The Federal Road Safety Corps Marshal, Dr. Boboye Oyeyemi, explains to ADELANI ADEPEGBA in Abuja, his strategies for tackling road crashes and the efforts being made to ease travels during the Yuletide season.
The Lagos – Ibadan Expressway has been generating concerns in recent times because of the construction going on there. Are there newer ways the FRSC plans to manage the traffic on that axis during the Yuletide?
On December 18, 2018, ahead of the Yuletide and to ensure smooth travelling experience for motorists, the Federal Government opened up all the construction areas along the entire highway to traffic for the period of the Yuletide for work to resume in January. In addition, government is also to speedily complete ongoing repair works on the Ikorodu/Sagamu Road. The two axes would provide succour for entry into Lagos from all axes of Nigeria. The Abeokuta axis has equally been marked out to ease traffic. The FRSC’s strategy for traffic management across the country has already been unveiled earlier and it is all encompassing and result-oriented.
How are you dealing with traffic generally across the country during this Yuletide season?
We have already activated Operation Zero Tolerance to address the envisaged traffic challenges during the Yuletide. The initiative commenced from December 19, 2018 and it will last till January 16, 2019 and the highlights include a 24-hour Corps visibility along critical corridors; increased and uninterrupted motorised patrol in relays and overlap; daytime route lining to ward off the possibility of gridlocks; establishment of 10 traffic control points at identified gridlock prone areas such that traffic could be properly handled before it becomes an encumbrance; activation of 101 mobile courts across the nation’s highways to try road traffic offenders; activation of high alert on internal and external medical facilities to assist road crash victims and establishment of 21 road camps at strategic spots along critical corridors to ward off possible traffic stress build-up. It also includes deployment of two support helicopters for aerial surveillance by the Nigerian Air Force to ensure quick detection of traffic areas and enhancement of national security during the period; purposeful synergy with all security agencies, including states traffic agencies; deployment of technology like the use of call centre, social media, print media, among other strategies, including 20 Road Help Areas established to ensure that prompt assistance reach road users and 21 Road Side Clinics maximally activated to render assistance in case of injury during crash to save lives.
There have been instances where your men were attacked and killed in the line of duty, is that the sole reason why you feel they need to carry guns or are there other reasons?
In the first instance, the Corps operates on the highways thus its personnel are constantly exposed to all manners of criminal elements who perpetuate same using the highways and getting away without being really challenged. For instance, there were several situations where some of these criminals accosted FRSC personnel and scared them off the highway by shooting at them. It is equally on record that some ‘magnanimous criminals’ ‘advised’ our personnel to go home to their families because they who ‘owned’ the highways wanted to operate. In such cases, do you expect the operatives to challenge them? No! The best they could do, which they usually do, is to share intelligence with other services and call the FRSC Call Centre for intervention. However, such interventions usually come late and the deed would have been done. Other scary cases such as abduction of personnel are many. If FRSC officials are being abducted frequently in the metropolis for simple violations attached to fines of about N2,000, then imagine what they go through on the highways. Many times, the abducted operatives have had to plead with the drivers or Good Samaritans for their release. Many have been hit by drivers trying to escape too.
How many attacks on your men have you recorded in the last three years?
From 2015 till date, a total of 215 cases of attacks were recorded as a result of which 16 operatives were brutally murdered, 321 were severely injured. Two kidnap cases also occurred out of which two deaths occurred. A total of 56 commands were attacked where government and personal properties of personnel as well as impounded vehicles were destroyed. It is also the fear of insecurity and out of desperation that some of the personnel reportedly attempted to forcibly take control of the vehicle. In the first place, it is absurd for a motorist to abduct a law enforcement agent, yet this is being done and many people will be there cheering. It does not portray this nation in good light; instead it indicates the need for a law-abiding society where law and order takes primacy. It is equally bad for our international image. The situation could be better appreciated if the perpetrators of such acts put themselves in the operatives’ position or put their own wives or relations in the same position. However, because the Corps wants to be as civil as possible, hoping that Nigerians could be changed without extreme acrimonious circumstances, it has always treated the cases with utmost civility. This kind of behaviour is not tolerated in other countries of the world and the public frowns on them, but not in Nigeria. This attitude is one the FRSC is striving to change.
There are fears that if FRSC officials are eventually allowed to bear arms, there could also be abuse, like harassment and accidental discharge, as it is with all other security agencies bearing weapons.
