20180619

LASTMA officials ‘detain’ schoolchildren over driver’s traffic offence

Officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority have been accused of ‘detaining’ some pupils of Eucharistic Heart of Jesus School, Isolo, after the school bus driver allegedly violated the state traffic law.

The matter is now a court case.

It was learnt that the bus driver had penultimate Wednesday gone to pick up pupils of the school at their houses in the Isolo area of the state.

He had reportedly picked up two pupils in the neighbourhood when he was accosted by two LASTMA officials, who accused him of not using a seat belt.

The Punch gathered that the steering of the Sienna bus was taken over by one of the LASTMA officials, who drove to the agency’s yard at Isolo.

The pupils were reportedly held for over three hours and were released after their parents went for them.

The vehicle was allegedly released to the school proprietor after an undertaking was signed.

A parent, Mr Ikem Okuhu, whose kids were in the vehicle at the time, said the encounter traumatised his children.

In a petition to the Lagos State Ministry of Transport, Okuhu said his children were released after his wife visited the LASTMA yard, adding that the officials insulted the woman and asked her to go to court if she felt her children were ill-treated.

Okuhu’s lawyer, Nnamdi Nwonyishi, who wrote the petition, dated June 6, 2018, copied the General Manager of LASTMA and the Officer-in-Charge of LASTMA, Isolo.

The lawyer demanded that the officials be disciplined, in addition to an apology and payment of N5m for general damages.

The petition read in part, “On Wednesday, June 6, 2018, our client narrated how a vehicle was impounded by two officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, somewhere around Isolo, Lagos, while conveying his children and others to their school, the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus School, Isolo.

“The said LASTMA officials had accosted the vehicle, a Toyota Sienna, and accused the driver of not using his seat belt, shortly after he picked up two pupils in one of the streets in Isolo. The driver, according to our client, informed the officials that he was in a neighbourhood street with little or no traffic and only just picked up those pupils, but the officials jumped into the vehicle, wrest the keys from the driver and drove the vehicle with the children to their office at Isolo. It did not occur to the officials that the children were on their way to school.

“Those officials drove the children to their office and detained them there for more than three hours. They refused to release them or make any effort for them to get to their school until the wife of our client arrived around 10.30am and had to take the children to school herself.

“That the children missed their classes for the day is just a small portion of the issue. These children have been heavily traumatised having watched the struggle between the LASTMA officials and the driver on the way and while at their office. These officials detained these children along with the vehicle because the driver did not have the sum of money demanded by these officials.

“Our client informed us that when his wife arrived at LASTMA office and demanded to know why her children were prevented from going to school by the officials, she was rudely asked to go to court if she so pleased.

“Our client also informed us that he had to leave his office to effect the release of his children and upon his arrival at the LASTMA office, he was also asked to go to court if he so pleased. Our client and his wife are worried about the trauma their children had been subjected to by the illegal detention by these officials of LASTMA. They are also worried about the man hours they have lost trying to effect the release of their children, aged between six and eight, from LASTMA detention.”

Nwonyishi threatened that if the demands of N5m, an apology and sanction for the officers were not met, the case would be taken to court.

Official Reaction
The Public Affairs Officer of LASTMA, Mahmud Hassan, said although he doubted that a school bus was involved in the incident, the agency would investigate the allegations.

He said, “We have a practice that when we encounter the vulnerable and the weak on a bus, most especially school buses, if the driver run afoul of the law, we allow him to proceed to wherever he is going and we send the ticket to the owner of the bus or location of the school. We don’t impound a school bus with children in it. When we encounter them like that, it is at the discretion of the officer to allow them to go.

“However, in this particular instance, I have a serious doubt that a school bus was involved. But we will do our own investigation. We have inculcated it in our officers that when they see school buses, even if the driver committed an offence, they should allow him to go. We treat the weak and vulnerable with respect; we don’t allow the action of a driver to affect them negatively.”