By Ehichioya Ezomon
With 2023 in mind, an exchange of blames between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State has drowned the outpouring of sympathies for an emotionally-traumatised widow and her son.
On September 15, 2022, Ms. Dorothy Dike and Osinachi Ndukwe had their impounded vehicle auctioned under the guide of a task force of the Lagos State government. It was a heart-rending scene, as the middle-aged widow, 49, a herbs hawker, and her son, 31, a driver, wept and rolled on the ground, pleading for compassion, but to no avail.
The scene was the disposal of 134 “seized, abandoned and forfeited” vehicles by an auctions outfit and the state government task force on traffic offences. A vivid account of the incident, which went viral on social media, was first captured by two reporters – Olasunkanmi Akoni and Bose Adelaja – for Vanguard newspapers online.
The report says that Ms Dike and Mr Ndukwe “wept openly as they begged for price reduction while their only vehicle, bought at the rate of N1.8 million on hire purchase, was being auctioned for N450,000.”
They had jumped for joy when their commercial mini bus (Korope), with number plate, ANAMBRA NEN 347 YX, was displayed for auction with an opening bid of N50,000, “but the joy was short-lived” at about 12.35pm. Why? Because a few minutes later, “the bid kept jerking up and hit N430,000,” and that’s when “they wept profusely, rolled on the ground and begged for price reduction.”
“The bid was about to close when suddenly the mother and son shouted N450,000 loudly, ‘help us, help us, please; don’t increase the price again.’ “‘We cannot afford this but we are hopeful that the vehicle will be ours so that we can work again and raise money to feed ourselves,'” the report says.
“The Imo State-born widow was heartbroken, to the extent that all she could mutter was: ‘Help me, help me. I am happy to repurchase the bus but the problem is that we cannot afford N450,000.’
“When we heard that the bus will be auctioned today, we borrowed N59,000 to attend the event. Unfortunately, the price… was closed at N450,000,'” the report adds.
The Dikes’ plight is mired in politics after the Lagos PDP governorship candidate, Dr Olajide Adediran, and his running mate, Ms Funke Akindele, visited them, and the owner of another auctioned vehicle – Lateef Kolapo.
Straying from their “expression of sympathy” for the visit, Adediran – alias “Jandor” and Akindele, a Nollywood actress nicknamed “Jenifa” – went political, and made remarks regarding the 2023 general election in Lagos. Even as he frowned at violation of traffic, and disregard for the state’s laws, Adediran declared that “a penalty should not take away people’s means of livelihood.”
For a clincher, Adediran gave the assurance that if voted into office in 2023, he’d review the laws, to eliminate “such harsh punishment… for violation of traffic rules.”
That set off a firestorm, with a riposte from the APC, via the Lagos chapter’s Publicity Secretary, Seye Oladejo, branding Adediran as “desperate and promoting lawlessness and playing politics with human lives.”
Noting that “good governance only thrives where law and order prevails,” Oladejo said the PDP candidates “have graduated from playing politics with human lives to blatantly encouraging the breakdown of law and order in our dear state.”
“The visit to citizens, who paid the price for violating state traffic laws, compensating, inducing and encouraging them is an act that is totally unacceptable in any decent society,” Oladejo said, adding, that, “the move amounts to turning compassion and charity on its head.”
On Adediran’s assertion that the death of Ndukwe’s child resulted from the taking away of the family’s means of livelihood, Oladejo stressed that people had lost their lives to accidents “as a result of driving against traffic.”
“We are not surprised by the promotion of lawlessness by the opposition party, as it remains consistent with their desperation as we count down to the next elections.
“The PDP may wish to note that Lagos residents are not fooled by their constantly playing to the gallery because they have nothing to offer.
“Our government has the political will and duty to uphold the state’s laws at all times without succumbing to needless blackmail in the name of irresponsible politicking,” Oladejo added.
But in a retort, the spokesman for the JANDOR4Governor Campaign Organisation, Gbenga Ogunleye, said the APC was “demonising the act of succour being given to the victims of their anti-people policies.”
Still on their action, Akindele, posting on her Instagram page on September 18, said that their visit to the drivers “was not aimed at encouraging people to break the law,” restating, though, that “taking one’s means of livelihood in the name of penalty for traffic offences is inhumane.”
In a way, Messrs Ndukwe and Kolapo seem similarly fated. Ndukwe’s three-year-old daughter fell ill, and died – owing to lack of funds to cater to her health – while he’s serving a three-month jail term for driving against traffic.
Kolapo claimed that he’s ill – and in hospital – when his mechanic drove his vehicle, and in the process committed a traffic offence, and the vehicle was impounded.
Still, it isn’t clear why Adediran and Akindele chose to visit only two of the 134 motorists that had their vehicles auctioned. Hence one or two questions hang from Ogunleye’s statement on the visit to the drivers.
Were the PDP candidates genuinely concerned about the victims’ plight? Did they have ulterior motives that played out in Adediran’s remarks on the 2023 polls? Are Ndukwe and Kolapo PDP members or mere political pawns?
By way of enlightenment, impounded vehicles won’t get forfeited and auctioned “if their owners don’t abandon them,” according to Chief Superintendent of Police, Shola Jejeloye, the task force chairman on traffic offences.
Jejeloye explains: “Let me tell you this; traffic offences are not criminal, therefore, be bold enough to come to the office rather than hibernating at the yard. You are expected to come and clear yourselves at the Mobile Court.
“There are some vehicle owners that have not shown up since their vehicles were impounded. You need to have the confidence to face the Magistrate and give him reasons for committing the offence.
“I have seen a lot of judgements on my table, whereby somebody drove against traffic and his offence was struck out because he was able to convince the Magistrate beyond a reasonable doubt. So, you don’t need to accept defeat before the battle starts.”
But owing to the uproar over auctioning of the vehicles – and alleged sharp practices thereof – the Lagos State government should give a human face to its traffic laws.
If traffic offences aren’t criminal, as per CSP Jejeloye, why subject offenders to double jeopardy of jailing and forfeiting their impounded vehicles? A fine should suffice!
The government should avoid the charge of enacting “draconian laws” to ensnare even unsuspecting and law-abiding residents, in order to profit mostly the private pockets of its officials, auctioneers and their agents.
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.