The issue of gazetting of arms-bearing for FRSC is a settled legal matter because Section 19 of FRSC (Establishment) Act, 2007 says, “For the purpose of carrying out or enforcing the provision of the Act, such members of the Corps, as may be determined by the commission, exposed to high risk in the enforcement of the provisions of this Act shall have the same powers, authorities and privileges including power to bear arms as are given by law to members of the Nigeria Police.” The provision to bear arms has been in the FRSC Act long before now. As a matter of fact, Decree 35 of 1992, which was the amendment to Decree 45 of 1988, first gave the Corps the powers to bear arms and it also extended its operational territory to cover all public roads in Nigeria, instead of the initial Federal highways alone. This provision was in view of the developing situation in the country that foresaw the need to bear arms in view of the developing situation in the country relative to law enforcement.
Is there a guarantee that no single life would be needlessly lost to reckless use of arms by your men?
As a matter of fact, some members of the Corps were trained abroad in that regard, some even became arms instructors and shortly after that, some members of the Corps bore arms. However, after some time, the leadership of the Corps thought that the situation could still be managed without arms and thus arms-bearing eventually was no longer of immediate concern. We should also know that criminality had not got to this level at that time and the Corps largely approached the dispensation of its duties through persuasion and enlightenment coupled with the hope that Nigerians are easily amenable to change. While persuasion and enlightenment remain a cornerstone of the Corps operations, to continue without purposeful back-up enforcement would turn the Corps to road entertainers and this is not the purpose for which government established the FRSC.
Some people would feel that instead of carrying weapons, they could, in times of need, collaborate with personnel from sister agencies, like the Army and the Police. Why is that not an option?
Although the Corps is in good working relationship with all other security agencies and their agents come to the aid of the Corps from time to time, such collaborations have not been quite convenient, either for the Corps or the organisations. For instance, the police are overwhelmed by the current insecurity in the nation, such that the military has come to assist them many times. Police duties in a democratic dispensation are being executed by the military in many locations across the nation. Secondly, we probably got to our current state because the police have to contend with over 180 million Nigerians with a population of less than 500,000 policemen and women. For the police to be effective, it must have more men and remain specialised such that other security arms of government can effectively take care of other areas with clear-cut mandates. In this way, professionalism will rise in the police, the Force will be more respected and it will achieve greater heights. Currently, the helper requires help in order to continue to be relevant to the society.
Do your men have insurance cover and what is the worth of the insurance?
The Corps operates two insurance policies for its personnel. The first is the Group Life Insurance, which is being implemented by the Office of the Head of Service in line with the New Pensions Reform Act, while the other is the Group Personal Accident Insurance, which is being operated by FRSC.
The situation at Apapa is becoming an embarrassment for the country. Is there nothing that the FRSC can do about the situation?
The truth is that the situation in the Apapa Wharf Access Road is not what an individual organisation can face on its own. There must be sustained robust collaboration between several stakeholder agencies. One of the efforts currently on now is the FRSC’s collaboration with the Nigerian Shippers’ Council in promoting development of Truck Transit Parks across the country to ease the current spate of illegal and obstructive parking by tanker/trailer drivers. They were primarily designed to provide temporary rest location for truck drivers. They were also intended for short-term breaks and also long-term parking services where truck drivers can get fuel, food, restrooms, shower and basic supplies like oil and spare parts as well as servicing and repairs of haulage vehicles. The Truck Transit Parks will have the following facilities: gas station, hotel and motel, restaurants, mechanic workshop, fire station, police post, and automated cargo tracking system. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on November 9, 2017.
The main objectives of the project and the anticipated benefits are to promote safety and security of cargoes vehicles while in transit; reduce pilferage and theft of cargoes while in transit; give cargo owners the means to monitor the movement of cargoes through a cargo tracking system to be located in respective TTPs and improve transit and trade with landlocked neighbouring countries. However, these parks will assist to decongest the ports significantly because many of the drivers would prefer to rest in any of the camps and await call for turns to proceed for loading instead of the current practice whereby all vehicles go to Apapa almost at once.
There is a report that it is now an offence not to have first aid kit and blade in the car. Is this true and what informed it?
