The Lagos State Government Friday, 13th February, 2015, asked the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, call to order all its agencies including the Federal Emergency Road Management Agency (FERMA) over their various illegal activities in the state which, according to the government, constitute both environmental nuisance and a danger to road users.
Addressing an inter-ministerial press conference at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre Alausa, Ikeja, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, listed the activities to include taking over traffic control on highways, illegal and indiscriminate placement of bill boards and painting of road kerbs in green and white saying these activities constitute a breach of the nation’s Constitution.
The Commissioner, who was accompanied by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Aderemi Ibirogba; and his Transportation counterpart, Mr. Kayode Opeifa; among others, said for the fifth time in recent times, a faceless group of men and women dressed in black uniforms had on Thursday, 12th February, 2015 taken over some highways in the state, aided by four armed policemen purporting to be controlling traffic, a job which is legitimately performed by the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).
Recalling that the state government has made series of complaints in the past about the activities of the faceless men, Ipaye said on one of the occasions when a policeman was attacked by the group, the police made some arrests adding, however, that since then the activities have continued.
The Commissioner, who noted that there was no record of any employment letter, regulations, laws or a Federal circular that pointed to the establishment of the group, said the concern of the state government was based on the probability that criminals and hoodlums could also wear the uniform and perpetrate criminal activities under such cover.
On the issue of painting of road kerbs in green and white instead of the internationally standardized and Constitutionally recognized national road colour code of white and black or yellow and black, Ipaye, who recalled that the painting was first noticed in 2014, said aside debasing the national colours, the painting has put the lives of motorists in the State in danger.
The Commissioner, who recalled that when the incident of 2014 happened, the issue was reported to the Zonal Coordinator of FERMA and the exercise was stopped, declared, “We are, however, shocked that against all global best practices and our National Highway code, the Federal Authorities have gone so low as to debase our National colours and to put the lives of motoring Lagos Public in danger”.
According to him, “Best practice requires two contrasting colours of White and Black or Yellow and Black. We believe that the exercise is aimed to show Federal might and to intimidate the people of Lagos State”.
Ipaye, who also spoke on the issue of illegal and indiscriminate placing of advertisements on the roads and highways in the State said these were done without regards to the laws and regulations guiding such placements in the State pointing out that placement of bill boards are “subject of regulation to ensure that the safety of the road users are not compromised”.
He explained the placement of adverts and bill boards constitutionally fell under the purview of Local Governments, who he said use the funds to augment the meagre allocation they get from the Federation Account which stands at about 20 percent for the 774 local governments in the country.
The Commissioner stressed further, “While the Federal Government has 52 percent, local governments, 774 of them, all share just about 20 percent. This is inadequate, so they are expected to raise money from things like the advertisements we are talking about.
“So for a big government to come and say because its infrastructure is located in a particular local government, it would give advertisers a blanket permit to put whatever they like on it without liability to pay anything to the local government is a total breach of the constitution and it shows a disregard for law and order”, Ipaye said.
He explained that the state government decided that certain major areas in the state should not have posters because the posters could come off and start flying on the road a driver could be taken by surprise and an accident could occur as a result adding, “I am saying this to illustrate the fact that there are a lot of things to be taken into consideration by the agency regulating the adverts”.
Affirming that the state stands for law and order, the Attorney General declared, “We think that no matter the scenario, we know that we are in the political season, but the laws are never suspended because of electioneering. The laws are still in force and it is unfair to expect that our people will subject themselves to an unknown group controlling them while using the roads or that our code for painting our road kerbs will suddenly change or that advertisement will become free for all simply because we are in a political season”.
The Commissioner commended men of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency for their cool headedness in the face of provocation by the faceless group in black uniforms who Thursday prevented them from carrying out their duties at the Old Tollgate saying such response was in line with their training and globally recognized civilized conduct.
The Commissioner, however, pointed out that such illegal activities including the indiscriminate placement of advertisements and billboards across the State was an invitation to chaos adding that if the State’s agency in charge of adverts had gone round to enforce the law, it would have resulted in chaos.
“So we want to urge reconsideration by all the agencies concerned and to stress the importance of maintaining law and order no matter what else is going on in the society. It is also a matter of serious concern for us and again it is a matter of law and order because if the local governments, in the name of law enforcement, begin to take down all of these bill boards, that could lead to a breakdown of law and order”, he said.
Ipaye, who dismissed any move by the state government to be confrontational in dealing with the situation at hand pointed out that the state has always resorted to the courts in the past to deal with such matters adding, “We do not believe in battle, that is why men of LASTMA voluntarily withdrew, that is why we do not amass a counter force.
