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Lagos government auctions off impounded vehicles to a pool of tears and conflicting reactions

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This week, as the Lagos State government auctioned off seized vehicles, emotions were exposed.

At least 134 vehicles that had been seized for various traffic violations were on the market.

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According to pressloaded, while the practice went on, some families were reduced to tears and pain as they witnessed their source of income being auctioned off for a pittance.

More touching was the case of a 49-year-old widow, Dorothy Dike and her son, Osinachi Ndukwe, who wept openly as they begged for price reduction.

It was a depressing sight to see because their lone car, which they had purchased on hired buy for N1.8 million, was sold at auction for N450,000. In fact, had it not been for their crying, it might have increased even more.

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The fact that Osinachi had already served three years in prison for the identical traffic offense, during which he lost his child, makes the situation even more pitiful.

Our correspondent reports that his case and that of a few others have been the subject of discussion among Nigerians, who feel that the law is too harsh on the offenders.

The Taskforce spokesperson, Gbadeyan Abdulraheem, in a statement on Thursday, explained that the enforcement team in collaboration with the Lagos State Ministry of Justice “auctioned 134 forfeited and abandoned vehicles at the Taskforce compound in Alausa, Ikeja.”

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Abdulraheem said the vehicles were seized for various traffic offences, ranging from driving on one-way to willful obstruction of traffic flow across various parts of the State.

Is this permitted?

“(The) law was updated in 2020 to include outright forfeiture for driving one way,” Fawole Rotimi, a Nigerian lawyer based in the UK, told pressloaded..

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“I suppose enforcement has finally begun or has attracted the public’s attention at last.”

The argument for me, though, is that it is an unfair law, says Rotimi.

“The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

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Ilemona Onoja, a lawyer based in Abuja, agreed.

Onoja also feels this is likely to give the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, more power than necessary.

“I think punishment should be commensurate with the crime. Three years imprisonment or forfeiture of the vehicle is in no way commensurate with the crime.

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“It’s not enough to say it is the law. Laws can be bad – when they criminalize things which shouldn’t be criminalized and prescribe excessive punishment. The Lagos State traffic law is one such law that criminalizes things such as eating/smoking while driving and prescribes excessive punishments for crimes under it.

“There are already far too many accusations of high-handedness and collusion against LASTMA and the police to extort innocent drivers in Lagos. These sorts of things give them more power to act in draconian manners,” Onoja said.

Rotimi, however, made it clear that “you can always challenge it in court. Laws get challenged all the time. But until a court strikes it down, it is law.”

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Jubril Gawat, a media aide to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, sought to offer an explanation into the processes – including due process of the court of law – that lead to confiscation of vehicles and subsequent auctioning.

“The Coordinator of the Lagos State Special Offenses Mobile Court was present at the Auction venue; she said the exercise was seamless and well organised and also disclosed that all 134 vehicles on display had gone through due process of the COURT OF LAW before being forfeited,” Gawat tweeted on Thursday.

According to him, the auction exercise is to discourage the public from committing crime or traffic offences as no one would be spared if found wanting. He said he hoped that the exercise would serve as a deterrent to other road users who are fond of driving against traffic.

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And in what is a strong warning to drivers and road users, Gawat added: “enforcement continues.”

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