Some LASTMA officials killed a bus driver on Christmas Eve in Lagos.
Human rights activists and lawyers have denounced the Lagos State government over its indifference to the family of Isaac Popoola, 54, who died in the hands of the state government’s traffic police.
Two officers of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, while trying to forcefully impound Mr. Popoola’s vehicle, on Christmas Eve, hit his head on the bus’ door causing him to slump and die.
Mr. Popoola’s corpse was laid to rest on Thursday amidst tears and cries at his Akowonjo residence; there was no government representative and the family said that no official had reached out to them since the incident.
“It’s very unfortunate. What happened is not unexpected because when you have a government that lack an agenda of social responsibility for the citizens, operatives of such government are bound to lack compassion for the society,” said Abiodun Aremu, Secretary of Joint Action Front, a human rights group.
No state visit
Hours after the December 24 incident, Babatunde Edu, LASTMA’s General Manager, issued a statement distancing his agency from Adesanya Olatunde and Oladele Ogunride, the alleged culprits.
“The officers acted on their own and flouted operational guidelines,” Mr. Edu had said.
A human rights lawyer, Robert Igbinedion, said that having deprived the breadwinner of his right to life, the deceased’s family deserves a public apology as well as financial compensation from the state government.
“Under Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution, it is unconstitutional; it is a breach of the fundamental right to life. If you are arresting somebody, you don’t have the right to hit his head as if you are in a civil war.
“The person who breached this right, in this case a LASTMA officer, an agent of Lagos state government…
“It is in the interest of the LASTMA to quickly work out this public apology and compensation because if they are taken to court by the family, they will pay legal costs and it will result to further pain upon the family for them; what they should ordinarily get a compensation and apology, they had to go to court.
“It will be irresponsible of government to allow the family to take them to court,” Mr. Igbinedion said.
Morality vs. legality
While it is not binding on the state government to pay the family a condolence visit, activists say it would have been the “moral” thing to do.
“Law is strictly amoral. But morally, it doesn’t portray the government in good light,” said Washington Ugwu, a lawyer, on the failure of the state government to reach out to the deceased’s family.
“It doesn’t portray them in good light because they ought to have identified with the family. At least, let them have that sense of feeling that they actually feel for them, afterall the official that did it did it out of context; it was not within the scope of his employment.
“Because I’m sure that the law that enables LASTMA does not require them to go ahead and fight any driver that fails to comply with them,” Mr. Ugwu said.
Another lawyer, Gabriel Giwa-Amu, argued that there is no room for the “principle of vicarious liability” – a term that says that an employer takes responsibility for every civil wrong committed in the course of employment.
“The Lagos State government or the LASTMA operative did not authorize its employee to engage in any manner of assault that would occasion death, so to that extent, Lagos state government is not liable,” said Mr. Giwa-Amu, Solicitor at Chacole, Darda, Ethan, and Heman Chambers.
“But morally, the Lagos State Government should have reached out to the family to commiserate with them, but the danger in doing so is that the family may be confused into believing that they have a legal right against the government,” Mr. Giwa-Amu added.
After Mr. Popoola’s funeral ceremony on Thursday, Ibukun, his eldest son said that it was “ungodly” that no state government official turned up to commiserate with the family.
“They are not under any obligation to reach out to the family. If they are doing it it’ll be because they only want to show ‘friendship’ but the danger is any officer going there will even risk being lynched,” said Mr. Giwa-Amu.
Two of the officers involved in the fatal incident are in police custody while one is still at large, according to Ibukun.
LASTMA, however, says that are co-operating with the police over the incident.
“It’s condemnable, and the LASTMA authorities and Lagos State Government must be held responsible by the necessary judicial authority,” said Mr. Aremu. “The DPP (Director of Public Prosecution) should ensure that the perpetrators are not just brought to book but that adequate compensations are made to the family.”
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