“We are known as the state of law and order. In the past we have had very serious issues with the Federal Government but we went to court, where necessary we went as far as Supreme Court. Even some times when the decisions of the Supreme Court were not obeyed by the Federal Government and we kept at it, and eventually we got what was ours”, he said.
The Commissioner, who expressed confidence in the state police command to do their job effectively without prejudice, said the state government would continue to work with them adding, “It does not matter where the constitutional responsibility lies. The maintenance of Law and Order is for the benefits of our people and all of us in Lagos. So we will not make police our adversary we believe that where the Law is clear they will go along with us”.
Also speaking on the men in black uniforms going by the tag FERMA Federal Task Force, the state Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, said a letter was written to the Federal Ministry of Works Office of the Controller in Lagos drawing the attention of the Controller who, according to him, denied any knowledge of such a body adding that the group was later dislodged.
“But going forward, the men re-appeared and the Federal Ministry of Works contacted us to assist them in evicting and we said no, that they should talk to the police who had the authority on the issue of maintenance of Law and Order, that at that point to us, it’s a Law and Order issue, and the Federal Ministry of Works wrote a letter to the Lagos State Police Command”, Opeifa said.
A letter read by the Commissioner to buttress his point was written by the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos to the State Police Commissioner to assist in dislodging the group. It read in part, “The Honourable Minister of Works has directed that the members of the group be evicted from our office premises at Old Tollgate, Ojota, Lagos end of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
“In view of the above and the security implication posed by the presence of the group, I wish to request for your assistance to evict them from our office premises at the above stated location”. It was dated 24th January, 2014 and signed by Engnr. O.O. Obikoya, Federal Controller of Works. The Commissioner also added that the Ministry made paid disclaimer advertisements in some national newspapers to this effect.
He recalled that the men in black were again dislodged in June last year by the Police Command in Lagos when they attacked some police officers at their Tollgate compound adding that some newsmen were also attacked there while one was detained in the cell in that compound.
Noting that the name of the group was later changed from FERMA to SURE-P / FERMA Taskforce, Opeifa said when the men began their activities at the Tollgate on Thursday; the state government contacted the state police command which, according to him, said none of their men was attached to the illegal taskforce.
He, however, added, “But we sighted four police men at the site and two were fully armed with AK-47, which is to tell you how far we have been going on this matter”.
On the issue of painting the 3rd Mainland Bridge in Green and White Opeifa, who said it was first noticed in 2013 added that in November 2014, shortly after the repair works on the expansion joints on the Third Mainland Bridge, the State Government called the attention of the Federal Ministry of Works to it adding that the Federal Controller of Works, Lagos said they were not the ones painting.
Noting that the state government has “a very good relationship with the Federal Ministry of Works and the Federal Controller of Works as well as with FERMA in Lagos State”, the Commissioner explained that the Controller of FERMA later owned up to painting and agreed that professionally it was not right.
According to Opeifa, the Controller, however, explained that it was the directive the agency was given adding that the agency subsequently stopped and the team did not go beyond the middle of the Third Mainland Bridge.
“The argument is that the two colours must contrast so that when you drive at night, the white will contrast the black so that you see the white and this will assist not to go beyond the road. With White and Green the argument is that there is a component of the Green that makes it to reflect and that, professionally, is not ideal”, Opeifa said adding that normally the colour combination must either be White and Black or it should be Yellow and Black.
The Commissioner said since the postponement of the election date, a branded mass transit bus, with the name of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in Lagos State boldly written on it, has been noticed in the premises of the men in black while an SUV with Bode George Boys boldly written on it also used to come to the premises.
Also speaking at the press conference, the Managing Director of the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA), Mr. George Noah, explained that the failure of any political party to secure bill boards could not be attributed to LASAA because the less than 900 bill boards being operated by private business concerns in Lagos State, were owned by business men and women who, according to him, “are free to sell their services to anyone who is interested in taking that up”.
On the action the agency intends to take over the invasion of its territory, Noah said the agency was planning to institute legal action adding, “I have here with me the draft of the summons which we are going to produce. It is important for us to do this because we need to set the records straight; the issue of Federal and State roads, the facts remain that Federal roads are not owned by any political party, Federal roads are part of our common wealth”.
Reiterating that the issue about Federal roads is a legal matter, the Managing Director declared, “I think it is important we are going to pursue this in the law court, even if we have to go as far as the Supreme Court, so that this matter is settled once and for all”, recalling that there was a similar issue about Police and Military formations when they erected bill boards on their premises without following the rules.
Also present at the occasion were the General Manager of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Mr. Babatunde Edu; the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media, Mr. Hakeem Bello; top government officials from the state Ministries of Transportation and Justice as well as other stakeholders.