A Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja presided over by Justice Olalekan Oresanya, has awarded a damage sum to the tune of N750,000, against the Lagos State government and it’s agency, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, over the violation of the fundamental human rights of a motorist, Lawal Aliyu.
Justice Oresanya awarded the damage sum while delivering judgement in a suit initiated by Aliyu against LASTMA, Lagos State Government, and the state’s Attorney General, AG.
The judge held that it was unconstitutional for LASTMA to impose fines and tow vehicles of alleged traffic offenders without a valid court order.
The court, which narrowed down the issues in the matter to three, resolved all in favour of the applicant, relying on Sections 34, 36 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), among others.
On issue one which touches on the question of whether the obstruction, towage, seizure, and impoundment of the applicant’s car with Registration No. AGL 93 DW on the 23rd November 2021 by LASTMA was unlawful.
According to Justice Oresanya, he declared that from the available evidence, the respondents failed to establish any fact to justify their action and that there was no part of the Lagos State Traffic Management Law 2018, that permits the derogation of the applicant’s right to freedom of movement.
The judge declared, “Public Authorities and Bodies cannot act in a manner that is inconsistent and incompatible with the fundamental rights of citizens as guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is the grundnorm.
“Even in the jurisdiction where parliamentary laws/statutes are supreme, such as the United Kingdom, Public bodies must not act in a manner that is incompatible with the convention rights of citizens as embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR, which has now been incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right being an equivalent of the ECHR and which has now being codified into the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2004 being the equivalence law.”
On the second issue which borders on the fine and towing fee imposed on the applicant, the court held that a careful perusal of Section 27 (1) b, c, d and e of Traffic Management Law relied upon by the respondents revealed that LASTMA cannot impose fine without arraigning an alleged traffic offender in court, adding that it amounted to ignoring fair hearing and being a judge in one’s case.
The judge also knocked LASTMA for the practice of forcefully towing vehicles of alleged traffic offenders, saying it is the height of oppression.
Justice Oresanya stated: “I must add that it is strange and bizarre that the 1st Respondent (LASTMA) towed a serviceable vehicle in good working condition and thereby cause damage to the vehicle in the process when it has not been established that the Applicant resisted the arrest of his vehicle, only for the 1st Respondent to subsequently impose a fine on the Applicant for a service not solicited by the Applicant. To my mind, this is the height of oppression and impunity, and it is condemnable.”
On issue three as to whether the applicant was entitled to compensation and damages for breach of his fundamental rights, the court said having resolved issues one and two in favour of the applicant, it follows that the applicant is naturally entitled to damages in compensation.
“On the whole, I give judgement for the Applicant in the following terms; I make a declaration that the obstruction, towage, seizure, and impoundment of the Applicant’s car with Registration NO. AGL 93 DW on the 23rd November 2021 by the Respondents is unlawful, illegal, and unconstitutional as same amounted to gross violation of the Applicant’s fundamental right to freedom of movement enshrined in Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
“I make a declaration that the imposition and enforcement of LASTMA fine in the sum of N20,000.00 (Twenty Thousand Naira) and LASTMA Towing fine in the sum of N10,000.00 (Ten Thousand Naira) on the Applicant without an order of a court of competent jurisdiction is unlawful, Illegal and is null and void and the said fines should be paid back by the Respondents to the Applicant.
“The sum of N750,000.00 (Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira) compensatory damages is awarded against the Respondents for the violation of the Applicant’s fundamental rights,” the court held.
It would be recalled that Aliyu had instituted the action to question the N20,000 fine imposed on him by LASTMA for an alleged traffic offence, and another N10,000 towage fine which he was forced to pay by the traffic enforcement agency.