Local Councils lack constitutional power to impound vehicles, inflict traffic penalties — Court

[FILES] A vehicle chained to a towing van PHOTO:INFORMATIONNG.COM

Another Litigant Seeks N10m In Damages Against Oshodi/Isolo Council

Motorists, especially private car owners and other road users can now heave a sigh of relief from the onslaught of local councils and their agents who extort, intimidate and inflict traffic-related penalties on them. 

A recent ruling of an Ikeja High Court, delivered by Justice Obafemi Adamson, stated that local councils in Lagos State lack the constitutional power to impound vehicles and to inflict traffic-related penalties on road users. 

The judgment stems from a fundamental human rights suit filed by a motorist, Mr. Louis Idahosa, via his counsel, Mr. Emmanuel Eze, dated September 3, 2019, against Oshodi Local Council, which he accused of threatening, harassing and extorting him to the tune of N28, 000 for allegedly driving against traffic (one-way). 

According to Eze, Idahosa was on August 28, 2019, while being driven by his driver in his Toyota Corolla car with registration number KRD 551 CZ along Oyetoyo Street, in front of the Oshodi/Isolo council, accosted by six men in mufti. 

“They stopped and arrested Idahosa and his driver, insisting that the driver contravened traffic laws by driving one-way and they were taken into the council secretariat. Idahosa insisted that if any crime had been committed, he and his driver should be arraigned in court.

“Officials of the respondent did not agree to an arraignment but resorted to harassing, intimidating and threatening them with continuous detention. The applicant was forced to pay N28, 000 into the respondent’s treasury. 

“He, however, discovered that only N25, 000 was written on the receipt issued and upon enquiry, he was informed that the outstanding N3, 000 was gate pass fee,” Eze said. 

Justice Adamson, in his ruling, ordered the council to pay N1m compensation to Idahosa. The judge did not only say that extorting N28, 000 from Idahosa by Oshodi Local Council officials and impounding his vehicle under the guise that he drove “one-way” was illegal, but he also added that “local councils lack the constitutional power to impound vehicles and to inflict traffic-related penalties on road users.” 

Justice Adamson noted that the applicant’s fundamental human rights as enshrined in Sections 34, 36, 41(1) and 44 of the 1999 Constitution was breached by the council. 

“An Order is hereby granted directing the respondents (Oshodi LGA) to refund to the applicant (Idahosa) N28, 000, which was extorted from him under the guise that he drove one-way without affording him fair hearing. 

“An Order of perpetual injunction is hereby granted restraining the respondent or its agents from harassing, threatening or arresting motorists or road users for traffic offences, imposing fines and impounding vehicles. 

“Doing so is ultra vires (beyond legal power or authority) their powers outlined under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended),” Justice Adamson said. 

In addition to the N1m compensation, Justice Adamson also awarded a cost of N100, 000 against the council’s counsel, Mr. L. O Mazoke. 

Again, last Wednesday, another victim, Mr. Iwowo Anthony, a legal practitioner, dragged the council before the High Court for impounding one of his cars over an alleged traffic offence by his mechanic.

In the fundamental human rights enforcement suit brought pursuant to Sections 34, 36, 41(1) & 44 of the Constitution as amended, Anthony claimed his unregistered fairly used Sienna vehicle, driven by his mechanic on April 9, 2021, was impounded by taskforce officials of the council who claimed his mechanic contravened a traffic offence by driving without a driver’s license among others.

Anthony claimed that despite his appeal through phone calls to the taskforce officials to either charge the mechanic to court if they believe an offence had been committed or release his car since they do not have the legal right to impound any car for a traffic offence, the official still went ahead to force the car into their office and deflated the tyres.

Left with no other option, Anthony said he was compelled to pay a fine of N25, 000 for the release of his car but was only issued an official receipt of N10, 000 and when he demanded for explanation on the reduced amount indicated on the receipt, it was said that the remainder was for gate pass, among others.

Joined in the suit, as co-respondent is the executive chairman of Oshodi/Isolo Local Council.

The litigant is seeking amongst other things, a declaration that the respondents lack the constitutional power to impound vehicles and to inflict traffic related penalties on road users, motorists and car owners.

“An order of mandatory injunction compelling the respondents to jointly and severally pay the applicant the sum of N10m as exemplary/aggravated damages for the wanton and grave violation of his revered fundamental rights to fair hearing, freedom of movement, right to own property and compulsory acquisition of property following the illegal arrest, harassment, extortion and impounding of the vehicle of the applicant.

“An order of mandatory injunction compelling the respondents to jointly and severally pay the applicant the sum of N5m as general damages for the unimaginable hardships, mental stress, embarrassment, victimisation and psychological trauma owing to the unlawful and illegal actions of the respondents’ officials to the applicant in the circumstances of the suit from April 9, 2021, to April 12, 2021.”

For three days, efforts were made to get a reaction from officials of the council, but the efforts yielded no result. The Special Assistant, Legal to the council chairman, Joseph Asine told The Guardian to come back on Friday. On visiting the council as scheduled, he was unavailable for hours. Several calls were also made to his mobile phone, but there was no response.

However, a source disclosed that the council has denied extorting Idahosa. The source said the officials who carried out the arrest and extortion were not members of staff of the council.

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