a vehicle abandoned on the road and causing wilful obstruction, which is an offence in the law.
Filade Olumide, the Assistant Director, Public Affairs, of the agency, said:
“The online publication of the above subject matter is at best mischievous and a calculated attempt for public sympathy in order to avoid justice.
“The Lagos State Traffic Law as enacted and amended by the Lagos State House of Assembly as regards the above is an unfounded allegation against the Lagos State Traffic Management Authourity (LASTMA).
“According to the report, allowing fuel to be exhausted in one’s vehicle on the highway does not show responsibility. LASTMA has not committed any illegality by impounding a vehicle abandoned on the road and causing wilful obstruction which is an offence in the law.
“It should be noted that LASTMA will not be irresponsible as to leave such vehicle on the road, so as not to disturb other road users, while the said sixty-thousand-naira (=N=60,000.00) fine is broken down into Wilful Obstruction – fifty thousand naira (=N=50,000.00) and Towing fee – ten thousand naira (=N=10,000.00) as specified in the Lagos State Transport Law of 2018.”
It was a statement that earned LATSMA public opprobrium right on its own Facebook page, as members of the public pilloried it.
Nwaiwu eventually retrieved his car on Friday October 15, having to run round to borrow funds after LASTMA upgraded the fine to N64,000, the extra N4,000 to cover for demurrage.
LASTMA hid that incredulous billing under its law stipulating a fine of N50,000 plus cost of towing for an “abandoned vehicle on the highway”. However, this car was not; there were people in and around it. By LASTMA’s laws, only a penalty of N20,000 should have been due if the motorist failed to display a reflective warning sign at point of breakdown.
“We are able to make this refund because, thankfully, the law guiding LASTMA’s operations does not stipulate any fine for refunding an overbilled road user,” said ‘Fisayo Soyombo, Founder/Editor-in-Chief of FIJ.
“We are of the opinion that any society that arbitraily and excessively punishes its have-nots has to be one where justice and equity do not exist, and any traffic management agency that places income generation over free flow of traffic has definitely lost its way. We’re sad to be trapped in both at the moment.”
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