Following the towing of a lawyer, Lawal Aliyu’s car and the imposition of fines by the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority without a valid court order, a Lagos State High Court in Ikeja has given the state government N750,000 in damages for violating the fundamental rights of the lawyer.
In a ruling handed down by Justice Olalekan Oresanya in a lawsuit brought by Aliyu against LASTMA, the Lagos State Government, and the state’s Attorney General, the court ruled that LASTMA’s ability to fine and tow the cars of alleged traffic violators without a proper court order was unconstitutional.
Aliyu had filed the lawsuit to contest the N20,000 fine that LASTMA had imposed on him for a purported traffic violation and the additional N10,000 towage fee that the traffic enforcement agency had made him pay.
“Public agencies and bodies cannot behave in a manner that is incongruous and incompatible with the fundamental rights of individuals as provided by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Justice Oresanya declared.
“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 and rights of citizens as embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights 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.”
Justice Oresanya condensed the issues in the case to three and decided all of them in Aliyu’s favor, among other arguments, by referring to Sections 34, 36, and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The Lagos State Traffic Management Law (2018) does not contain any provisions that permit the derogation of the applicant’s right to freedom of movement, the court ruled on the first issue, which concerned the question of whether the obstruction, towing, seizure, and impoundment of the applicant’s car with Registration No. AGL 93 DW by LASTMA on November 23, 2021, was unlawful.
Regarding the second issue, which concerned the fine and towing fee assessed against the applicant, the court stated that a careful reading of Sections 27 (1) b, c, d, and e of the Traffic Management Law—on which the respondents had relied—showed that LASTMA was not permitted to impose a fine without first charging an alleged traffic violator with a crime and that doing so amounted to disregarding the right to a fair trial and acting as a judge in one
The practice of forcibly towing the automobiles of accused traffic violators was condemned by the court as the height of oppression.
The judge held, “I must add that it is strange and bizarre that the 1st Respondent (LASTMA) towed a serviceable vehicle in good working condition and thereby caused 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.”
The court stated that since issues one and two were decided in the applicant’s favor, it followed that the applicant was obviously entitled to damages as compensation on issue three, which concerned whether the applicant was entitled to compensation and damages for a violation of his fundamental rights.
“On the whole, I give judgment 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 and LASTMA towing fine in the sum of N10,000, 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 compensatory damages is awarded against the respondents for the violation of the applicant’s fundamental rights,” the court held.