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Lagos should apply its criminal law on disorderly persons

Lagos should apply its criminal law on disorderly persons
November 22
17:51 2020

BY ABIODUN DINA

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“At the end of our lives, we do not blame ourselves for things we tried and failed, we blame ourselves for things we wished for, but never attempted” (Anonymous). This write up is a follow up to my article published in May 2015 titled “Maintaining Sanity and Pride of Lagos”, which had anticipated recent unfortunate incidences of arson in the state and had prescribed security and social safety measures to mitigate such.

It could have been worse, with the indiscriminate influx of all manners people from other parts of the country, as well as neighbouring countries to Lagos State daily, unchecked, unmonitored and unrecorded, it is obvious that even now, we are seating on a keg of a gun powder and it is just a matter of time for it to explode if nothing is done about it.

According to a publication of the Lagos State Government  “Lagos Means Business”, 86 persons enter Lagos every hour. If we compute this by 8 hours, this amount to 688 people entering Lagos every day. Majority of these people are unskilled and foreigners from neighbouring countries, looking for a better lease of life. People are attracted to Lagos because it is the economic and commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, with a GDP of $136, only behind the economies of South Africa, Egypt, and Algeria in Africa (“Lagos Means Business”). Beyond economic interest, the high level of insecurity in the northern part of the country in recent times and the dislocation of people from their communities, has also motivated residents in volatile areas of the country to seek abode in Lagos.

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The consequence of this development is pressure on existing social facilities and infrastructure such as housing, transportation, educational and health facilities.  You just need to visit public and private facilities such as markets, shopping malls, and under bridges to see the number of homeless people that take refuge in such places. Some even pay a token to security officer of both public and private buildings to lay their head for the night. As a result of the desperate situation of such people, they are ready to do anything to survive and as such have little regard for the laws of the state, such as environmental and traffic laws amongst others.

This is, therefore, the reason why despite the prohibition of commercial motorcycles on some roads in the state, one still see a lot of unlicensed commercial motorcycle riders plying prohibited roads because of the limited number of law enforcement agents to enforce the law and in situations where there are accidents and they are taken to the emergency ward in public hospitals, or the mobile ambulance is contacted, state funds would still be spent in giving them first aid treatment.  Also, despite the Government’s prohibition of street trading in the state, traders have continued to sell food and goods on road/sidewalks, thereby inhibiting free flow of traffic.

Furthermore, these homeless people sleeping under the bridges are ready tools in the hands of hardened criminal to perpetuate unscrupulous act and when this happens, because they have no home address, it is difficult to track them. It has therefore become imperative for the Lagos State Government to screen — at major entry points — those coming into the state and ensure that it is only people with genuine mission and people with verifiable address that are being allowed into the State. A situation where trailers come into the state with loads of people, among whom turn out to be foreigners from neighbouring countries such as Niger and Chad, should be discouraged.  Or situations, where consignments of prohibited motorcycles are allowed into the state, demonstrate that there is no strategic effort to track trends that may eventually negate Government policies and good efforts.

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To compliment this, the State Government should totally apply section 168 of its criminal law of 2015 on “disorderly person”, whereby “every person found wondering in, on or near any road or near any premises or on any road or highway or any place adjacent to it or in any public place at such a time and under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such person is there for any illegal or disorderly purpose, shall be deemed to be disorderly person”.

Though the antagonist of such stance may argue that the rights of the people to personal liberty, freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination would be breached, Section  34. (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999  provides that “every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; held in slavery or servitude”; and shall be required to perform forced of compulsory labour”.

As such, arresting people sleeping under the bridge with no verifiable address or means of livelihood and constitute security risk, will not cause any constitutional breach, but will rather help in finding a solution to making idle people more productive and useful to the society, while also protecting law-abiding citizens from criminals.

Consequently, there would be need for the Federal Government and other State Governments to work with the Lagos State Government for the rehabilitation of the concerned people. The Federal Government can look at critical sector of the economy, such as Agriculture and establish Agricultural settlements where such people can be sent. This will reduce the pressure on Lagos State whose facilities have already been overstretched.

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Similarly, other state Governments should commence on rebuilding their economy and State by establishing industries and making targeted investment in collaboration with private sectors in their areas of comparative advantage. With this, the Lagos State Government can send vagabonds in the State to their home States for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities and reduce the pressure on Lagos State. In this way, Lagos State Government will be able to concentrate on rehabilitating vagabonds from the State. If Lagos where everyone is currently seeking adobe become unliveable for the elites, I wonder where else will be safe in Nigeria.

Currently, Lagos State has 11 social Welfare institutions which include; Remands Homes, Rehabilitation and Training Centres, Centre for People Living with Disabilities, Old People’s Home and Destitute Camp, with over 4,000 residents. It will therefore be helpful if the Federal Government, as well as other State Governments, equally invest on Social Infrastructure, where social miscreants and dissidents can be rehabilitated before being reintegrated into the society. And this is why even the over 4,000 residents in Social Welfare Institutions in Lagos State, will eventually need to be reintegrated into the society. They cannot be kept in social welfare homes forever.

Finally, as Nigerians, we all have a stake in Lagos and should make Lagos State work by working with Lagos State to reduce the looming insecurity in the State. This is not the time to play politics, as done by the former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, when the former Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatiunde Raji Fashola, took the bull by the horn and tried to engender a meaningful social welfare programme in the country by encouraging other State Government to take responsibility for the development and empowerment of unskilled Nigerians from their State, during his administration in Lagos State.  The minimum we can do at this time is to commence discussions on what we think can work.  Currently, Lagos accounts for a third of Nigeria’s GDP. Before the recent destruction of Lagos infrastructure, the State required $50 Billion in the next five years to bridge the infrastructure gap and with the recent destruction, the Governor of Lagos State Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has said the State will require about a N1 Trillion to rebuild damaged facilities. Consequently, Lagos State will require private investors to attain its vision and investors invest only in places where their investments are safe and secured. We can thus not afford to have a repeat of the destruction of private businesses as it happened during the EndSARS protest. God forbid, if this happens, it will not only set Lagos State back but Nigeria at large.

Abiodun Dina, an Administrator and Communications Specialist, is the author of “Evolving Competitive Public Sector in Nigeria”. 08023180812

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