The regulation has really not become law for now but it is one of the innovations in the FRSC Act currently with the National Assembly. It will be law soon. For the avoidance of doubts, the Corps has started sensitisation on the need for all vehicles to have first aid boxes in their vehicles because this makes saving of lives easier. Consider this scenario; you are on the road and you come across a road traffic crash scene and at the scene, there is a medical doctor and nurses who require certain basic things to assist them to stabilise victims of the crash and there is none; is this not an irony of life, even when it is a matter of life and death? Consider another scenario where you are a medical doctor yourself and you do not have the basic first aid materials in your vehicle and you need it to treat yourself in a case of road crash which you were involved in, what happens? Consider a third case where you travelled in the night when security or rescue officers would not be available and you require first aid administration for yourself or someone else, what happens? However, if motorists have first aid boxes with accompanying contents, then saving lives would be much easier on the highways. The above follows Pillar 5 of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety advocate for improved post-crash response. The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011 – 2020) was established by the UN General Assembly Resolution 64/255 (2010) to accelerate coordinated international action aimed at reducing the number of deaths due to road traffic injuries. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has recently reiterated this priority by setting a target for 50 per cent reduction in road traffic deaths and injuries by 2020. It is, therefore, obvious that Nigeria is keeping in tune with global trend in life preservation and coasting towards meeting a purposeful goal along with other civilised nations of the world.
Repeatedly, the media have mentioned the issue of ‘big men’ covering their number plates, which is like the new status symbol. What are you doing to curb this development?
The number plate is the vehicle identification mark. As the identification mark, it is tied to ownership of vehicles. By implication, a vehicle owner can be traced through their vehicle registration number. It follows also that it is a security instrument for security operatives and is prohibited from defacement, non-use on vehicle or covering. The act of vehicle number plate coverage in road transit is not only a road traffic offence but an act intended towards carrying out act(s) of criminality because it is only someone predetermined to do harm with the vehicle that will cover up its number so that in the event of commission, they cannot be traced or apprehended. The two explanations above explain why the Corps is concerned about the new development when ordinarily; a vehicle number plate ought to be legible at about 25 – 35 metres away for it to be easily sighted by security operatives. Covering it entirely then is an act of impunity, in addition to criminal intent. This behaviour, ironically, is prevalent with the Nigerian elite who are ordinarily supposed to know better but have refused to exhibit knowledge acquired or show sign of responsibility on the roads. The problem with enforcement against this ‘elite epidemic’ in respect to these kind of vehicles, which are in any case SUVs and fast moving vehicles, is that they will refuse to stop when operatives attempt to arrest them. They drive dangerously such that no operative wants to put his life on the line, moreso as they may never be discovered or arrested. Sadly too, many of the security operatives’ vehicles exhibit some of these tendencies and this is being taken up with their high commands. While some have been arrested, the time when we will arrest others still at large will come. It is on this note that the Corps reiterates the prohibition of vehicle number coverage in Nigeria and calls on all Nigerians to desist from this violation. The Corps also calls on other security agencies to see the fight as one of collective responsibility as it in the realm of criminality for which all security organisations are established to curtail.
Why is there no training for motorcycles and tricycle riders before they are issued their particulars?
Initially, the Driving School Standardisation Programme was not specific about this but it was implied that all motorised vehicle operators must undergo the processes of driver education, testing and certification. This situation was taken for granted by both the driving schools and the tricycle operators, popularly called ‘Keke riders’. However, the situation has now been corrected. As a matter of fact, arrangement is nearing conclusion to create another class of driving licence for the operators. This automatically compels all actors to conform with the rules and regulations. However, it is not true that the Corps does not regulate or check them. The various commands are in close liaison with the tricycle operators’ associations and periodic lectures and enlightenment campaigns are conducted for them. While it is true that some of them are unruly, many are also conforming. The Corps is on course and will deliver on evolving orderliness in tricycle operation in Nigeria.
What are your aspirations for the FRSC in five to 10 years from now?
In the next decade, the Corps is focused on achievement of the Vision 20:2020 articulated by the Nigerian government to launch the nation onto a path of sustained social and economic progress and accelerated emergence of a truly prosperous and united Nigeria, placing her among the top 20 economies in the world by the year 2020. Fundamental to the vision are two broad objectives – optimising human and natural resources to achieving rapid economic growth, and translating the growth into equitable social development for all citizens. In the same vein, the Corps has relevance in six of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals expected to end in year 2030. However, these dual aspirations may not be achieved if the nation continues to lose a huge number of its citizens, particularly the productive youths, to road traffic crashes. To accomplish our lofty goals, the Corps intends to latch onto the following avenues for funding: establishment of Road Safety Fund, which is in line with the Nigeria Road Safety Strategy provision and exploiting the 10 per cent cost of new road construction recommended for road safety enhancement and partnership funding from international donor agencies/organisations and other partners.