Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lagos makes laws that it can’t, won’t enforce

Published:

Fashola signing Lagos traffic Law [Photo: pmnewsnigeria.com]

 Lagos has many laws and directives that it seems unable to enforce.

Despite a plethora of recent laws and directives passed by the Lagos State Government, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation has revealed that, apart from its traffic laws, which have been vigorously enforced, the state either lacks the capacity or will to enforce many of the laws it has recently passed.

Our investigation also revealed that many of the laws that have not been enforced are those meant to address some of the pressing needs of inhabitants of the state, such as the tenancy law and the law against noise pollution.

In some cases, officials of agencies charged with enforcing these laws have turned their backs on those that have approached them for help.

In one particular case, an inhabitant who had gone to an agency for help was advised to break the law.

Dead on arrival

When the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the new Lagos Tenancy Law in August 2011, it was widely hailed by residents, many of whom have suffered several years of cutthroat rent by landlords.

Landlords in Lagos demand up to three years upfront rents alongside other prohibitive charges.

Basically, the new law criminalises the demand and payment of rent beyond one year for new tenants and six months for existing tenants.

“This law seeks change like is done in all decent societies by asking the privileged to sacrifice a little so that the underprivileged can have a survival chance. It seeks to protect the poor and under privileged,” the state governor, Raji Fashola, said.

However, it has been business as usual for landlords as the government has not shown any will or capacity to enforce the law.

The state governor himself admitted this much.

During an event marking his 1,600 days in office, Mr. Fashola told reporters that the law is meant to be self-enforcing. He explained that anyone who enters into any obligation contrary to the provision of the law cannot seek redress from the courts because no court can enforce an illegality.

No effect without enforcement

Tunji Awolaja, a teacher who was forced to pay two years rent upfront by his new landlord, said without coercive enforcement of the law, tenants will continue to be at the mercy of landlords.

“Residential property is scarce in Lagos and one will always be at the mercy of one’s landlord in such a situation,” he said.

“While you’re busy arguing the provisions of this law with your landlord, someone is already begging him with three times the value of your rent to take over your flat. Even if you decide to move out, what is the guaranty that the next landlord will be willing to obey the law?” he said.

Gbenro Adeoye, a journalist, who insisted on paying six months’ rent upfront rather than the one year demanded by his landlord, said he was “shocked beyond description” when he was told by an official of a state agency to do the illegal.

An official of the Citizen Mediation Centre in Agege, where he had gone for help when his landlord threatened to evict him, asked Mr. Adeoye to pay what his landlord was demanding as neither him (the official) or the Lagos government had built the house for the landlord.

Even the office of the public defender, charged with addressing cases of human right violations, and the state’s justice ministry, were unable to help Mr. Adeoye.

Mr. Adeoye had to resort to subletting a room in his flat to pay the landlord.

Bola Gidado, an estate agent, said the law exists only on paper.

“What tenancy law are you talking about,” she asked. “I doubt if any landlord in Lagos follows the provision of that law.”

She said that only high-end property owners would consider asking for less than two years rent upfront due to the high cost of renting such properties. She said this is so due to the economic downturn and has nothing to do with the new tenancy law.

Another estate agent, who does not want to be named, scoffed at the mention of the tenancy law.

According to him, even the agencies of the state do not conform to the law.

He told our reporter that the Lagos State Lottery Board agreed to pay two years rent for a property in Alausa, Ikeja. The lottery board eventually did not rent the property because of disagreement over agency fee.

Toilets at filling stations

There are virtually no public toilets in Lagos. In order to find a way around this, the state government recently directed filling stations to provide clean and accessible toilets to members of the public.

With just over 250 filling stations in the state, critics have argued that these are inadequate for the over 18 million inhabitants of the state.

Our investigation also revealed that the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) charged with the management and disposal of waste in the state is doing next to nothing in this regard.

Shade Kadiri, an official of the agency who spoke to us on the phone said it is not the business of the agency to enforce this directive.

“We are only concerned with the management of solid waste in the state,” she said. “Talk to the ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, I’m sure they’re doing something in that area.”

While most of the filling stations we visited have toilets, many do not allow members of the public to use them. The toilets are often locked and when one requests to use them, one is told one needed get the keys from the station managers, who, bizarrely, are never around.

In places where we were allowed to use their toilets, they are too filthy and in a state of disrepair and might constitute a health risk to users.

In the case of the MRS station close to the pedestrian bridge at Ojota, the toilet is a complete eyesore. One can smell the putrid odour of urine and excrement from metres away. It is roofless; almost open air. It provides little cover and no privacy. Users are made to urinate on the bare floor.

Noise Pollution

Sequel to Memorandum of Understanding between the government and religious organisations signed in 2010, the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) ordered churches and other religious organisations to remove their external loud speakers as they constitute a major source of noise pollution in the state.

While this has been largely successful, the government again has turned a blind eye to the noise nuisance from itinerant preachers who disturb the peace of residents with megaphones and loud bells.

These preachers who still roam the streets of residential areas stirring people from sleeps as early as 5a.m., have been left unchallenged.

Small factories with loud machinery as well as sellers of DVD with loud speakers have been allowed open shop in residential areas.

Nnanna John, a resident of Ojodu, said he stopped looking forward to going home after work and spending the weekend at home after a DVD seller opened shop close to his house.

“I appealed to the DVD to tune down the volume of his speakers but he told me that’s the only way he attracts customers,” said Mr. Nnanna.

“Last month, I went to Alausa to complain, they took my details of my address. But since the noise hasn’t stopped I guess nobody from there has come to talk to the seller,” he said.

However, the General Manager of LASEPA, Shabi Adebola, said his agency responds to every complaint it has received from members of the public.

Though he admitted that it is difficult to check itinerant preachers due to the time they operate and because they are always on the move, he said the agency has a continuous sensitisation programme on noise pollution and is doing everything to enforce the law.

“We are enforcing the law now. We’ve done a lot of sanctioning in this agency in the last three years when it comes to noise pollution.

“It’s not only religious houses, even club houses; we shut one Alvado club in Apapa for four days and the people there have been sending us messages that they’ve been able to sleep now,” he said.

Beggar belief

Since inception, the present administration has not hidden its dislike for the crowd of beggars in the state.

It has been criticised for its policy of repatriating beggars to neighbouring state, sometimes under clandestine circumstances.

But the beggars have always sneaked back into the state as soon as they are taken away. In what some considered a desperate measure to finally rid the state of beggars, the Lagos State last May outlawed almsgiving. According to the new law, anyone that gives alms to beggars on roadsides risks a two year jail term without an option of fine.

Our findings show that the threat of jail term is not making the needed impact as beggars are gradually flooding the streets and motor parks in the state.

Efforts made to talk to the Welfare Unit of the State’s Ministry of Sports and Social Development was futile. They refused to return our calls and could not schedule an interview with the appropriate official as promised.

GTBank SME MarketHub campaign